By Kurly Tlapoyawa
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Bruce Abbott
The ’80s were a pretty strange decade for horror films. In a way, you could almost say they were the antithesis to the gritty, survivalist-style horror flicks that defined the ’70s. Instead of the raw power of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, horror flicks in the ’80s were frequently accentuated with comedy bits and nudity for the sheer sake of nudity—often with dismal results. But when they worked, damn did these gems of the Reagan era kick a helluva lot of ass.
Films such as The Toxic Avenger, The Evil Dead and The Stuff made splatter-comedy a welcome genre in the already dwindling field of horror. And then, of course, there is the king of them all—a film as funny and goofy as it is horrific and gory. I’m talking about Stuart Gordon’s masterpiece, Re-Animator.
Loosely based on a short story by none other than H.P. Lovecraft, Re-Animator was Stuart Gordon’s first and arguably best film. It stars horror icon Jeffrey Combs as Dr. Herbert West, a strange young man obsessed with conquering death. The movie kicks things into high gear right out of the gate, opening on the tail end of an experiment gone horribly wrong in Switzerland. I won’t go into specifics, but let’s just say a guy’s eyeballs explode out of his head at some point. Of course, Dr. West is the sole survivor of this event and he ain't exactly talking about what went wrong. We follow West as he travels to the United States to attend Miskatonic Medical School, where he immediately bumps heads with the prickish Dr. Carl Hill (played by the late David Gale).
After an unfortunate incident involving a psychotic, walking cat corpse, West reveals his work to fellow graduate student and roommate Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). You see, thanks to the the awesomely named Re-Agent chemical, Dr. West can re-animate the corpses of the recently dead. But there are some pretty major kinks yet to be worked out with the formula, as these walking dead are super quick and fueled by mindless rage. Nonetheless, West convinces the otherwise normal Dan to join him on his experiments, and soon the two are seeking out fresher and fresher corpses to conduct their work on. Can you see something going horribly wrong here? Of course you can!
The young duo’s late-night raids on the hospital morgue lead to a violent encounter with Dr. Hill, who gets his head lopped off for all of his interference. The re-animated Dr. Hill takes to toting his mistreated melon around in a bowl and plotting vengeance against the young punks that made him a living freak. It seems Dr. Hill is not only jealous of West’s work, he also has a bit of a thing for Dan’s girlfriend, Meg (played by the wicked-hot Barbara Crampton, providing the only voice of reason in the film). Dr. Hill soon concocts a fiendish plot of his own and kidnaps Meg as bait, leading to a notorious sex scene which gives new meaning to the phrase “giving head.”
At only 86 minutes, Re-Animator comes at you like a freight train and never lets up. This delightfully deranged masterpiece pulses with so much raw, vibrant energy that you feel a little wired when it all comes to an end. Hell, I watched it twice in a row while getting ready to write this review. The acting is top-notch and perfectly suited for a flick like this; but all credit has to be given to Jeffrey Combs, who instills in Dr. West a perfect combination of nervous weirdness, curious passion and outright creepiness that made you stay the hell away from all us D&D playing nerds in high school.
When it comes to the DVD itself, those magnificent bastards at Anchor Bay have outdone themselves in every possible way. This suped-up unrated version includes every last drop of gore without any of the mind-numbing extended scenes used to pad out the R-rated version of the film. In fact, not only do we get a spectacular 16x9 print with killer sound, but a bevy of extras and doodads as well! The extras include an excellent 70-minute “making of” featurette, interviews with all the major players, deleted scenes, trailers, production stills, storyboards and DVD-Rom supplements of the entire script and original H.P. Lovecraft story! If you have never had the distinct pleasure of watching this film, then you owe it to yourself to check it out—with a large group of friends, if possible. It’ll remind you just how much fun horror movies can be. (Anchor Bay, $24.98)
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