Why I Love Re-Animator
"Cat dead. Details later."
Re-Animator, directed by Stuart Gordon is one of my favourite Horror movies of all time. It is an hilarious, brutal and delightfully gory film. When I first saw Re-Animator, it blew my tiny mind. I was a late comer to the party, but once I saw it, I became its most ardent fan. Stuart Gordon has made some of the greatest, most inventive Horror movies of all time. From Beyond, Stuck and the Masters of Horror adaptation of Dreams in the Witch House are all savagely good movies, but it is Re-Animator most of all that marks Gordon as one of the great Horror directors of the last thirty years. Re-Animator is essentially a re-telling of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Herbert West played by the classic B-Movie King Jeffrey Combs, seeks to prove that there can be life after death. Combs is such a joy to watch. He pulls the funniest moments out of a deliriously violent scenario. You're either a Jeffrey Combs guy or a Bruce Campbell guy, and as much as I love The Evil Dead, I'm firmly in the Combs camp.
After all these years, it's pretty hard to innovate in Horror violence, but Re-Animator still stands as one of the most innovative and visually interesting Horror pictures of all time. It puts so much in the Torture sub-genre to shame, for its gleefully perverted brand of Horror. Here is a work of true wonder. The scene where the cat is re-animated remains one of my favourite scenes in any Horror movie. So creepy, so chilling and yet so laugh provoking. This is what Re-Animator does better than any of its peers: it brings a chuckle along with a bone chilling sense of doom. In this way Gordon has a lot in common with the early work of famed Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson. Jackson, before he was known for awe inspiring works of epic proportions, was a Splatter Horror enthusiast with a keen eye for raising laughs as well as a deep sense of disgust at perversions of the natural order. If you haven't seen Braindead, SEE IT NOW. One of the best and funniest Horror movies, bested only by Re-Animator.
Anyway back to Re-Animator. One of the things that Gordon and his collaborator Brian Yuzna did so well was combining extreme Horror with a sexual component. In this way Re-Animator and the other H.P. Lovecraft adaptation, From Beyond, predicted the rise of the Torture sub-genre and its obsession with a sadomasochistic world view. Barbara Crampton is one of the legendary Scream Queens, and she would provide a sense of arousal for both Re-Animator and From Beyond that have gone down in history as some of the most seductive and obscene moments on film. The scene where Dr Hill's severed head performs cunnilingus on Crampton's character... So wrong, and yet so damn right. It is an interesting aspect of Horror, that violence is associated so frequently with sex. Thinking of that 90s masterpiece Scream and its ideas around the punishment of sexual activity in Horror movies - namely that virgins are usually the only people left standing - raises some intriguing questions.
Horror movies are very often wrapped up in tales of morality. Those who are steadfast and righteous and hold to a moral code are the ones who can best the evil and come out breathing. Horror is also obsessed with punishing curiosity. Think of The Evil Dead - both the stunning original and the equally stunning 2013 remake directed by Fede Alvarez - and how some stupid college kids open themselves up to pure Hell because of their need to know why. Alien and Prometheus directed by Ridley Scott are also very much interested in transmitting a cautionary tale about the dangers inherent in knowing what is out there.
The other major element in Re-Animator is definitely comedy. It is a powerfully funny film. There is a lot in common between Horror and Comedy when you think on it, so it is not a surprise that Re-Animator works so well as a Comedy. Just like in Comedy, in Horror there is essentially a set-up and a punchline. The joke only works with the right set-up. In Horror, you need to build tension and create an atmosphere that rewards the excitement before the bang with something that shocks but also that pleases the brain's fear center, as a way to affirm the safety that you possess in your own home. This may seem to be a contradiction, but by sending a jolt of fear through your body by watching other people in dangerous and terrifying scenarios, you understand that you are safe and sound.
Stuart Gordon is responsible for five H.P. Lovecraft adaptations, Re-Animator, From Beyond, Castle Freak, Dagon and Dreams in the Witch House from the stunning TV show Masters of Horror. He is the undeniable master of Lovecraft, and always expresses the spirit of the work, even while changing things to fit to film. Re-Animator is probably the best movie from this bunch, but Dreams in the Witch House is the closest adaptation. Re-Animator, while obviously ramping up the violence and gore and sexuality is still pretty damn true to Lovecraft's short story. There is an interesting side note to the claims of racism in Lovecraft's work here, as in the original short story, Herbert West wonders whether re-animating will work on Black people, because they are not fully human, or something similarly ignorant. While it is true that Lovecraft had strange ideas around race, in the story he does successfully re-animate a Black man, proving his theory wrong. Lovecraft may have been not a nice man, but that does not diminish one bit the power and wonder of his work, something Gordon knows very well. Gordon takes all the good stuff in Lovecraft's work and cuts out the bullshit. In this respect, it can be said that Stuart Gordon's movies are the best way to experience Lovecraft's work.
Re-Animator is one of the great Horror movies. It has dazzled and pleased audiences with its innovative violence, its powerful comedic touch and an atmosphere of pure fear, for decades and will continue to do so for many years to come. This is Horror that is just replete with FUN. Everything about the movie brings on happiness and satisfaction. Happiness that while things may be bad in your life, they're not that bad. Satisfaction in seeing virtuoso artists at work. I also recommend checking out the two sequels directed by Brian Yuzna, Bride of Re-Animator and Beyond Re-Animator, particularly Bride of Re-Animator which is almost as good as the original. If you haven't seen Re-Animator, good God, do so as soon as is humanly possible!