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Jeffrey Combs Profile, Part Two: Going Beyond Re-Animator
By Anna L. Kaplan
February 24, 2000
After the cult movie success of RE-ANIMATOR, a somewhat surprised Jeffrey Combs found himself embarking on a career making horror movies, often with some of the same cast and crew. He says, 'FROM BEYOND  was the same sort of artistic group, same producer, same director. PIT AND THE PENDULUM , that's [director] Stuart Gordon. BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR  is the producer of RE-ANIMATOR, Brian Yuzna. TRANCERS II  was a Charlie Band picture. Charlie Band was [with] Empire Studios, which put out RE-ANIMATOR. DOCTOR MORDRID  was Charlie Band. A number of other movies are, 'I saw you in RE-ANIMATOR and really liked you. Do you want to do this?''
Several of the films tried to capture the tone of Lovecraft stories, with mixed success. FROM BEYOND, for example, was transformed into a movie about scientists trying to use the pineal gland to open a door to another, hostile dimension. Combs explains, 'FROM BEYOND is a very short story. The general idea of it is that there are things floating in the air that we can't see. That [screenplay] was completely fabricated. They are very hard, to be true to the stories, because a lot of Lovecraft is a feeling and an atmosphere. He's not really strong particularly on a plot point, a to b to c to d, and climax and conclusion. It's much more verbal stuff, because it is the written word. Movies are visual more than verbal. RE-ANIMATOR, the characters are certainly thereHerbert West, the character that I play, and the university and all thatbut they updated it to modern times. The tone and the relentless drive of that particular character was pretty much in the story. When I did the sequel, BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, they went back and they mined the ore that they hadn't used for the first one to fashion some sort of a storyline for the second one.'
Combs adds, 'BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR just came out in a DVD release that looks to be really good. The movie hasn't changed; it's just the packaging. In fact, I did two commentaries. I did one with Brian Yuzna, who produced and directed it. Then I lobbied like crazy to get Bruce Abbott [Dan Cain], the other actor, to come in. I'm really glad I did, because that commentary is a lot of fun. We are just having a gas.'
Combs enjoyed DOCTOR MORDRID. He says, 'It's based on 'Dr. Strange,' the comic. I basically am a mystical superhero that monitors happenings in the world to see if evil is unleashed. I'm just the straight lead. I'm not quirky or odd. I'm a mystic, a magician, Merlin-esque, apothecaryspells, and trances, that kind of stuff. It was fun to do.'
Some of Combs many genre credits include, in addition to those already mentioned, CELLAR DWELLER (1988), ROBOT JOX (1991), THE GUYVER (1991), NECRONOMICON (1994), LURKING FEAR (1994), TIME TRACERS (1995), CYBERSTALKER (1995), and CASTLE FREAK (1995). Says Combs, 'Some of these, just little jobs, are not really particularly things that I am really proud of. They are not memorable, let's put it that way.'
CASTLE FREAK was another picture done by Stuart Gordon, which reteamed Combs with Barbara Crampton. Recalls Combs, 'Stuart was trying real hard to kind of outdo RE-ANIMATOR, I don't know why. He wanted to do another un-rated movie. I don't think it particularly needed to go that far. It was Italy; it was a castle in a small village; it was very isolating. There was a lot of tension. CASTLE FREAK was a hard shoot. It was about an American family. I am married, with a daughter. I inherit a castle. My aunt that I didn't know, died, and they tracked me down. My father used to be married to my aunt, and then ran away with the aunt's sister to America, and they had me. Well, unbeknownst to anybody except for those who are watching the movie, the aunt and my father, before he ran off, had a child. When the father ran off, she took out all of her anger on the kid, locked him in a dungeon down deep in the castle, and proceeded to beat him, and chain him to a wall for the rest of his life. The movie starts with her going down to feed him, and she comes back up and collapses dead. Now the beast is chained to the wall and getting hungrier and hungrier. We arrive, and so we hear things. Strange things are happening. The beast gets loose by biting its thumb off so it can slip through the manacle. This thing is kind of my brother. Actually if you think about it, he's my three-quarters brother. He's almost me. I always liked that as very interesting, clever, the dark side, and the good side. There is a beast within all of us. It's kind of a tough and rough movie. It was all shot hand-held. It was done kind of cheaply. It has some good stuff in it, but it's pretty raw. I just think of that movie as an unhappy time. But then some of my work in it was pretty good, too, so, who knows what goes into all that.'
THE FRIGHTENERS (1996), on the other had, was a perfect movie-making experience for Combs, working with director Peter Jackson and actor Michael J. Fox. He enthuses, 'THE FRIGHTENERS was an epiphany. I went to New Zealand, which is a beautiful, stellar place. That was a great experiencejust everything, the collaboration with Peter Jackson, the creative juices, the locale, great crew, great morale, and really good material. It was just the way it should be. That they could all be that way.'
