In 1985, perverse playwright and theater director Stuart Gordon (Castle Freak, Dagon) revealed his first foray into film: a stomach-churning, yet thrillingly witty take on a Frankenstein-esque story that would set the stage for the horror-comedy genre and gross-out movies to come. Equal parts Herschell Gordon Lewis and H.P. Lovecraft (as it remains the most famous adaptation of the Lovecraft story), Re-Animator is an unbridled, impressive debut that remains the director’s best film.
Jeffrey Combs (The Firghteners, Star Trek) plays the mad scientist Herbert West who, with his syringe of glowing green chemical reagent, obsessively attempts to master bringing the dead back to life. After successfully reanimating his roommate Dan’s dead cat, the duo begin to experiment on human subjects with disastrous results. As their numerous efforts lead to increasingly ridiculous carnage, West only becomes more determined and diabolical and the film transcends gothic horror into Grand Guignol madness. The script and the practical visual effects fuel the gruesome black comedy, but the performances of the main cast tether it to an emotional center that defines the film. Combs walks an extremely thin line between evil and camp that prevents Re-Animator from teetering off either tonal cliff, and Barbara Crampton (Chopping Mall, We Are Still Here), in her breakout role as Megan Halsey (arguably the moral core of the film), demonstrates the amount of heart required to be a true scream queen.
The gory masterpiece skipped MPAA submission (a risky move for Gordon in terms of making one’s film available for a wide audience), but found itself a champion in critic Pauline Kael, who described it as “pop Buñuel” and praised its “indigenous American junkiness.” Don’t miss the viscera, horny corpses, and Herbert West’s signature neon syringe.