Stuart Gordon Retrospective: Re-Animator

Ahh, so we arrive at the fourth and arguably most celebrated entry in my Stuart Gordon Retrospective: Re-Animator.

reanimator poster by you.

(Well, I mean that Re-Animator is celebrated. Not my review of it, which is brand new and hasn’t had the chance to gain notoriety. I have high hopes, however).

Re-Animator was Stu’s first film and it deservedly propelled him into cult status.  He wrote it with frequent collaborator Dennis Paoli from, what else?, the Lovecraft novel Herbert West: Reanimator. Gordon pal Brian Yuzna produced, as per yuuzh. It’s demented, irreverent, extraordinarily repulsive and teeming with nudity. It’s a Stuart Gordon joint, you guys! And it’s the best of the West.

herbert west by you.

Herbert West, that is—a disdainful, narcissistic, ill-tempered windbag played BRILLIANTLY by Jeffrey Combs. Christ, he’s funny in this movie. Every over-enunciated line and exaggerated expression is brimming with scorn and a scholarly haughtiness. Combs’ voracious appetite for masticated scenery is pitch-perfect for this role. It suits him a little better than when he’s a rueful estranged husband or whatever the hell he’s supposed to be in this movie. (I’m not hating; I’ll totally watch that retarded little opus).

This movie looks GREAT on DVD. It’s crisp and vivid and looks a lot better than any of the stills I’m going to post here today. It opens with some of the coolest credits ever: vibrant and twisted with an extravagantly ripped-off-Psycho violin-heavy score by Richard Band (who also scored Castle Freak). ROCK. The credits do a good job of letting you know what you’re in for. Check it!

Soon we meet star-crossed lovers Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) and Megan Halsey (old Gordon fave Barbara Crampton, also in Castle Freak and From Beyond).

dan and meg by you.

Dan’s a med student at Miskatonic University and Meg’s puritanical father is the dean. Their only worry is when they can sneak in some covert lovin’ before Daddy Dearest notices Meg’s missing—a dilemma that seems like small potatoes when Herbert West moves in and starts fucking shit up old school.

do what i have to by you.

West was expelled from his previous university in Zurich for…unorthodox methods, shall we say? He’s discovered an agent for re-animating the dead up to several hours after brain inactivity. He sort of accidentally ‘sploded his mentor Dr. Gruber’s eyeballs when administering an overdose of the re-agent. The eyeballs incident takes place in the first minute or so and LOOKS INSANELY AWESOME, thus instantly ‘sploding my own eyeballs by virtue of watching it. The manual effects in this movie are fully RIGHTEOUS. I swear to Cthulhu, Stuart Gordon can do more with $900,000 than any other director on this planet. With the help of old pal Everett Burrell, that is, who also did the abso. nauseating make up for Castle Freak.

West soon starts bumping heads with Miskatonic professor Dr. Hill (David Gale), whose publishings, West feels, are weakly derivative of Dr. Gruber’s. Scary-ass Dr. Hill does not appreciate the accusation; he further does not appreciate Dan’s designs on Megan, because she is HIS object of obsessive, creepy desire, dammit!

creepy hill by you.

So West starts re-animating whatever he can get his hot little hands on and things go to shit with a quickness. Despite Dan’s honorable intentions regarding medicine, he’s weak and ineffectual and becomes easily swept up in West’s diabolical machinations. Megan’s got some serious misgivings when it comes to West, and she fruitlessly urges Dan to stay away from him. The story’s got a strong good vs. evil arc with Megan and her straight-laced father contrasting against the amoral Herbert West and the straight up evil Dr. Hill, with poor little Dan waffling in the middle. Poor sweet little Dan, who faints a solid FOUR times in this movie.

 rufus! by you.

You know how I hate the spoiling, but it’s right there on the poster, and furthermore, I simply must post this picture in order to illustrate to you the miraculously fucked up hijinks this movie gets up to—Dr. Hill and Herbert West have a fight to the temporary death, with Hill spending the entire final third of the movie like THIS:

head carry by you.

Those are his own hands holding his head in front of him, in some of the most visceral, imaginative and lively special effects I’ve seen to this day. It looks amazing! And oh, what a lech his head is. Just look at that leering visage!

lech head by you.

“I’ve always admired your beauty, my dear.”

Implausibly, Re-Animator takes at least a dozen more twisted turns from here before the masterful closing scene. This film is so unpredictable, so startling and fresh even today. It’s engrossing and fast-moving and hilarious in a sharply subtle way.  The dialogue is whip-quick  and the acting by every single principle is spot on. Combs is obviously the star here, but Gale as Dr. Hill is phenomenal, filled with menacing gravitas, and both Abbott and Crampton are convincing and congenial as the naive lovers.  Some noise definitely needs to be made about Robert Samson as Dean Alan Halsey, Meg’s father. He undergoes an extreme transformation and nails some intensely physical business, all with gusto.

dean2 by you.

dean hill by you.

Just look at that last still and tell me you don’t want to watch this movie RIGHT! NOW!

Stuart Gordon bulldozed into Hollywood with a first feature that’s blood-soaked, surprising, poignant and blackly comic. The man’s a master and he wasted no time proving it. And if you haven’t seen Re-Animator, you should waste no time in watching it!

hw zombies by you.

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7 Responses to “Stuart Gordon Retrospective: Re-Animator”

  1. so, i looked at that last still and uh…. i don’t want to watch this movie.

    I KNOW YOU’RE SO SURPRISED!!!!!

    i did, however, thoroughly enjoy YR enjoyment of the movie as well as this highly entertaining review.

    ok with that said, i will close with… GROSS. sorry. but GROSS!!!

  2. This movie is sooooo amazing. It looks so good considering the cost to make it and the year it was made. Unbelievable…seriously. Jeffery Combs is better in this than anything else, I think. He’s just the right amount of over-the-top.

    This movie’s just so gross and engrossing and just plain fun. I can’t recommend it enough. Any time spent between viewings is too long. Why don’t I own it. I mean, look at those credits.

  3. i’ve loved jeffery combs since “deep space nine”, which he basically pwned. fun (actually, tragic) JC fact: there was a jeff combs on one of the 9-11 planes. you can imagine how ape-shit the trekkie community went for a while there until things were cleared up.

    combs also did a pretty good job on the aborted “the 4400”, which i always thought had more potential than it’s execution…

  4. still…what the hell does reanimator mean???

  5. Craig Reed Says:

    Craig says:
    Answer to kim above, Herbert West, (aka Jeffery Combs), is the reanimator which means Mr. West has the ability to bring animal and human flesh back to life with his glowing green serum. I should know because he brought me back to life in the movie, I’m the burn victim on the left in the last picture above!
    Also I have a great scene with Megan in the elevator. GREAT !!!
    P.S to Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna, I’m still waiting outside the elevator door to bring back the reanimated burn victim to the screen with your clever way of character development!
    The movie is a classic, and I’m glad to be a part of the “Re- Animator”

  6. Hi Craig, thanks for commenting! I must say, you made an excellent scorched zombie. I’m so glad you found my blog!

  7. makeup case…

    […]Stuart Gordon Retrospective: Re-Animator « Danny Isn't Here, Mrs. Torrance[…]…

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