Halloween is imminent, and it’s time to mass-watch some scary movies. Personally, this is my favourite time of year, so I am going to try and post a few extra, short reviews on some of my favourite horror flicks. Warning: spoilers are likely.
Herbert West (Jeffery Combs) has recently arrived at a university from abroad, bringing with him his research and his re-agent formula. This formula has the ability to re-animate the dead. Responding to an ad in the paper, he moves into the home of Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). Dan is also a doctor at the university and is dating the dean’s daughter Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton). West’s former experiments are doubted and looked down upon by the administrators of school, especially by Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale). Against the school’s orders, West continues his experiments in private, eventually enlisting the aid of Dan. But death has its price, and West’s obsession with success slowly tears apart the lives around him, manifested in the form of re-animated monsters.
As dark and serious as that all sounds, Re-Animator is much like a funny and fast-paced version of Frankenstein. The difference being, that where Frankenstein realizes the error of his ways after his creation is alive and wreaks carnage, West smugly never wants to stop experimenting even as his plans spiral further and further out of control.
The moral, in this case, seems to be gained from Dan’s point of view. If we relate to Dan, we can make the comparison that, as Dan, we allow those with the ability to create miracles to continue to attempt to do so. This is something we allow daily in the hopes of gaining a better future, even if, most of the time, all this progress brings forth only more nightmares and destruction.
In the film’s case, it’s a good thing that Dan helps West continue his mad rampage of experimentation. This is because the shining star of the feature is Combs, as he nails this take on the mad scientist. It’s an impressive feat to both giggle in the face of innocent death and keep the audience rooting for you, but somehow he pulls it off. We know, or at least suspect, that West is manipulating Dan from the outset, yet somehow Combs still manages to make him seem human enough that the audience wants them to remain buddies. Their strange chemistry as friends makes it seem far more important than Dan’s love for Megan.
What really smacks this movie right out of the park are the psychotic final scenes. West finally manages to animate a being that retains intelligence. Unfortunately, the creature is the corpse of Dr. Hill, and both his body and detached head retain their hate for Herbert. This results in the weirdest scene in the film, where the Doctor attempts to molest the kidnapped Megan by kissing her while holding his head in front of him (the whole scene is reminiscent of the part of the original Frankenstein story where the beast steals his wife… if that part was on crank).
Then the final battle begins and it is a flesh filled spectacle, which has become a trademark in most of director Stuart Gordon’s films. If the rest of the film wasn’t grisly enough with its exploding eyeballs and corpses constantly gushing blood, the big climax features a small army of decaying corpses tearing shit up at random. This is followed by Herbert West’s “plan” of creating an experimental overdose, which causes things to go really Lovecraft-y when the OD causes an explosion of grasping, tentacle-like organs to stream across the room. There’s a lot more at play here and the last 20 minutes of the flick is a perfect mix of frenzy, disgust, and hilarity that has to be seen to be believed.
The film revels in its campiness and creates a hero/villain for the ages with Herbert West, all set to an awesome Hitchcock-esque score. I don’t think I need to tell you that if you don’t like gore, this one is not for you. If you are a fan of the genre and this one has slipped past you, give it a watch and you will be in for a supreme treat.