Rejuvenatrix (1988) Review by RevTerry

Since my boyish charm isn't just defined by a very un-adult toy collection and lack of financial stability but also a youthful look to my physical features, I hadn't really thought about growing old much. I still get carded everywhere I go, couldn't grow a gut if I tried and only have to shave off my fifteen-year-old boy style mustache/goatee like twice a week, if that. Honestly, after you work in retail or are forced to drive in or around a town full of baby boomers, old people start to feel like a whole different species altogether, not something you could turn into. My stunted outward age used to bother me when I was younger, but in the later years it became an immunity to some of the ailings and complaints of my peers concerning what age had done to their bodies. Unfortunately, that has started to change at thirty. Part of that switch-up in mindset is due to the number itself, it's just kind of fucked up and scary. It doesn't matter if I look like I’m twenty, on paper I’m officially a full-on adult human, with all the (thoroughly unfulfilled) requisites that come along with that classification. More than numbers though, Im at a point now where my body seems to go out of its way to remind me that I do, in fact, age. It mattered not if the whole world, including myself, thought I was some kind of punk rock Peter Pan motherfucker, my fleshy vessel indeed has an expiration date--like everyone else. Comments on my youthful appearance don’t have the same magic they did before, now that I secretly know I get more winded after sexy time than I used to. The truth of the world is--we all have a built-in breakdown point, like an Apple brand product, we deteriorate and get ugly to make room for the next generation. Maybe I lucked out, and outwardly it worked in my favor for a few years, but I was just falling apart in a different way. I haven't experienced anything serious yet, but I can feel that; gone are my careless days when it comes to aging. What are you going to do? I certainly don't have it in me to fall on any great or extreme lengths to remedy this impending condition--like the ones in Rejuvenatrix (1988).
During a lab crisis involving a missing mutated rat, we are introduced to Dr. Gregory Ashton (John MacKay), his partner in science Dr. Stella Stone (Katell Pleven) and their faculty at Ashton Labs. With the help of some pretty hefty donations from a wealthy aging actress, Elizabeth Warren (Vivian Lanko), the duo has been working themselves to death, in an effort to stop the effects of aging on the human body. Their experiments, while fruitful, had proven to still need work, hence the violent rodent escape. While age was indeed regressed in their trials with rats, the subjects required a steady intake of the docs special grey matter slurry (aka brain juice) to remain stable and pretty. Despite the escaped (possibly deadly) mutant subject, the scrutiny of his peers and a lack of sleep, Dr. Ashton is determined to continue his work. Unfortunately, the wealthy benefactor who plans to use the youth treatment to return to stardom, cannot wait any longer, and after calling Dr.Ashton to her dusty ass mansion for an awkward chat, demands to receive the treatment immediately. Of course, Dr.Ashton refuses at first and tries to explain to Elizabeth that the operation is not finalized (without driving home the super rat-monster point, for some reason), but when she threatens to pull funding, he reluctantly agrees. Back at the lab, Dr. stone is understandably perturbed by the abrupt change in plans but fails to be the voice of reason and joins in on the extreme plastic surgery anyway. The initial operation is a success, and after some swelling Ms.Warren is back to her younger self with plans to break back into Hollywood. Though as unfinished super science often does, Elizabeth's newly obtained youth comes with a few side effects. The worst of which is transforming into some ever-changing fucked-up lumpy thing with claws, every time she misses a dose of the upkeep-serum. Elizabeth seems somewhat satisfied with the situation, but the necessary dosage of brain matter gets larger each time and so too the need for human heads.   When Dr. Ashton cannot keep up with the demand, Ms. Warren takes to the streets to get her brain goo fresh from the source. Dr. Ashton, like many mad scientists before him, must mount an assault against his failed creation, but he is running out of time as she grows more powerful with every human head she turns into a bread bowl. 
The film’s story is a slow drive-by of timeless fables and some of the various trends in gross-out horror of the late 80s. It calls back to the ancient idea of the “fountain of youth” but is more in the spirit of doctor Frankenstein than (the heavily romanticized) Ponce de León. There are heavy parallels to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, although it's less focused on human duality, as the one doing all the physical transforming was kind of a bitch to start with. More a good neighbor than a ripoff, the Re-Animator (1985) influence is prevalent, but it's muted with a soap opera like palette. While the science in the film is no doubt part of the “mad” variety, the persistent doctor is filled with an internal struggle regarding the morality involved in his pursuits--far removed from the lovable, disconnected sociopath doctor West, but just as crazy in his own ways. There is none of that film’s comedy, it never so much as winks at the audience. The Re-Animator angle is much more prominent in the poster and alternative title (The Rejuvenator) most likely tacked as a sales ploy. Its story has some of Yuzna's DNA somewhere inside it, but there is very little of Stuart Gordon’s style to be found in the film. Legend has it that director Brian Thomas Jones reworked the idea from a spec script, “Skin” by Simon Nuchtern, aspiring to create something along the lines of “Bride of Frankenstein meets Sunset Boulevard”.  The film at times has been called an unofficial remake of The Wasp Woman (1959), from which it borrows the aging actress who is fighting the twilight of her good looks through fringe science at a heavy cost. Outside the more obvious, the middle segment’s dry bridge into sudden body-horror comes off a little something like early Cronenberg as well (when I squinted). It has thick tangled roots, but it grows into its own unique example of the mad scientist trope all the same. I'm also beginning to think the majority of super science labs have cute blonde assistants in a glasses, that look like the cutscene lady from the Rampage video games.
