Genre: Horror Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 26 min.
Release Date: October 18th, 1985 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Stuart Gordon Actors: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson, Barbara Pieters
e-Animator” is too creative and smartly assembled to be dismissed as a mere B-movie, but it goes to great lengths to cram every element of a typical exploitation film into one outrageously self-aware horror/comedy. Nudity, undead monstrosities, extreme gore, mad scientists, and jump-scares permeate every scene, while the re-animated zombies themselves are presented with sensationally over-the-top blood effects, first-rate makeup, and darkly hilarious dialogue. It’s a rare, perfect marriage of laughs and chills.
“I gave him life!” exclaims Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), having brought back to life the deceased body of esteemed doctor Gruber (Al Berry). Like a cold and calculating Frankenstein, West has created a re-animating agent that can defeat brain death – but with startling consequences. After getting kicked out of his independent research experimentation facilities in Switzerland, Herbert journeys to Arkham, Massachusetts, where he moves in with brain surgeon hopeful Daniel Cain (Bruce Abbott). Daniel and his girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton) are uneasy with Cain’s isolation in the basement, but make the best of it until they accidentally witness the preternatural resurrection of their very dead cat Rufus.
Confronting Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson), who happens to be Megan’s father, only casts skepticism on Daniel’s trustworthiness. Demanding a rescinding of Cain’s school loans and the expelling of West, Halsey elects to silence the two young rebellious scientists and their tall tales. But when a secret rejuvenation experiment ends in Halsey’s death – and subsequent re-animation – the mischievous duo finds themselves the target of the twisted Carl Hill (David Gale), who wants to steal the secret of everlasting life for himself.
Opening magnificently with a touch of schlocky scares and a twist on the theme music from “Psycho,” “Re-Animator” proceeds to do everything right in building a singular splatter film. From one of the greatest scene transitions ever (beginning with Megan cooing “no, no, no,” when Dan tries to kiss her in the hospital hallway and cutting to a shot of her screaming “yes, yes, yes!” in bed), to awkward close-ups of West’s scowling face, to delightfully bloody brain surgery (it’s like peeling a large orange), each brilliantly preposterous moment is carefully orchestrated. No shot is wasted and no scene concludes without mustering uneasy laughs from ultra-gory, usually accidental bloodbaths.
Whether it’s a shovel decapitation or an astonishingly perverted sexual deviancy, “Re-Animator” knows when to toss in uncomfortably weird ingredients and gruesome carnage. Director Stuart Gordon, working from a story by H.P. Lovecraft, and his wonderful cast of oddball characters manage to conjure the right reactions from audiences through alternations of suspense, cheesiness, and hilarity. Even the re-animation side effects of telepathy and telekinesis feel acceptable, alongside sequences involving hyperactive attacks by stuffed animals. It’s imaginative and amusingly excessive, mixing shrieks and chuckles like Peter Jackson’s “Dead Alive.” Pioneering a cult franchise (theatrically followed by 1991’s “Bride of Re-Animator”) and a prolific partnership with producer Brian Yuzna, this original landmark is a refreshing, not-to-be-missed take on a classic tale of science gone too far.
– Mike Massie