Blu-ray Review: ‘Re-Animator’

A perfect antidote to the weighty, sociopolitically savvy undead allegories of George A. Romero, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985) receives a welcome Blu-ray release this week in all its unrated glory. That’s not to say that the video store R-rated cut doesn’t have it’s fair share of slop and viscera – it certainly does – but the dark, necrophiliac undercurrents of the censored version are here pushed right the the limits of audience ‘stomachability’. An enjoyably effluent-heavy partner piece to Raimi’s The Evil Dead cycle and its Kiwi counterpart, Peter Jackson’s Braindead (aka Dead or Alive, 1992), Re-Animator gave H.P. Lovecraft’s ghoulish short story the schlocky, big screen rendering it deserved.

Plucked from the pages of Lovecraft’s serialised chiller is Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), an hyper-intelligent yet undoubtedly unhinged medical student obsessed with bringing the recently deceased back to the land of the living. After a somewhat ‘messy’ incident at his previous post, West arrives at Miskatonic Medical School to study under the tutelage of Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), but is immediately dismayed at his new teacher’s perceived scientific incompetence when it comes to cadavers. Hoodwinking model pupil and housemate Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) into facilitating his own private research into “brain death”, West resorts to increasingly more desperate means in order to prove his fanciful theories – and the Lazarus-like effects of his newly concocted reanimation serum – scientifically valid.

Grisly humour abounds as the two young students set about ‘acquiring’ corpses for their nefarious, though well-intentioned, deeds. The hospital morgue quickly becomes more familiar to the headspun Dan than his own girlfriend, Megan (Barbara Crampton), who finds herself in direct peril after a crazed Dr. Hill, wise to the boys’ antics, loses his head somewhat. As you’d expect from the heyday of American animatronic and physical effects (the same decade that brought us Joe Dante’s The Howling and John Carpenter’s The Thing, lest we forget), eye-balls pop and heads are severed with satisfying hyperealism, as likely to leave gorehounds giggling in delight as shrinking into their seats in repulsion. The latter response is more than catered for by Hill, a skin-crawling sexual predator who wouldn’t dream of letting a little thing like decapitation stand in the way of an opportunity for him to get his rocks off over Megan, the daughter of his employer. Though unpleasant, it’s the infamous ‘oral sex’ scene – here extended – which retains the greatest power to repulse.

Daniel Green