Rake me over the coals all you want, but up until today, I have never seen “Re-Animator.” Shocked? You probably are. But the legendary horror film that’s managed to spawn comic books, video games, sequels, fan fiction, and even cross overs with other horror icons (Cassie Hack, baby!) has just evaded me all of my life. When I was a kid I was not allowed to see this, and as a young adult I found it difficult to track it down. It’s just one of those film classics that I could never really get a hold of and watch. Watching “Re-Animator,” I can see what every horror geek raves about because even at over twenty years old, Stuart Gordon’s gory sickening classic hasn’t aged much at all.
More so, Jeffrey Combs gives a marvelous performance as the iconic Dr. Herbert West, a villain whose slimy spineless lunacy makes him one of the most threatening figures ever placed on film. With thin rimmed wide glasses and a mad demeanor, Combs paints West as a petulant often spoiled lunatic whose own discovery is guarded with violent zeal, while his own god complex can’t quite come to grips with the fact that his formula is just a recipe for evil and carnage. Herbert West’s introduction is magnificent as we see the first of his many failed experiments five minutes in when a famous politician explodes from an overdose of the serum to which West adamantly defends his intentions. When he arrives at a medical school, he begins to clash with experienced coroners over their teaching methods and soon interrupts the lives of a young couple when his experiments test their sanity and dictate their lives.
Gordon’s horror opus is a sick and awfully goofy little zombie picture with some of the oddest special effects ever created with a twist on the Frankenstein formula that makes for some twisted storytelling. Even in spite of the sympathetic protagonists, Gordon seems to favor West as a central character and depicts him as an anti-hero of a sorts, which sadly keeps the story slightly unfocused. Is West a villain, a monster, or just a misunderstood anti-hero? There’s also the grating performance from Barbara Crampton as the damsel in distress Megan Halsey who really does nothing more than screaming and whining at every turn. Regardless, Gordon’s film is a very effective zombie movie and a surreal comedy with a damn good grasp on character and its subject matter.
It’s not often you see a girl getting raped by a decapitated zombie and still rave about it. And then there’s Combs, who is just great setting his footprints into West as the ideal casting choice for the character, as the writer ensures West will always have a purpose, because there’s always someone who refuses to grasp the idea of death and let their loved ones go. And that’s where West will be needed with his serum. Hell, I’m officially sold on the hype. It’s sweet when a classic lives up to its legend, isn’t it? I don’t always buy into fan ravings when they praise a horror movie endlessly, but truth be told, “Re-Animator” is a damn great horror movie with a haunting score, great performances, and an ending that only solidifies Herbert West as a perpetual symbol of our inability to deal with death. You have to love Lovecraft, don’t you?