Jul 12, 2011

24FPS Top 100: No. 56

56: RE-ANIMATOR [1985]
DIR: Stuart Gordon
Why is it on the list?
Re-Animator isn't, I'll admit, many people's idea of a great movie; it's a schlocky 80's horror flick with broad performances and loads of gore. Okay, it's not Schindler's List, but it's not trying to be, and on its own unpretentious terms Re-Animator is a storming, hilarious, success.

After many years as a theatre director, Stuart Gordon broke into cinema with this, his directorial debut. Gordon's experience with long rehearsal periods and with theatre's actor focused approach may go some way to explaining why Re-Animator, though it is 'just' a low budget horror film, actually boasts a set of strong performances and a surprisingly solid, and often very witty screenplay. The cast is led by the reliably eccentric Jeffrey Combs, as Herbert West, Re-Animator (the title of HP Lovecraft's orginal story, on which Dennis Paoli, William Norris and Gordon's screenplay is -apparently very loosely - based). Combs plays West as a man consumed with his scientific breakthrough to the point of madness, but also as something of a kid in a candy store. When things (the cat, people, whatever) are dying around him West is like an excited kid with his first chemistry set, who never stops to consider whether what he's putting in his test tubes is about to explode. Wests pomposity is often very funny, but so is his mad pursuit of his goals, and the fascination with his results (especially funny is the moment he starts taking notes when the decapitated head of a rival comes back to life).

Around the charismatic Combs is a strong cast with no big names in it. David Gale seems sometimes to disdain the project, which, ironically, only makes his performance as West's teacher more perfect. However, when Gale lets himself off the leash and really becomes the film's (reanimated) villain, he seems to start enjoying himself (who wouldn't, given one particular scene)? In the other major supporting roles Bruce Abbott does his best to ground the madness as West's housemate and reluctant assistant, while Barbara Crampton, though probably hired for her beauty and willingness to be very naked, contributes a performance that does actually add up to bit more than the usual naked imperilled plot device.

However, Re-Animator isn't really a film you go to for great acting. It's one you go to for good gory fun, and on that level it delivers in, and indeed with, spades. The gore scenes, which escalate from the reanimation of a cat, through the infamous 'head' scene (details below), to the creation of a morgue full of zombies, required 25 gallons of fake blood, and the effects still hold up 26 years later. Gordon keeps things quite credible (a good idea for a film set in a medical school), resulting in not the slightly discoloured zombies of George Romero but corpses that reflect the manner of their death be it a heat attack or a shotgun to the face.

After all the madness and all the silliness, Gordon even manages to find a legitimately haunting, and character driven, note to go out on, rounding off with an excellent cliffhanger which actually deals in both horror and a surprising degree of moral complexity. It's an unusual close to an unusual gore movie, and just one more thing that makes Re-Animator stand out.

Standout Scenes [Once again these scenes were not available to embed from youtube]
Opening Titles: Largely for Richard Band's score, which riffs on Psycho to brilliant effect

Cat: Herbert West proves to his flatmate that he has indeed cracked the secret of life and death, by reanimating his dead cat. Twice.

Head: Here's something you don't see every day; a decapitated head, which has been reanimated, giving head to a naked student doctor.

Memorable Lines
Dan Cain: [Dan's cat has died and been found in Herbert's refrigerator] You can call, or write a note.
Herbert West: I was busy pushing bodies around as you well know and what would a note say, Dan? "Cat dead, details later"?

Herbert West: I must say, Dr. Hill, I'm VERY disappointed in you. You steal the secret of life and death, and here you are trysting with a bubble-headed coed. You're not even a second-rate scientist!

Dr. Carl Hill: [Dr. Hill's head has just *awakened*] Wesssssssssst...
Herbert West: Yes, Doctor, it's Herbert West. What are you thinking? How do you feel?
Dr. Carl Hill: [wheezing] Youuuuuuuuuu...
Herbert West: [eagerly taking notes] "You..."
Dr. Carl Hill: Bassssstaaaaaarrrrrd!

[Re-re-animating the dead cat in the basement]
Herbert West: Don't expect it to tango; it has a broken back.

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