Saturday, June 7, 2014

Re-Animator review

    Finishing up Lovecraft week, unless I decide to review some more Cthulhu Mythos-related movies (it's my blog after all), is the original Re-Animator movie by Stuart Gordon. I mentioned my opinions on the movie in part during my review of Beyond Re-Animator so I'll start us off by reiterating them.

    This movie is very-very funny. This movie is also has a very high squick content, including attempted rape by a severed human head.

    Yes, you read that correctly.

    Part of the appeal of B-movies is they tend to be more willing to go places mainstream Hollywood films do not. Sometimes this is a good idea, other times not. In this case, I'm not going to tell you whether or not this sort of movie is right for you as I think it's going to be largely a matter of taste. 

    Specifically, whether you enjoy having bad taste and don't possess any triggers.

The serum which will restore life! Played by the stuff in glow-sticks. Which is an inspired choice, actually.
     I will say, however, that nothing is remotely as shocking as the aforementioned scene (played for absurdist black comedy) and if you're able to deal with that--this movie has much to recommend it. Jeffrey Combs made himself the darling of B-movies forever with his portrayal of Herbert West and Barbara Crampton earns her Scream Queen status by turning what could have been a one-note character into an inspired performance.

    Bruce Abbot's Dan Cain and David Gale's Carl Hill are amazing in their roles too. Even Robert Sampson's Dean Halsey is a character who turns in a great performance. How many other actors can say they've played a multifaceted character after *pause* no wait, that would be spoilers. Really, Stuart Gordon struck gold when he recruited the cast for Re-Animator because it's one of those movies you can tell the cast is having a ball while filming.

    Everyone strikes a wonderful balance between treating the horrific events of the movies serious and playing them up for gross-out comedy. There's a reason this is considered one of the better cult-films of the 1980s and I don't disagree with their assessment. Like all great parodies, Re-Animator serves as both a send up of B-movie horror as well as an excellent example of the genre itself.

Herbert really should have stuck with re-animating whole bodies.
     The premise of Re-Animator is a re-telling (better: re-imagining) of the original tale by H.P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft purists would do well to remember H.P. Lovecraft, himself, wrote the story as a lurid comedic farce and, as such, should cut it the slack it deserves. Which is to remember even cosmic horror writers had a sense of the absurd.

    Stuart Gordon hits all the right notes as an adaptation. The story is modernized and truncated so that instead of taking place across the lifetime of two mad scientists, it takes place over a couple of weeks between two medical students. Frankly, I think Stuart Gordon did Lovecraft one better here as the story makes a great deal more sense if Dan Cain, the saner of the pair, has less time to react to how utterly bat**** Herbert West's experiments are.

    The premise is self-admitted riff on Frankenstein. Hebert West has, through means unknown, created a serum capable of re-animating the dead. Unlike Victor Frankenstein, however, he has no interest in creating new life but (sensibly) wants to bring the dead back to life. The problems are two-fold: One, the serum doesn't work very well. Two, Herbert West is a clinical psychopath who finds zombie resurectees a minor inconvenience.

    What makes this premise so entertaining is that, irregardless of the results, there's just enough logic to Herbert West's actions you can understand why Dan Cain and others want to work with him. After all, from a materialist perspective, Herbert West's formula works. It just, perhaps, need more testing. Which, as this movie lovingly shows, leads to more bodies which can be used for more testing.

I nominate Megan Halsey for the character who gets run through the biggest ringer in all of horror fiction.
    Stuart Gordon makes a wise decision to never clarify whether what's wrong with Herbert West's formula is supernatural or mundane. The Re-Animated's problem might be brain damage or it could be the fact they're summoned from the void where Yog-Sothoth reigns over a universe of impossible angles. Or, hell, if the audience desires to believe it--whether it's a simple case of blaspheming against God's domain.

    Jeffrey Comb's comedic timing is stupendous and really needs to be seen to believe. Bruce Abbot plays an excellent straight-man to Combs, striking a careful balance between enamoring of West's ideas and being an otherwise sane person. Barbara Crampton's character of Megan Halsey overreacts greatly to West at the start but, by the end, was clearly the only rationale person in the movie. Plus, as she's proved in many movies, she's a lovely person to look at.

    In short, this is a funny-funny, squicky-squicky movie and zombie fans will probably get the most out of it.



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