Zombos Says: Excellent
Re-Animator with Jeffrey Combs--one of my favorite horror and sci-fi actors--is an outrageous onscreen realization of H.P. Lovecraft's Herbert West: Reanimator series of short stories.
Stuart Gordon directs this gory-to-absurdity film with one body part humor and multiple body parts 'Theater of the Grotesque.' Comb's exuberance and intensity as Herbert West is a perfect melding of histrionics and gleeful, devil may care, hubris. Add Richard Band's driving, Bernard Herrmanesque score with its incessant and forceful strings and sardonically playful cat and mouse orchestrations, and what you have is a treat that most any horrorhead would die for, along with the organic, freshly-popped popcorn drowning in real butter and salt.
The film wastes no time in establishing its gory, black comedy tone as it opens in Switzerland, with West kneeling over the just revived body of his teacher, Dr. Gruber. Unfortunately, as with all of his reanimations, Dr. Gruber does not take well to the revivification and experiences an eye-popping side effect; literally, that is, as both pop. As the law moves in, West moves out to Miskatonic University Medical School. West, who has an incredible knack for getting out of tight spots he continuously puts himself into, is introduced as a promising medical student. He is intense, arrogant, and just itching to inject his mysteriously glowing solution into anything remotely dead. Rooming with a fellow medical student, Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), West quickly takes over the basement for his bizarre experiments.
As I watched the film and munched on my popcorn, one thing that struck me about most horror films from the 70's and 80's is they usually have a well-written script, crisp dialog, and a solid plot logic that seems to elude most horror films done today. While current films may be more sophisticated in artistic and special effects designs, many seem to lack the simple ability to tell a coherent story with memorable dialog. But I digress.
Once in class, West, in a humorous scene, starts loudly breaking pencils during Hill's pompous lecture--one snap for every comment he passionately disagrees with. West accuses Hill of being a hack who's stolen Dr. Gruber's work. Both inevitably lock horns and Hill strongly recommends that West switch to using a pen. Their antagonism and professional rivalry soon leads to a Grand Guignol showdown of oneupmanship that still stands out as one of the most gorily entertaining showdowns in horror cinema.
It all starts getting out of hand with Rufus the cat. In a scene both funny and chilling at the same time, West reanimates Cain's pet after Cain and his girl friend Meg, Dean Halsey's daughter, find Rufus in West's fridge next to the Coke (things do go better with Coke). Faster than you can say weird-product-placement, West revives the dead Rufus in the basement with the usual side-effects.
All hell breaks loose as West and Cain fend off the furry fiend's attack with anything at hand. The lone hanging light that illuminates the room is knocked back and forth, alternately casting the basement and the action in light and darkness. One lucky swing of the bat and the cat is now juicy minced-brain pie sliding down the wall.
Cain, not believing his own eyes, watches as West once again injects the now mashed-up feline. "Don't expect it to tango," West quips as he injects the serum. "It has a broken back." While the cat doesn't tango, it does, once again, come back to screeching life. Now convinced that West's serum can reanimate the dead, Cain joins him in finding fresher subjects to experiment on. They go to the morgue to find a fresh cadaver, and settle on one fellow who died from unknown circumstances. West injects the serum, they wait, and he impatiently injects a greater dose.
--At this point the film suddenly stopped! Our theater screen went black! While theater personnel rushed to fix the problem, someone in the audience came up with an apropos game: who would you reanimate if you could? The audience joined in and one very bright fellow said, "Vincent Price!" That's the kind of answer I like to hear--
In a very short time we were back with Herbert West, Dan Cain, and the cadaver. It comes to life, and once again all hell breaks loose as the newly reanimated body wreaks havoc and mayhem.
Dean Halsey unfortunately manages to walk into the bloody havoc and mayhem and gets some fingers bitten off as he defends himself. In an orgy of gory, West brings down the reanimated cadaver with a whirring skull-saw through the chest move, but not before Dean Halsey is much the worse for wear and quite dead.
Did somebody say dead? Dean Halsey is quickly injected with the serum as West pluckily seizes the opportunity for another test. You really must admire his intrepid spirit. Meg walks into the gruesome scene just as her dad is reanimated with less than stellar results. West reassures her: "He's not insane: he's dead." She, of course, is noticeably upset and confused by the whole mess.
Later, while examining the zombie-like Dean Halsey, Hill realizes he's as dead as a doornail and goes after West for the serum. While Hill gloats over his superiority, West takes the flat end of a shovel to his head, sending it flying through the air. Trying to prop up the not so good doctor's head in a pan, West eventually gives up and grabs a paper spike and impales the head on it. He injects the head with his serum, then decides to inject the headless body too, quipping, "I've never done parts." Sure, why not? He's been so successful already.
Doing parts, however, turns out to be a bad idea. Hill controls his clumsy, headless body to whack West unconscious. Taking his head with him, he heads back to his office, and the now bipartisan doctor uses his head (in a manner of speaking) to command Dean Halsey to do his bidding, like some dead but reanimated Renfield.
Hill's head (stay with me on this) heads to the morgue while Dean Halsey heads to get his daughter, who Hill has a fancy for. The unconscious Meg is brought back to the morgue where Hill has her stripped au naturale, and proceeds to give her head with his head, aided by his headless body. West walks in on them, chides Dr. Hill for not using his head purely for science, and soon discovers that the cadavers in the room are under Hill's control, too. All bloody hell once again breaks loose as cadavers, in various states of leaking morbidity, attack West and Cain.
Dean Halsey, vaguely realizing his daughter is in danger, goes after Hill and grabs his head between his hands (that's Dr. Hill's head between Dean Halsey's hands), and squeezes it like a really big zit. West, fighting the cadavers, heads over to Hill's headless body and injects it with two syringes full of reanimation serum.
Faster than you can say hellz-a-poppin, Hill's body explodes in a geyser of entrails and organs. An eerie white light blasts forth from the now exploded chest cavity, and a very large, large intestine snakes out and around West, pinning him to the floor in a Lovecraftianesque tour de force.
Cain and Meg manage to escape the room, leaving West to his fate of Re-Animator sequels, but Meg is soon killed by a relentless cadaver as she runs for the elevator.
Can you guess where this is going? Right! Cain rushes Meg to the emergency room, but when all else fails he injects her with the reanimation serum. Tsk, tsk, they never learn, do they? Lucky for us.
Re-Animator is definitely one of the top fright flicks of all time. It's gory fun, witty, and horrifying with a capital H.