Oct 22, 2007

Re-Animator (1985): A-

Gleefully tossing aside any perceived notions of good taste, Re-Animator established its maker as a premiere genre master in the same vein that Blood Simple and The Terminator announced the Coen Brothers and James Cameron to the world. Stuart Gordon's foray into the outer limits of life, death, and heads carried about by their decapitated former bodies is a nearly operatic exercise in splatter, hilarious and horrific all at once and utterly without apology. Though its button-pushing manipulations of sex and violence pale in the wake of the past 22 years worth of cinema, its raunchy sincerity remains a force to be reckoned with; although very much a black comedy, Re-Animator doubles as a touching love story delivered with equal levels of seriousness, the two qualities constantly pushing at one another with an electric fusion of energy. As if afraid he'd never be able to make another film, Gordon pulled out all the stops, the result being a dauntless work achieved only through the naivety of it being a practically impossible film to make in the first place. Too add audacity to boot, Richard Band's "original" score echoes Bernard Herrmann's arrangements for Psycho around every corner, appropriately complimenting both the learned compositions at hand as well as the many cinematic texts that Re-Animator throws into the viewers face at lightning speed.

The emboldened young medical student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) arrives at Miskatonic University (a fictional school common in horror tales, first created by H.P. Lovecraft in his here-adapted tale "Herbert West-Reanimator") after a less than desirable ending to his studies in Switzerland. Though the epitome of professionalism, his pomposity is quickly at odds with the faculty of his new school, whose work he considers close-minded and outdated; his mission, slowly revealed, is to conquer "brain death" by providing life to deceased bodies well after the heretofore accepted point of no return. After a brouhaha with a resuscitated body sees the Dean of Admissions (Robert Sampson) killed (only to be reanimated as a raving lunatic), Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) begins to interfere in West's experiments, in hopes to acquiring his secrets and claiming them for himself. Meanwhile, Megan (Barbara Crampton) - daughter of the Dean and fiance-in-secret to West's roommate Dan (Bruce Abbott) - suspects foul play, and works with Dan to uncover Dr. Hill's motives.

Though Herbert West remains the most iconic element of Re-Animator's postmodern indulgences - with neon green syringe in hand, no less - it is actually the oppressed relationship between Megan and Dan that provides the film with its much-needed emotional core, one that is ransacked by chance, evil schemes and misguided bouts of love. Gordon preludes their plights with touching moments of young love, although there is nary a doubt as to their imminent inclusion in the events ahead. Re-Animator's romanticism is genuine but understandably prone to complications of the supernatural kind; when Dr. Hill orders a walking cadaver to kidnap Megan - over whom he has held an unhealthy obsession for some time - the subsequent torture she finds herself subjected to is likely to derange any viewers sense of their physical self, gender notwithstanding. West's actions may borderline on the insane but his sense of right and wrong is ultimately in the right place, his ultimate fate continuing in the lexicon of mad scientists gone awry. Re-Animator's set-up is so delicious it threatens to diminish its payoff simply by comparison, with the ultimate explosion of zombie mayhem defined more by the energy of its performers than its sense of spectacle. In its best moments, the film itself practically leaps off the screen.

Feature: 31 Days of Zombie!


  1. This might be the greatest B-movie of the 80s, and on its own terms, perfect. I've never heard an audience freak the fuck out like they did during the first zombie attack in the morgue. And Barbara Crampton being subjected to the most ridiculous visual pun of all time? Forget it. It sounded like a riot in there.

    Gordon's an underrated director all around. Why? Is it because he's funny?

  2. I think people like Gordon are generally underrated simply because they don't conform to the uppity elitism that people think makes things "good", like how Paul Verhoeven is only being taken seriously by some people now, thanks to Black Book. I've been just as guilty of this sort of thing in the past (to repeat the former example, I used to hate Total Recall, and now proudly store it in the same shelf space as Nashville), so I'm not entirely without hope that many people are just waiting to see the light.

    Humor unto itself is a vastly underrated thing in art, I think, and laughter can be one of the most profound learning experiences when used right. 2001 may be my all-time favorite film, but shirt-and-tie seriousness is a crutch for far too many, filmmakers and viewers alike.

    As for that audience reaction, man, I wish I could've been there. If time travel is ever created and perfected so as to not fuck up anything in the space/time continuum, I plan on catching some choice films during their opening weekends. It's beyond my imagination what The Evil Dead must have been like in 1981.

    1. Anonymous12:16 PM

      i remember watching the Evil Dead at my friends house way back then - I walked back home stunned what I had seen - we're all a bit used with horror nowadays which is a shame

  3. Anonymous2:45 AM

    @rob humanck
    Ahh.. The Evil Dead. Here's my memory. 1981. The State Theater on Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City (or was it the Loews?). One of those theaters that are as scary as the movie (on the plus side you could smoke anything while the movie was unspooling). Some African-American gentleman got the idea of bringing what seemed to be his nephew to the movie -- the kid must've been all of seven years old. Reality melting into lysergic chaos on the screen. Yes, some things are beyond imagination, even if you were there.

  4. Especially during that scene where it took the demon damn near ten minutes to die, groaning and moaning and spurting blood all the while. Bless you, Sam Raimi.

  5. Barbara Crampton had guts (very gorgeous guts) to do that scene... as an adolescent in the 80s with raging hormones, she was part of my scream queen fantasies (Dee Wallace also rocked my world). "Re-Animator" rocks... for all the right reasons. It's not self-mocking at all but still manages to take itself none to seriously. It doesn't skimp on gore, but doesn't indulge in the excess of today's tortureporn films. It never insults the audiences intelligence and never seems like a drag on ones attention. It does everything with an economy of shots.. there's hardly a wasted moment in this film, and it gives you characters to care about no matter how absurd things get. The film is filled with nervous tension, and yet allows for some genuine laughs along the way. It's truly comfort food for the horror fan and completely rewatchable.