Director: Stuart Gordon
Re-Animator is my first true love. I had my years with Rushmore and Eyes Wide Shut, but those were fleeting relations, before I truly understood the range of emotions available for film. While director Stuart Gordon would somewhat suffer from Tobe Hooper-esque one-hit-wonderness, Re-Animator nonetheless remains an amazing film, unique in its dedication to its tone and style, still capable of eliciting “holy crap” moments from a post Dead Alive-over-gored horror viewer.
The film starts at with a brief glimpse of what’s to come that somehow is more successful than a million other films – before and after – that attempt to interest the viewer with a splash of weird or violence or plot. For better or worse, these scenes are always telling. When I recently watched “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” the introduction had elements of which I disapproved that popped up throughout the rest of the movie. Whether an intro results in a bias by being made more sensitive to it various elements of a film or whether it’s truly an indication of a movie as a whole could be argued back and forth with, I’m sure, millions of results on both sides. But for me, it’s rare that I’m turned around mid-film. And Re-Animator had me from go, with the great Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West turning away from the bloody body that has drawn our attention at the beginning and disagrees with the claims of murder, stating, “I gave him life.”
Combs is a key element here. Dead Alive relies on a silly cartoon-like element that’s brought across by the shooting style, the anted-up gore, and the sort of gonzo over-acting that lets us know where we stand. It’s a movie of excess. Evil Dead’s characters are mostly faceless in the film, Bruce Campbell’s notoriety only because he lasted to the next film, where he’s portrayed as the star, but ED has a momentum that propels you through it, and it’s apparent that the reason of the film is to spook you. Re-Animator, though, as embodied in Combs, is several things at once, which helps to make it a more complete viewing experience. Combs plays the role with this perfect mixture of menace, and curiosity, and just enough ham that you have a slight smile, lost when your jaw drops at where the plot goes. Plot. Because Re-Animator attempts to tell a story. It’s not above relying on some pastiches and some jokes and some ultra-gore, but as Ebert pointed out in his review eons ago, these seem more like Gordon and his crew wanting to work within the camp horror genre to make something good, as opposed to just including the elements because they’re making a horror film.
Whatever. Richard Band’s score is incredibly badass and thematic here, the opening titles revving us up for the goodness to follow. Band’s work in Puppet Master – also watched recently – has the same blend of innocence and fright as in this film, but it’s so much more mundane and innocuous. In Re-Animator, it’s propulsive, giving some intensity to a movie that, at times, drops to quiet, slower scenes to build the story. The effects are also balanced perfectly, because the cheesy effects near the start are good false-sense-of-security for the insanity later on. I don’t know why Bruce Abbott wasn’t a larger star – he was a good looking guy with a really awesome handle on expressing emotions, as the script requires him to jump around from woe to terror to shock to joy on a dime. And the patience with which Gordon moves around his sets and characters translated to too much of one or another element in many of his later films (too slow, too cheesy, to grisly, etc.) but was kept in check here.
There are several five gibble horror films I’ve come across, but Re-Animator is still, ten years after viewing, a movie I can name as a favorite. It’s rare to have so much packed into a genre film but it still be able to 100% claim itself as a genre film.
Blu-ray notes: There have been several re- an re-releases of this film, and I’ve owned many. The last and most complete one (I believe) that I had was the Millenium edition; I’ve replaced that with the Arrow edition. That drops some of the various versions of the film, but condenses them as the Integral Version, which merges most of the footage from the rated and extended cuts. Otherwise, the many, many features are still there, along with a new commentary and, I thin, featurette. Alas, this is one of those flicks where watching one / listening to one commentary gives you the whole shebang. It’s nice to have a bunch of stuff to sift through, but it will mostly be retreads of the movie starting out as a TV show, and how Gordon came from stage direction. The most fun (after learning what you will regarding the above) is the cast commentary, as they legitimately enjoy the movie, and a new (I think) feature that goes over the history of Lovecraft film adaptations. It’s dry, but pretty complete and interesting. The Arrow packaging / remaster is at its usual high standards; I noticed some color fuzz on whites, but that may have been in the Millenium edition and I didn’t see it. The audio, otherwise, gets a big boost: I very much heard nuance on the score I haven’t heard before. Also included is a comic collection made in the 90s (it sucks, but it’s a nice thought) and some postcards.