Saturday, March 6, 2010

'Re-Animator': Fun with severed body parts

Re-Animator (1985)
Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale and Robert Sampson
Director: Stuart Gordon
Producer: Brian Yunza
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Dan's new roommate and fellow third-year med student, Herbert West (Combs) draws him into his bizarre (and successful) experiments with re-animating dead bodies.

"Re-Animator" is one of the craziest movies ever made, and it ranks up there with "Dead Alive" as one of the funniest creepy movies ever made. While it is nowhere near as gory as "Dead Alive" and the slapstick isn't quite as sharp, it features a cleverer script and a superior cast.

Jeffrey Combs is particularly excellent as Herbert West. We get the sense that he's a bit weird early in the film and highly strung; Combs performance puts the viewer in mind of Peter Cushing's Victor Frankenstein in the first couple of Hammer Frankenstein films... coldblooded, arrogant and probably sociopathic but not necessarily completely bonkers. When West calmly a bone saw through the chest of a zombie and then immediately sets about reanimating its recently deceased victim, it's clear not just from his actions but from Combs performance that he more than a little off. And when he later animates the severed head of an obnoxious rival (likewise brilliantly played by David Gale), it's clear that he is completely unhinged.

Speaking of the severed head, it gives rise to some of the most unnerving moments in the film, as well some of the funniest. I don't want to go into too much details, because I'd ruin the shock value. Suffice to say, it's something that needs to be seen.

Credit also needs to be go to Bruce Abbott and Barbara Crampton. While Combs and Gale are giving performances that seem like they just teleported in from a Hammer Films set in 1960, they play their characters mostly low-key. This, combined with the fact that their characters are nice and normal people, give the audience someone to identify with as the film unfolds and provide an island of calm in the middle of the evermore turbulent sea of madness that is this movie.

"Re-Animator" elevates Herbert West among the great movie mad doctors, even if, according to the very informative interview included on the Anchor Bay edition of the film, he was actually a minor character in the script and through most of the filming. It wasn't until "Re-Animator" was crafted into a releasable movie that the emphasis shifted to Herbert. (Comments in the interviews on the DVD even make me wonder if the filmmakers knew they were making a comedy until late in the process....)

Whether intentional or accidental art, this is one of those movies that gets everything right, from the mood-setting prologue, through its score (which spoofs Bernard Hermann's famous music for "Psycho") to its chilling end. It's also feels as fresh as when it first released in 1985. This is one of those very rare horror movies that actually deserves the label "classic."

If you are inclined to add this film to your personal library, make sure you get the limited edition "unrated" version from Anchor Bay. The cut presented there may be shorter than the R-rated version, but the humor and shocks are more outrageous than its tamer and slightly bloated counterpart. The disc full of extras is also something that you'll find extremely interesting if you have any interest at all in the filmmaking process. (The same is true of the commentary tracks.)

1 comment:

  1. Always a favorite. I remember my friends and I had to get one of our dads to rent the video for us back in the mid '80s when we were about 14 or 15. Holy shit. Perfect age to see that movie. We sat there, jaws agape. Nobody had ever seen anything like it. I have the 2-disc DVD set too, and you're right, it's terrific. Only Evil Dead II and Shaun of the Dead can rival Re-Animator as best horror comedy ever.


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