'Re-Animator' Special Effects: Simple But Effective

The $65 million stage adaptation of Spider-Man is being re-tooled again — and it raises questions about whether stage shows should try to imitate Hollywood-style visual effects. For Re-Animator: The Musical, the answer is to go low-tech and clever. Stuart Gordon directed the 1985 cult horror film classic, and he has guided the adaptation to the stage, bringing along the talented special effects team from the film. The result is a play that engages the audience with simple-yet-ingenious special effects. There's even a splash zone where theatergoers can sit if they want to be sprayed with blood.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The Broadway production of Spider-Man has run into trouble time and time again for its complicated in-your-face effects. Well, a very different kind of in-your-face effect is on display in Los Angeles. "Re-Animator: The Musical." The stage adaptation of the cult movie classic has just been extended through the end of May.

From member station KPBS, Beth Accomando reports on how the show's creators are making sure their audience has a bloody good time.

BETH ACCOMANDO: The first two rows of seats are neatly wrapped in plastic in anticipation of the carnage to come. Welcome to the splash zone of "Re-Animator: The Musical."

Mr. STUART GORDON (Director, "Re-Animator: The Musical"): So I said, okay, blood is part of the story, and we decided that we should have a special zone for the audience who really likes blood to be able to bathe in it, to be showered with it.

ACCOMANDO: That's Stuart Gordon. He directed the cult horror film "Re-Animator" back in 1985. Now, he's reassembled the film's visual effects team to find a way to make the blood flow on stage.

Tony Doublin says the production goes through two to three quarts of blood a night.

Mr. TONY DOUBLIN (Member, Visual Effects Team, "Re-Animator: The Musical"): It also had to be very stylized, you know, because there was no chance to do it over again. You know, you got one shot at it, and it has to work.

ACCOMANDO: Both the play and the film are based on an H.P. Lovecraft story about Herbert West, a young med student who discovers a reanimating agent that can bring the dead back to life.

(Soundbite of musical, "Re-Animator: The Musical")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Re-animator. Re-animator. Re-animator.

ACCOMANDO: Doing a stage play now is like doing a low-budget horror film in the '80s because there was no CGI and no budget for optical effects. So everything was done like you would in live theater, says Gordon.

Mr. GORDON: This is stuff - it's the simplest stuff. It goes all the way back to ancient Rome. You know, in those days, they used to have, you know, chicken blood and little bladders and - that they can explode on stage.

(Soundbite of musical, "Re-Animator: The Musical")

Mr. JOHN BUECHLER (Member, Visual Effects Team, "Re-Animator: The Musical"): When you have a practical effect on stage or on screen, it does have a tendency to grab the audience better.

ACCOMANDO: John Buechler is another member of the returning effects team.

Mr. BUECHLER: The actors have a tendency to react to it more realistically because it's honestly there, and the audience is there in the moment experiencing whatever happens.

ACCOMANDO: Like watching a possessed large intestine fly out to strangle Herbert West. John Naulin collaborated with his wife, Shayna, to create the supple intestines.

Mr. JOHN NAULIN (Member, Visual Effects Team, "Re-Animator: The Musical"): She took this flesh-colored material that is actually designed for making the inside lining of swimming suits, and she sculpted it. And it literally moved like a feather boa, weighed almost nothing.

ACCOMANDO: So adding a rubber tube to pump blood meant that it was still easy for actor Graham Skipper to put the prop into action.

Mr. GRAHAM SKIPPER (Actor): We don't have intestines that will actually attack me, so then it's up to me as an actor to pretend that they're attacking me, to time out with the stage manager who's under the stage pumping the blood out, time that with him, so that I'm squirting it at different parts of the stage and onto the audience, mostly onto the audience.

ACCOMANDO: Skipper makes it his personal goal to shoot the blood out as far as he possibly can, and that delights people like teenager Gabriela Rodriguez. She came with her drama class from Cesar Chavez High School in Phoenix.

Ms. GABRIELA RODRIGUEZ: I was sitting fourth seat in, and I - like, right in front of, like, the intestines right at the end. So, like, I pretty got much -got splattered. I'm completely - I'm soaked right now. It's a nice feeling.

ACCOMANDO: And that thrills Stuart Gordon, who doesn't want passive patrons in the seats, but rather partners in crime.

For NPR News, I'm Beth Accomando.

(Soundbite of musical, "Re-Animator: The Musical")

BLOCK: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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