1985. Directed by Stuart Gordon.
"Cat dead, details later."
One of the most faithful adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft's work, Re-Animator is a bazaar of the obscene, both shockingly brilliant and deceptively funny. Beneath layers of desecrated corpses, raunchy sex gags, and a wonderful central performance, Re-Animator is a surprisingly sharp black comedy that moves at a lightning pace, eschewing any semblance of plot in favor of extreme visuals and elaborate body horror revelry.
Herbert West is a medical student that arrives at Miskatonic University under suspicious circumstances. He befriends another student, Dr. Cain, and moves in with him, despite Cain's fiance's reservations. West begins to secretly work on a serum that can bring the dead back to life, but always with disastrous consequences. His work is soon discovered by an immoral professor who tries to blackmail West, leading to a series of murders and reanimations that culminate in a special effects laden showdown between West and his unspeakable creations.
Re-Animator is B movie gold on it's viscera crusted surface. However, it's also a sly satire and bastardization of conventional horror tropes. The entire mad scientist plot is ripped out of Frankenstein and given an 80's hairdo, while Richard Band's music is a synthesized heist of Bernard Hermann's unforgettable score of Hitchcock's Psycho. Everything about this film is an affront that refuses to apologize and doubles down on it's gross imitations, all the way to the final frame. The fact that Re-Animator knows exactly what kind of film it is and the way it stays within its own comfort level is a testament to Gordon's grotesque savant. Instead of going too far, Gordon continually moves the goal line, keeping everything in noxious harmony.
Jeffrey Combs's performance as West is so committed, you often forget that you're watching a comedy. His deadpan delivery and psychotic obsession dovetail into an exploitation hurricane that diminishes the story and supporting cast whenever West deigns to appear. Bruce Abbot, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, and Robert Sampson do great work, but they all fade into the shadow of Combs's awkward madman. It may take a viewing or two to catch all of the subtlety, but once you're bitten, you're hopelessly infected by the amazing character that is Herbert West.
John Naulin's makeup effects present some of the most intricate depictions of corpses ever used in a horror film. Naulin studied various medical records and used over 20 gallons of fake blood in production. The result is ghoulish zombies that repulse, but in the best way possible. Richard McGuire's top shelf special effects use the makeup as a building block to create a monument of absurd terror. There's something immediately psychosexual about the undead that initially comes across as schlock gore, but eventually settles into a provocative rhythm once the final sequence begins, making the appearance of phallic tentacles seem completely appropriate.
Available now for digital rental, Re-Animator is a landmark achievement in horror satire. Gordon's work is an important reminder of what films used to be about. Winning a special prize at the Cannes Film Festival, this is a movie in which the director has complete control over every faculty being presented. Gordon outdoes himself by telling a story where nothing if off limits and the only boundaries are those self imposed by the viewer. Carried on Jeffrey Combs's capable shoulders and boasting some remarkable special effects, Re-Animator is a cult classic that is a perfect addition to regular Halloween viewing traditions.
Highly. Highly recommend.