Combs played Special Agent Milton Dammers, who was looking into the paranormal, ghostly activity and murders in the town. Dammers looked amazingly like Adolph Hitler. Says Combs, 'He was a lot of fun. It was hard to do. The haircut was my idea. This guy was an FBI agent, who was devoted to his country. You have to be under-cover and verse yourself in hideous cults and sects like he did. I figured, when you are that devoted, and that nationalistic, what is the ultimate example of nationalism? That is fascism. I wanted to do something that would convey that, so that would be a clear thing. I went to the Wellington Library and I found pictorial books of young Hitler, and I brought them back to Peter. He said, 'Do that. That's a good idea to do that.' It's a really creepy thing, but it works. If you think about it, if anybody said, 'Why does he have his hair like that?' one of the answers could be, he just got pulled into this gig. Maybe he was in another one of white supremacists. You take your haircut with you. Or maybe he just saw the value in really keeping it tight to the skin. They should have retired him a long time ago.'
More recently, Combs appeared as Brooks in I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1998) and as Dr. Richard Vannacut in THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1999). In 1997, Combs had guest starred in the television anthology series PERVERSIONS OF SCIENCE, which led to the role in THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL. He remembers being cast in the television episode, saying, 'The director was William Malone, who, years later, directed HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, for really the same people. They just created a different company. That was a happy accident. He was a fan of mine and said, 'I want you for this.' That sort of sustained itself, and so here comes HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, thanks to him.'
Combs talks about his personal favorite movies, saying, 'I can tell you the one I am the most proud of, and that's LOVE AND A .45 (1994). I really liked this movie. It's got some really good people in it. Renée Zellwegerit was one of the first things she did. Gil Bellows is in it, who is now a love interest on ALLY MCBEAL. Peter Fonda is in it. I'm in there. It's in the Tarentino-esque vein, but I really got to play a character that's just totally different than anything else that I have ever played. It's really quite different. To me, I am proudest of that, because I don't like to do the same thing. I got to dip into my Ozark roots and come up with a scary fellow there in Dinosaur Bob. FORTRESS  was a good movie. Most actors will tell you that there is a handful that you are really proud of, and then the rest are attempts at getting there. We aren't in control of everything, and we can't hit it out of the part every time.'
Combs recently finished filming a movie called THE ATTIC EXPEDITIONS, which is due to be released next October. It features a number of other genre actors, including Seth Green (AUSTIN POWERS, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) and Andras Jones (NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4). Combs says, 'I am a doctor who runs an experiment on this one patient [Jones]. I have a whole house filled with other patients who are really actors. I run this one patient through a series of experiments, to get him to divulge where he hid something, all supposedly in the name of science. But really I just want something that he has got. I am either in my office where I am interviewing him one on one, or in a monitoring room where I am watching what is going on in the house.'
Combs just returned filming FAUST: LOVE OF THE DAMNED, in Barcelona, Spain. The release date for this movie has not yet been determined. Combs is playing the role of a policeman. Combs explains, 'It's based on a very dark comic book about a guy who makes a deal with the devil, and then breaks the deal. The devil is not pleased with that. Faust is sort of this super hero that is very dark, and can be very vicious, but also has a conscience. That is one aspect of the movie. The other aspect is, I play the police detective who is investigating these homicides, these really brutal homicides. For me, it's not so much all this supernatural stuff.'
Of course there are the ongoing RE-ANIMATOR sequel rumors that constantly float around the Internet. There is an Internet Movie Data Base entry for BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR, but the only name there is Brian Yuzna. There is also a small poster which the title BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR, Jeffrey Combs' name, but no picture of him, that can be found on the Web. As much as there may be interest in another RE-ANIMATOR movie, Combs thinks it is very unlikely that terms can be reached between all the parties involved. If everything did fall into place, he would certainly consider reprising the role of Herbert West, but emphasizes that there is no agreement at this time. He says, 'Baby steps have been made in terms of talking about it, but as of right now it doesn't really look like we are on the same page, in terms of what they want. It has to be right, if I want to do it, and I mean it has to be right in a lot of ways. I don't want to do it for less money than I should, and I also want to know that the story is something that is going to hold up to the memory of RE-ANIMATOR at all. I just don't want to be a hired gun anymore. It's really hard when you've come up with somebody, and then you grow up, and they just can't fathom that you should be on par. If someone out of the blue came to me with a RE-ANIMATOR project, they would accept the value. If I have any say-so about any particular project, that would be it.'
Combs adds, 'I'm still learning about film and acting and trying new things, and trying to rid myself of bad habits and pat myself on the back for good ones. It is still a struggle, as it should be. If you think you've got it made, you are on the way out. Even when they really have it made, I think you should still hear a voice in your head saying, don't get too cocky.'