Re-Animator (1985)
Director: Stuart Gordon
Writers: Stuart Gordon, William J. Norris, and Dennis Paoli
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, and David Gale

The Plot: Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is a young medical student who has recently transferred to Miskatonic University. Dan (Bruce Abbott) is a lovable young everyman who attends the same university and is studying to become an MD himself. He also has a girlfriend named Megan (Barbra Crampton) who he desperately loves, but she is the dean’s daughter and they are both waiting until graduation before contemplating marriage. When Dan puts out an advertisement for a new roommate, the last person he expects to take him up on this offer is the awkward new kid Herbert West. Yet, Herbert and Dan hit it off fairly well. Although Megan isn’t a big fan of West, the situation seems to be working out. That is until Dan finds out about Herbert Wests’ research. West believes that he can beat “brain death,” and he has a green solution that is supposed to help him get that job done. Unfortunately, as Dan gets roped into this quest to stop death, the two find themselves dealing with reanimated bodies that are becoming ruthlessly violent and powerful. With each experiment the two find themselves getting deeper and deeper into a dark world of trouble, but will they get out of this situation before something truly terrible takes place?

The Review
When Varied Celluloid was first envisioned, the goal was never to create a review archive for genre classics. Generally, the movies that instigated my own personal love for horror cinema are well-documented in much larger venues than this little site. Yet, whenever events like Kung Fu Christmas and Halloween Horror roll around, this seems to be the most apt time to discuss such films. With some of these movies, film fans must argue whether or not the movies themselves are great or whether our own sentimentality is getting in the way. Yet, on rare occasion, there is a fork in the road where sentimentality and genuinely great cinema meet. Re-Animator is certainly a film that fits this description for me. It is a movie that means a lot to me personally, especially in my love for horror, but it shouldn’t be glanced over at all. The movie finds a perfect blend between gory horror and quirky comedy, and few films do this in such a genuinely unique way. So, with all of that said, spoiler alert, Re-Animator is going to get a very high recommendation.

To reveal a bit about myself, as a kid, my family was very lenient in what they allowed me to watch. I still remember watching both Robocop, Terminator II, and the majority of the Friday the 13th series at a tender age of eight years old, but Re-Animator was a movie that was on a different level from everything else my brother and I had seen in all of our numerous hours of cable television surfing. My brother and I discovered the movie one night on The Movie Channel, in a time period that was far beyond our bedtime, and it became our most feared horror title. For whatever reason, I missed most of the movie, but my dear older brother made sure to inform me of the juicy bits that I missed. Indeed, these moments sounded quite “juicy.” Gorier than nearly anything that we had ever seen, Re-Animator scared me to death. Moreover, the “idea” of Re-Animator, as some sort of extremely violent splatter movie, seemed to scare me more than anything else. However, once my teenage years arrived and my own personal curiosity started to get the better of me, I had to search the movie out. After finding a VHS copy and spending 90 minutes with Dr. Herbert West, my life was certainly changed for the better.

By the time my teenage years had rolled around, I had become very familiar with Sam Raimi and the Evil Dead series. If ever there were a series that showcased the movie quantifiably perfect mix of gory horror and comedy, Raimi’s series would be the place to look. Yet, when Re-Animator came along, there were few examples of this burgeoning genre. While pioneering the way for this horror and comedy mix, Re-Animator demonstrates a tremendous amount of wit that is often ignored by current filmmakers. Similar to the Evil Dead franchise, Re-Animator plays its humor completely straight. Herbert West could have been played as a maniacal scientist, but instead Jeffrey Combs takes the role and plays this character as a bit of a socially-backwards… well, jerk. There’s really no easy way to relate the personality of this character other than calling him a jerk, because that’s precisely what he is. His narcissism and slightly cocky personality is absolutely the reason that he, despite being one of the “villains” within this movie, has become a character that has become more popular than his films.

The arrogance of Herbert West is integral in the humor, but the way that the rest of the characters play the movie straight is also a key part in the way that this silly movie is able to work. If audiences were to sit back and give too much thought to the infamous “detached head gives oral sex to a chained woman” scene, then there’s a very different laugh that the movie would get. In the hands of different filmmakers, such humorous bits would be played without any traces of subtlety. Although Re-Animator is far from being a subtle movie, the comedy doesn’t jump out and announce itself for the audience. Not in the same way that the gore does. Indeed, the gore is a huge part of the movie and it is given top billing in most reviews. The damage done with a bonesaw in this movie has likely never been duplicated. Not in any movie that I have ever witnessed, at least. Yet, the chunky gore effects are done in such a way that mature audiences should be able to appreciate them as technical marvels instead of purely grotesque imagery. Although the gore FX may seem antiquated in the eyes of younger viewers, the practical effects are still nasty during the scenes that call for it.

The Conclusion
Writing a review for Re-Animator almost seems pointless, because I don’t personally know any film geek who HASN’T seen the movie. Yet, younger geeks are coming up every day, and everyone needs some place to start. So, for those who haven’t seen it, Re-Animator comes with my highest rating and recommendations. I give it a five out of five, a rating that it obviously deserves.