Cult Horror Corner: Re-Animator
Predating comedy horror magnum opus Evil Dead II by two years, Stuart Gordon’s debut feature Re-Animator is a brilliant, underrated classic that is as blackly hilarious as it is astoundingly gory. Adapted from a H.P. Lovecraft short story, Re-Animator tells the rather bizarre tale of Herbert West (the fantastically creepy and unpredictable Jeffrey Combs), a medical student who comes to the USA from Switzerland, where he was accused of murdering a professor, despite his claims that “I gave him life!” Herbert takes up room with a brilliant student, Dan (Bruce Abbott, an unlikely hero, as cultish and fun as another famous Bruce), and sets about re-animating corpses in the basement. Soon, the dean of the college, who happens to be the father of Dan’s girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton), winds up re-animated and a sleazy professor (David Gale) catches wind of West’s ideas.
Realising that often gore can be both frightening and funny, Gordon’s slapstick approach to re-animated corpses ensures that no matter how disgusting certain scenes are, they raise an (often very shocked) smile. Though there’s an astonishingly bad taste skit in which a headless corpse tries to perform a sexual act on Megan, there’s also a fight with a cat and the previously mentioned headless corpse wearing a surgical demonstration model as a face. Both leads are appealing, with Abbott a likeable figure and Combs, who would go on to play the similarly sinister Milton Dammers in Peter Jackson’s underrated The Frighteners, giving a performance that won horror fans over, and became a minor icon of cult cinema.
At 86 minutes, Re-Animator is the perfect length, with a snappy pace, no filler or boring sections, and increasing the pace gradually, building up to a huge, crazy climax which provokes numerous laugh-out-loud moments. Though less widely seen than Evil Dead II and too slapstick and madcap for most horror fans, Re-Animator is still a treat nearly thirty years on, and one of the finest early horror comedies.
By Harry Ford