Sprinting into the horror genre with all the deranged energy of a cocaine addicted cheetah, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator turned heads and stomachs in equal measure when released in 1985 and gifted the world with a horror comedy with more edge than a ninja throwing star.
Technically a zombie movie (although owing a big nod to the finger wagging, cautionary tale of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein) Re-Animator was one of the first, full on adaptations of the works of notoriously difficult authort H.P. Lovecraft, choosing to loosely use the series of short stories Herbert West – Reanimator as it’s backbone.
Unleashing buckets of gore, heaps of twisted imagery and a vast dollop of jet black humor, it’s still the finest example of the author’s work on film to date, cheekily pushing the boundaries of good taste to breaking point.
Opening with a literally eye popping scene in which some poor bastard’s ocular sockets explode like twin volcanoes with corneas, we are introduced to one Herbert West – a diminutive, prickly medical student whose work on a special formula goes horribly wrong in Germany. After a fun and perky title sequence that suspiciously sounds a lot like Bernard Herrmann’s score to Psycho (cheeky, cheeky Albert Band; someone ought to slap your legs), we settle at the Miskatonic University in Massachusetts and meet Dan Cain, a medical student and all-round sensitive guy who is dating Megan, the Dean’s daughter and sits classes under the tyrannical surgeon, Dr Hill. In wanders Herbert who instantly openly accuses Hill of stealing theories and offers to house share with Dan – but this difficult, little man has a secret and it turns out that he’s still trying to refine his glowing green serum which has the remarkable ability of bringing back people from the dead.
Of course, the catch is that when these dead people are “revived” they awake to be hugely mentally impaired and massively violent and uncontrollable (helluva side effect you have there, Herbert). Recruiting the well-meaning Dan to help with his clandestine (not to mention highly illegal) experiments, Herbert sets in motion a succession of events that take a massive crap on the lives of each and every person around him which unsurprisingly leads to murder, conspiracy and an increasingly psychotic Dr. Hill carrying his own severed, living head around in a bag. Can Dan and Megan possibly hope to escape this nihilistic, zombie maelstrom that erupts around them while being caught in the middle of West and Hill’s battle of wills?
Don’t fucking count on it.
The main reason Stuart Gordon’s delirious epic of magnificent bad taste has persevered so well in the realms of cult godhood is the surgical precision in which it wields it’s evilly mischievous sense of humor which never once lapses into goofiness or spoof and miraculously holds this steady balance for the entirety for the movie without winking once at the audience (well… MAYBE once – probably twice). This not only accounts for the breathless pace but also for the plethora of outstanding, gory sight gags the film employs like West inpatiently stabbing a paper spike into Hill’s neck in order to get his head to stand upright or Hill’s ludicrous disguise he uses to slip his henchman-esque headless body past morgue security. However, all fade into insignificance in the face of Re-Animator’s most infamous moment in which the besotted Dr Hill can’t restrain himself any longer and horrifically acts on his lust on a kidnapped Megan, enacting a showstopping visual pun which can only be described as a head giving head…
Such mind blowing scenes and copious gore wouldn’t be anywhere near as effective if it wasn’t for the stunningly game cast and Jeffrey Combs’ wonderful portrayal of Herbert West as an uptight, obsessive little prick who suspiciously glares at everybody through his glasses is matched only by David Gale who mostly has to give his monstrous performance through a hole in a table as the raging, scheming, severed head of Dr Hill. In comparison, Bruce Abbott’s Dan and Barbara Crampton’s long suffering Megan seem vaguely bland but are actually the film’s much needed straight men whose tragic love story gives some weight to all the cartoonish nastiness and Crampton in particular deserves some sort of lifetime achievement award thanks to some of the questionable scenes she’s had to perform over the years.
Endlessly inventive from beginning to gut-busting climax, one of Re-Animator’s fans is rumoured to be none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger who’s stunt double at the time features in the film as the muscular zombie who has an unfortunate (or VERY fortunate, depending on your point of view) run in with a surgical bone saw.
Unrepentantly unPC and all the better for it, this morbid, morgue-set mosh pit which stands out to this day as a true shining light in 80’s horror that glows as bright as that luminescent green goo that West keeps in his ever present syringes.