Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Re-Animator (Stuart Gordon)


Perhaps one of the horror genre's more enduring and uniquely humorous classics, "Re-Animator" is kind of like a respectful bastardization of H.P. Lovecraft's short story (entitled "Herbert West: Reanimator"), and may also be seen as a mock ode to Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein". It is intentionally campy in its set-up and fittingly goofy in some of its over-the-top gore, not to mention that Jeffrey Combs' insanely cult performance is a genuine thing of 'slapstick horror' legend. Sure, the film may not have aged that particularly well especially in moments when it actually tries to scare the bejeezus out of us viewers, but it still holds up quite nicely as an absurdist effort to squeeze out something fresh and conceptually new from the seemingly exhaustive world of the undead. Suddenly, at least through director Stuart Gordon's outrageously horrific playfulness, hospital morgues aren't that monastically creepy anymore, and medical schools not much hives of bright minds but of psychotic lobotomists and of future Josef Mengeles. 

Indeed, it's a twisted and perverted world that the characters of "Re-Animator" live in; add up Jeffrey Combs' Herbert West, the 'roommate from hell'/'mad medical student' who has ingeniously created a serum that can bring dead people back to life, into the mix and you've got one hell of a, well, hell ride into the bloody corners of human anatomy and back. The film may not be as smooth as the "Evil Dead" trilogy in terms of blood-drenched shtick, but at least, it can boast of an iconic image long-time fans of the horror genre can very well recognize: and that is of Herbert West looking somewhere near the camera, pointy-lipped and all, armed and ready with his serum-filled syringe. He may not be as romantically heroic as Lionel in "Braindead", as slick as Ash in "Evil Dead II", or as manly as MacReady in "The Thing", but his persistent madness oozes a kind of detached, ironically magnetic charm that, despite being despicable by default, still makes him very easy to root for. It's also quite nice to see the Dan Cain character (played by Bruce Abbott), a medical student who becomes West's roommate, unusually serving as both confidant and foil to West's loony bin aspirations at the same time. Even David Gale, playing the villainous Dr. Carl Hill, is also quite enjoyable to watch even though his performance screams 'poor man's Christopher Lee' all over. 

The special effects, although indelibly cartoonish even if you try to convince yourself that this is a serious horror picture, are top-notch and hard to look away from, but in a very humorously implausible kind of way. But be that as it may, "Re-Animator" is still a thoroughly entertaining picture with enough obligatory gore, quotable one-liners, and even an apt exposure of flesh, to satisfy the red-blooded cravings of an average horror fan. Though I must admit that the film's climax is probably better on paper than when it was finally executed by Stuart Gordon and company on-screen, the film is still tons of fun, thanks of course to its dreadful kind of energy, tongue-in-cheek execution, and a dose of wit that's even sharper than the hypodermic needle on Herbert West's big-ass syringe. The only problem, though, is that it has every right to go out with an unprecedented kind of vomit-inducing bang, but has instead chosen not to. And is that an iteration of Bernard Herrmann's "Psycho" score?

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