Like other 80s sci-fi brand horror films (I have already mentioned) it inherits some of Great Grandma Shelley’s gothic soul, despite its supposed technological advancements. It takes itself seriously for the most part, and even with its natural aptitude for camp, its message comes with heavy intentions.  The story is surprisingly character focused, built around internal and interpersonal conflict. Human nature, the lengths of the obsession, and the inevitability of aging are just as much a part of the movie’s horror as the slimy, gory stuff. It's not completely successful, but it makes an earnest try at being a human-based drama--just one heavily enhanced by mutations and dead guy juice. The film takes it's time to get going, spending more than half its runtime with characters spilling their guts at a feather drop to set up the exciting bits that come later in droves. More than enough tape is given to pointing out that our scientist, while willing to do anything to continue his work, still struggles with the moral conundrums or to highlight the fact that his relationship with his fellow scientist lady friend is rocky.  Wading through the would-be intense conversation about silly fictional science experimentation (as opposed to any of it happening on screen) begins to drag a little, but the film trades its dry drama for good old fashion sci-fi splatter, long before it threatens to lose me. The ample amount of on-screen action is well worth the wait, and the two flavors swirl better than one would think. The pace and uneven on-screen action is odd but makes it stand out in a subgenre known for being bizarre.  It's almost stretched thin with dilemma between vanity and murderous mutation but holds it all together in its own way.  The body horror and super science are surface level only, the science talk--all jargon. It feels like an extended story ripped from the non-glossy pages of the old school horror comics, a culmination of several borrowed elements squeezed into a gotcha morality tale. Think EC Comics of the early 50s but with a lot more words and with none of the snark that the Tales from the Crypt’s tv adaptations had. it's probably not going to make the world rethink the importance it places on looks, but the baggage heavy, cartoon body horror makes for an entertaining fable taken to its grimy 80s extreme.
The film’s framing is mostly straightforward, tv-like work, and the mix of spirited set dressing does more for the scenes than any camera angles. The setting is modern, but its blend of gothic structures and silly scientific equipment place it in a more exaggerated reality than our own. A lot of time is spent in a brightly lit lab, decorated with beakers filled with random colors and useful things, like a wall full of tube TVs on the fritz. The world outside the lab is made up of large dirty houses, castle-like interiors and warehouse rock concerts, each as if taken from their own film.  More and more as the film progresses, it plays with colored lighting. At its best, this comes close to the inked effect of Creepshow’s (1982) more comic moments, but just as quickly, a scene will look like they just kind tossed some blue lights in a dark room and called it good.  Both the gore and the creature effects are healthy as fuck, the kind of great you can only get from these types of films and from this time. Master Bruce Spaulding Fuller puts together some disturbing, unique monstrosities and wounds that would still hold up today in a lot of ways, making me wish CG had never been allowed to come within a hundred feet of the horror genre. With some better angles and editing, the effects on display would have been straight fucking amazing, but even without help they are still pretty awesome. Altogether, the mess that comes out the other end is nowhere near a technical wonder, but it's still a highly motivated and entertaining use of old standbys and slime.
Acting is the films biggest drawback. All the characters are well chosen in appearance, but when they open their mouths, things just go to shit. Whether the cause is direction or ability, the actors destroy almost every bit of dialogue in the film,  sometimes just by sounding really out of place.  It doesn't take away from the watch value, with this kind of cornball schlop, and on some level the soap opera delivery matches the story's focus. The quality is pretty universal throughout the cast, with the biggest exception being Vivian Lanko who plays Elizabeth Warren for every stage of her metamorphosis. I have never watched more than four minutes of Dallas in my life, but I feel like she would have killed it on there. Along with being the best human actor in the movie, she pulls off several different stages of drastic mutation that would give Jeff Goldblum a run for his money. Most of which come with their own elaborate make-up, prosthetics, and style. It couldn't have been easy, especially when almost everyone else was kind of just phoning it in around her. 
Rejuvenex is an underrated splatter commentary piece that takes a goofy but unique run at well-worn paths. It's less tongue in cheek than it's counterparts but pays homage to a wider range of related influences. The film goes for broke in the gore and monster department, even if it saves it all for the second half. Most importantly it's a fun way to reflect on a very real and fucked up fact of life--we are all going to get old. No matter how pretty you think you are, beauty is a fleeting resource. All things change and there is little we can do about it. Humans rot like fallen rind-less fruit that has been cursed with a mouth to complain from. Like everyone else, I too will grow old someday and you know what? Fuck it, I'm cool with that. Maybe I can finally grow a beard or wear flannel without looking like a hipster. Besides, in the real world, cadaver-brain Botox isn't an option and making good lifestyle choices that might actually retard the process sounds too fucking hard.
 1h 30min | 1988
 Director: Brian Thomas Jones
Writers: Brian Thomas Jones, Simon Nuchtern

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Review by:
RevTerry


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