8 April 2004 | clydestuff
The Academy Award for best use of a headless corpse goes to...
Most of the cheap or not so cheaply made horror films these days are nothing more than a tedious exercise in how to bump off as many teenagers in as many different ways as one can imagine in ninety minutes or less. One need only watch recent films such as Wrong Turn or the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre to realize how far the horror genre has fallen. Once John Carpenter made the first Halloween film, we have been subject to an endless series of copy cat films whose only purpose seems to be finding an imaginative way to slice and dice the local teenage population. All of the Freddies, Jasons, and Michael Myers films combined don't come close to having an ounce of the entertainment and imagination of Producer Brian Yuzna and Director and Writer Stuart Gordon's Re-animator.
Professor Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is a scientist who has discovered a formula which brings the dead back to life by reanimating their tissue. After an experiment in Switzerland goes awry, he moves to Miskatonic University to continue his experiments. One thing Professor West isn't and that is modest. He even takes a few moments to ridicule a professor, Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) when he disagrees with him about when death actually occurs. He eventually rents a room from fellow student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbot). Dan is dating Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton) who is the daughter of the college dean, Alan Halsey (Robert Sampson). What Dan doesn't know is that the aforementioned Dr. Hill has a perverted eye on Megan also. We know this because of the sleazy stares Dr. Hill eyeballs her with when ever she's around. Think of Megan as being an overage Lolita and Dr. Hill as Humbert Humbert and you've got the idea. All of this is not window dressing as it would be in some other films. It all comes into play very nicely. It goes without saying that sooner or later, Dr. West will be making good use of his reanimation formula, in ways only those with the most grotesque sense of humor can imagine. To say any more than that would deny you of the true pleasures of this film.
How can a film that is so explicitly graphic and perverted in nature be fun? It's because every person involved in the making of Re-Animator was smart enough not to take it too seriously themselves. Everything in this film is so wildly over the top, that you can't help but chuckle right along with them as they wink their eye at you. There may be certain moments of the film that would normally sicken even the most hardcore horror film fanatic, but since Yuzna and Gordon never once let Re-animator sink into the tedious by the numbers game of other films of these nature, these same scenes become intentionally cartoonish and silly.
But more than anything, this film owes it's life to it's cast. Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West should serve as the model for anyone wanting to make a film involving a mad or semi-mad scientist. Given this kind of role, there is many an actor who would have been tempted to ham it up and alas in many horror films they do just that. However, when Combs seems to imply that he is the smartest man on the planet and the rest of us are Neanderthal, we don't hate him for this implication at all. He is so good at making us believe he is the smartest man since Einstein and we are all nothing but Cro-magnon man by comparison that we love him for it just the same. He may be crazy, but he's a fun kind of crazy.
David Gale as the smarmy Dr. Hill, is a joy to watch also. He has some of the most ridiculous scenes in the film yet somehow manages to keep a straight face through it all. He gives new life to the old saying about not losing your head over a piece of tail.
Bruce Abbot as Dan Cain is the perfect contrast for West. He is a straight arrow, is madly in love with Megan, yet somehow lets himself become involved in West's experiments. Abbot also is smart enough to know that the center of this film is West, and never once overplays his role to try and overshadow him. As for Barbara Crampton, she should have won some kind of award, just for the abuse the producers put her through as Megan. Is there an award for most abuse of a female by the walking dead?
Re-animator was made on a budget of less than a million dollars which is truly remarkable. There isn't a film budget in the world though that can replace the imagination and daring rampant through out Re-Animator. And when a horror film is that well done, and is something all the Freddies, and Jasons, And Michael Myers can only dream about, I have no choice but to give it my grade which for Re-Animator is an A.