Movies I Need To See Before I Die: THE RE-ANIMATOR (1985)

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(This is a column where I review movies that I have never seen, but SHOULD have.  Being a film Geek, I have seen a ton of films.  But life is also very short, and for one reason or another, there are quite a few flicks that I have never got to.  Sure, it probably doesn’t matter if I ever see a movie like PARENTAL GUIDANCE, but a movie like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA…. well, I should have seen that already.  I’m a film geek for God’s sake!  I have now decided that I should get on that before I get too old.  I have compiled a list of films that I WANT or NEED to watch, and am going to start watching them when I have spare time.  So I will randomly be posting reviews of movies that I have always wanted or needed to see.  Enjoy!)

This is one of those movies that I always saw sitting on the shelf at my local video store back in the 80’s.  Or course, it freaked me out.  I was never into horror, so it never appealed to me.  When I got to High School, I had a few horror fanatic friends that would always rave about it.  Over the years, it’s gotten a pretty decent cult following and is discussed occasionally among film geeks, so I thought I should finally give it a whirl.

This crazy horror flick begins at a hospital and we meet a couple of medical students.  Dan and Megan are in love but have to hide their relationship because her dad is the dean of the school.  A transfer student from Switzerland arrives named Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs).  He becomes roomier with Dan, but things immediately get strange when the cat goes missing, only to find Herbert experimenting on it.  You see, he’s invented a serum that can bring dead tissue back to life.  First they bring the cat back to life, then they begin on dead humans.  The problem is, when they come back to life, they’re extremely hostile.  Things only go south from there when the not-so-nice Dr. Hill steals the Serum for himself.  Before you know it, the morgue is full of live corpses and gory chaos ensues.

This isn’t one of those serious, terrifying horror films.  It’s one of those wacky, gory horror comedies in the same vein as Peter Jackson’s BAD TASTE or Sam Raimi’s EVIL DEAD 2 (though this one preceded them both).  If you like that kind of thing, you should totally dig this.  Me?  I liked it, though not as much as the 2 previously mentioned films.  It’s got a fun, demented sense of humor that I got a kick out of.  It’s never scary.  You’re mostly laughing at all of the gory set pieces.  And that’s fine by me.  I actually prefer this type of horror film than the more serious ones.

It starts off with a cheesy opening as Herbert is being attacked by his mentor (whom he brought back to life).  And then it ends with someone saying, “You killed him!”, to which he replies.  “No, I gave him life!”.  It’s this kind of self-seriousness that makes the movie so silly, which is a good thing.  Then the movie takes a little bit to get moving again as we’re introduced to characters that were sort of bland.  I found Dan and Megan to by your typical, generic horror protagonists.  They were kind of boring.  But once Herbert shows up again, the movie picks up.  The cat attack is pretty funny.  The second half is when it gets really good, when Dr. Hill comes back to life and decides to steal the Serum.  There’s a great moment with his body walking around his office, while his severed head is sitting on the desk, talking to himself.  It’s that kind of craziness that make this a fun time.  I also got a kick out of the subplot involving Megan’s father coming back to life (yeah, a lot of people die in this one).  The finale is just nuts.  There’s a pretty awesomely sick scene involving a severed head and a tied-down naked woman.  Yeah.  The movie went there.  And then, after that, there’s a great sequence that begins with that severed head saying, “So do IIIIII…….”  and then, BOOM!  It’s fucking chaos!  Good times.

The performances are mostly good, with the exception of Bruce Abbott and Barbara Crampton as Dan and Megan.  They’re not terrible, but they seem straight out of a slasher film, and in a movie that’s mostly filled with unique characters, they really stick out.  Jeffrey Combs gives a nutty performance as Herbert.  This one kind of got him type cast, but that’s just because he’s so terrific here.  Never winking at the camera, he’s almost like a demented Bruce Campbell.  David Gale as Dr. Hill does great work here.  At first, he’s sort of in the background, but he really lays it on thick in the final half.  There’s a great moment when he’s trying to seduce Megan in his office, and she gets really creeped out.  I also liked Robert Sampson as Megan’s father.  Once he gets turned into a mindless zombie, well…. he’s really funny.

At the age of 38, director Stuart Gordon made his debut with this.  It’s actually really well directed.  You can tell it’s his first film, because the effort is all there on the screen.  He was making this like he never was going to make another one again.  Lots of unique camera angles, and lots of movement throughout, adding to the excitement.  I saw the unrated version, so it’s pretty graphic.  I’m glad it didn’t shy on nudity too.  I’m not talking about women, but the men (which Hollywood seems to have a complex about).  There’s something scary about angry, naked, living dead corpses.  This movie is very bold!

I wish I could say that this is a perfect horror-comedy.  It’s not.  Megan and Dan are just too much like stock characters.  When they’re having all these relationship problems, I just didn’t care.  Thankfully, this standard stuff isn’t the main focus of the movie.  THE RE-ANIMATOR is more concerned with grossing you out.  And it really succeeds there.  It’s got some zany performances, especially by Combs.  The gory set pieces are definitely the highlight here.  I can, without shame, recommend this one.  I definitely see its appeal and influence.  It’s tasteless, shameless, and nasty.  And I mean that in the most positive way.  Glad I saw it.   ★★★ (out of ★★★★)

– Unrated but contains language, graphic gruesome violence, sex, full frontal nudity, and just some really nasty shit.

– Running time: 1hr 25min.



Categories: Austin Kennedy, Movies I Need To See Before I Die, Reviews

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