★★★ / ★★★★
Here is a movie that embraces H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West—Re-Animator,” and injects it with wild enthusiasm. What results is a bloody, in-your-face, nearly genius horror-comedy so wildly entertaining, it is impossible to look at without being enraptured by the bizarre images: a cat in pieces still wiggling about, a headless neurosurgeon (yes, ironic), giant intestines seeming to have a mind of its own… It’s totally bonkers. But it’s a good movie, certainly worthy of a cult following, because director Stuart Gordon, who co-writes the screenplay with Dennis Paoli and William J. Norris, commits to the idea all the way to the finish line.
Herbert West is one of the most memorable mad scientists I’ve come across in the movies. He is played with gusto to spare by Jeffrey Combs. When Herbert enters a room it feels as though he sucks on all the air from it. He is so rigid, so stern, so unrelenting when it comes to achieving his vision of defeating death, you take one look at the medical student and you are convinced morality and ethics are of no importance to him. What matters is results, and he will get it. And so when he answers a roommate ad posted by Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), one of the most promising young physicians in Miskatonic University, it is expected that Dan’s future is sealed.
Love can be felt in every touch of makeup and special effects. Whether it be a rotting hand or eyeballs bulging out of their sockets and then exploding, the filmmakers consistently frame these images in such a way that they look disgusting and beautiful—you want to cringe at the sight of them yet at the same time want to study them closely. I was especially tickled by the more realistic effects like when the superstar scientist Dr. Hill (David Gale) gives a demonstration on how to extract a whole brain from a corpse. His students are unfazed—with the exception of Herbert who despises the man for being a plagiarist. The sight of Dr. Hill still being in science, and thriving, enrages Herbert. He must get on with his late-night experiments.
The picture is peppered with deadpan humor, from the way characters respond to the reality that, yes, the dead can be brought back to life (with certain… concessions) to how a head severed from its body is still able to control the body and perform rather complex tasks. The writers are correct in allowing the more improbable occurrences happen later on because by then we are engrossed by the story’s mental universe. We grow curious of what else the work has in store. And how left-field happenings can surprise us in delightful and horrific ways.
Filmmaker James Wan has claimed that horror are the best-made movies in terms of craft. This is highly applicable in “Re-Animator” because so many pieces must be controlled to create a believable and fun experience, not just in terms of blood—how much to use, when to use it, getting just the right consistency to be convincing, and how to make it look good as it spatters on the wall—but also when to use a real head versus a mannequin, how to best angle the camera so that a mechanical effect can look more natural, down to the appearance of the zombie serum so that it looks portentous and capable of standing out amidst the chaos.