August here in Edinburgh is an amazing time every single year. Anything can, and invariably does, happen. But this year brought an extra treat for a horror movie fan like myself. This year saw a visit from the hugely successful Re-Animator: The Musical (which I reviewed here). Having been a fan of the original movie since I first saw it, I was over the moon. And then I heard that director Stuart Gordon was in town. In fact, fans of Re-Animator will want to head along to The Cameo on the evening of Monday 21st August for this very special event. Sadly, I won’t be able to make that screening but I AM currently wandering the streets of my city with a marker pen and my beloved 2-disc edition of Re-Animator so I’ll just wait and see what happens. Who knows, perhaps my optimism will be rewarded and I will get to meet one of my favourite directors. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Until then, I thought I would revisit some of his past glories and try my best to spread the good word and to convince others to view these films as I view them. Let’s start near the very beginning with the movie that many slightly older horror fans hold close to their hearts and many slightly younger horror fans should get a hold of ASAP. The one and only Re-Animator.
I have yet to see a movie from Stuart Gordon (perhaps best known for this movie and the cult classic that is From Beyond) or Brian Yuzna (producer here but also a director of some enjoyable horrors including the superb Society) that I dislike but this film remains the best film either of them have been involved in and is a personal favourite of mine.
Very loosely adapted from a tale by the great H.P. Lovecraft, what we get here is the story of the supersmart and super-obsessive Herbert West (played by Jeffrey Combs, giving one of the most entertaining genre performances of the last 30 years). After a terrible incident in Switzerland, Herbert moves to Miskatonic University and rents a room from promising young med student, Dan (Bruce Abbot, just fine in the role of reluctant cohort/hero). Dan is going out with the Dean’s daughter, Meg (played by the lovely and brave, considering what she was getting herself into, Barbara Crampton) so he is easily kept under control when he discovers that Herbert has resumed his controversial experiments involving the reanimation of the dead . . . . . . . . . in his own flat, no less. Then we get Doctor Hill (played with teeth-clenched menace by David Gale), a man both threatened and intrigued by West as the young upstart insistently criticises his professional work and opinions. The stage is set for complications and chaos as West does what he can to continue his work, undisturbed by the moral or physical difficulties others would at least pause to consider.
While Re-Animator is not a perfect movie, it manages to overcome its minor failings (and they ARE minor) to create a superb, sublimely entertaining, dark comedy horror. The acting is superb across the board and while Combs is the undeniable standout he is matched ably by the oily, creepy performance from David Gale (in a role that would please fans but disgust others, including his partner at the time). Abbott and Crampton are both very good in roles that could easily have been wasted/forgettable/downright poor in the hands of lesser actors. Okay, they may not be the best in the business but they do well in their respective roles and approach the crazy material with the right sensibility.
Gordon directs with a great fearlessness, throwing the blood and gore around with abandon but devoting equal time to the sharp script and performances. It may not be to everyone’s taste but the comedy here is worked brilliantly throughout the horror (thanks to the script by Dennis Paoli, William Norris and the director himself) and the balance is just perfect at all times.
If you dislike mistreated corpses, severed heads, luminous reagent, cats in pain, any soundtrack that almost entirely lifts the music from Psycho (and composer Richard Band has already discussed and defended his work on this movie so I will not go into further detail here), mad scientists and zombie madness then avoid this movie. If, like me, you want absolutely top-class horror genre entertainment then see Re-Animator immediately.
DIRECTOR: STUART GORDON
WRITER: STUART GORDON, DENNIS PAOLI, WILLIAM NORRIS (ADAPTED FROM THE WORK OF H. P. LOVECRAFT)
STARS: JEFFREY COMBS, BRUCE ABBOTT, BARBARA CRAMPTON, DAVID GALE, ROBERT SAMPSON
RUNTIME: 86 MINS APPROX