Re-Animator Goes for the Jugular | Review

Few movies start with as bloody a bang as Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator. In those opening minutes, the film prepares you for everything you need to know; there will be gory special effects, deranged scientists, and more than a few surprises to keep you glued to the screen. Fans of such special effects driven horror movies, especially from the 1980s, are probably familiar with Re-Animator; it has long been a cult classic, however, those looking for a new experience in the genre should be pleased by the blend of camp and horror.

Director: Stuart Gordon
Screenplay: Stuart Gordon, Dennis Paoli, William Norris. Based on the short story, “Herbert West-Reanimator”, by H.P. Lovecraft
Producers: Brian Yuzna, Dennis Stuart Murphy
Cinematography: Mac Ahlberg
Editor: Lee Percy
Music: Richard Band
Select Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson
Runtime: 86 minutes
Country of Origin: USA
U.S. Release Date: October 18, 1985

Best exemplifying this campy horror is the detailed carnage throughout. Eyes pop with abandon, decapitated heads talk without irony, and the finale is a Looney Tunes-inspired zombie free for all. Special effects designer John Naulin apparently used 24 gallons of blood for the movie, approximately 22 gallons more than he had used previously on a project; not a drop is wasted.

It’s bloody, yes, but done with a tongue planted firmly in cheek. It is this sense of absurdity that keeps the film watchable; with out it, the film would be torture porn on steroids. Helping sell this tricky blend of genre are the actors who commit wholeheartedly to the script, never playing for laughs (the action speaks for itself); instead, their deadpan deliveries in contrast to the violence is what makes the film so fun.

“Who’s going to believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow.

Nevertheless, with a movie as darkly humorous as this, there can be creative choices bordering on the sadist. The sexual torture inflicted on Barbara Crampton’s Megan is unpleasant and unnecessary; it is shock value turned cringe. Arguably, however, Gordon taps into the stomach-churning hopelessness of H.P. Lovecraft himself. Fans of the horror author understand this. Another Lovecraftian comedy, Rebekah McKendry’s Glorious, is likewise an ultimately bleak affair. Same for Richard Stanley’s 2019 Colour Out of Space, which is decidedly not campy and seems to wallow in the misery. Even Re-Animator‘s source material, “Herbert West-Reanimator”, end with the titular doctor disemboweled by his creations and the third-person narrator considered mad by the authorities. While constituting classic Lovecraftian storytelling, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Ultimately, Re-Animator stands out among similar SFX-driven films of the 1980s. Stuart Gordon helms a ludicrously bold film, unafraid to wear its imagination on its sleeve. At times this imagination oversteps the bounds of common decency, challenging viewers to examine their definitions of good taste. Perhaps, however, this was Gordon’s intent all along.

by Vincent S. Hannam

Fair enough.

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