Thanks to Netflix I was able to watch The Re-Animator for the first time… again. I say it that way because I attempted to watch it a few years ago and I didn’t finish. I’ve always been hit or miss with horror movies. Either I love them or hate them and most of the time it falls on hate. I don’t think I gave The Re-Animator a fair shake. It seemed too campy and gory. Only watching it again have I realized how wrong I was.
The Re-Animator is based on a short story, “Herbert West Reanimator”, by H.P. Lovecraft, the dude behind the famous Cthulhu Mythos. Re-Animator, both short story and film version, isn’t a mythos story, it has nothing to do with elder gods, but it does deal with knowledge that man was not meant to know, specifically reanimated the dead. Basically, The Re-Animator is Lovecraft’s take on Frankenstein. However, it differs greatly enough that it’s a unique spin on the idea of bringing the dead back to life.
The movie version is liberal with the story, not only is it set in contemporary 1980s time, but there’s a lot of things changed. Still, the heart of the story is there. You’ve got Herbert West experimenting on the dead and bringing them back to life with horrific and unpredictable results.
It’s important to note that for how revered the works of Lovecraft are and the things that he brought to the table for the genre, they are very few films of his work that aren’t complete garbage. There are two that I can think of off the top of my head. The Re-Animator and the silent version of Call of Cthulhu (which is more like a fan film than anything else). Lovecraft’s material is hard to adapt for a few reasons. A lot of it is more about feeling, but another is that his characters weren’t that deep and his plots were… well I’m getting away from the point of things. It’s hard to adapt Lovecraft’s work, so it’s amazing that The Re-Animator was based off of one of his worst short stories and works so well.
One of the lynch pins for this movie working so well is Jeffry Combs as Herbert West. He’s equally funny, terrifying, and sympathetic as the mad medical student. His performance is perfect and I’m usually not one to really care about actors. Fans of Star Trek’s DS9 will recognize him as Weyoun where he again put in a performance of someone who is cunning, yet oddly humorous.
Combs is backed up by Bruce Abbot playing Dan Cain who turns in a great performance of someone who had it all: A good looking doctor to be with a beautiful girlfriend who gets unwittingly sucked into the role of West’s assistant. Speaking of his girlfriend, Megan Halsey, played by Barbara Crampton is an essential part of the trio. They all come to butt heads (pardon the pun) with Dr. Carl Hill, played by David Gale who also puts in a fantastically creepy performance.
The Re-Animator rides a fine line between humor and horror and it does so deliciously well. There’s never a time where I felt that it was too much one or the other, the entire tone of the film is perfect. There is one moment that is worth noting, because of it’s horrific nature… there’s a scene that involves forced sex and some may think the movie goes too far, I feel that it fits the horror elements of the movie. And thankfully, it’s rather short.
The Re-Animator makes excellent use of it’s low budge with some limited locations and practical effects. It feels like a low budget film without looking overly low budget, except for perhaps a few moments with a headless corpse, but it can be forgiven.
If you haven’t seen The Re-Animator and like horror do yourself a favor and watch it. It’s an excellent film that will make you laugh, cringe, and maybe make you think about life after death. Or unlife after death.