Words by Matt Poe

“Re-Animator” (1985)

Netflix Star Rating: ★★★☆☆
Poe’s Star Rating: ★★★★☆ (give me all your severed heads)


A young medical student becomes entangled in a classmate’s elaborate plan to bring the dead back to life. To no one’s surprise, things don’t turn out exactly as planned.

Category: Horror, Comedy

Unrated

Starring Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott and Barbara Crampton

Written by Dennis Paoli, William Norris and Stuart Gordon; story by H.P. Lovecraft. Directed by Stuart Gordon

Time to strap yourselves in and put on the safety helmet for another edition of Poe’s Picks. Can you feel it, my friends? Fall is officially in the air and Halloween is right around the corner. Man, do I love Halloween. Although we’re past the age of trick-or-treating, Halloween still gives me a chance to dress like an idiot (which I do every day) and at this ripe ol’ age I just get to replace candy with beer. What’s not to love?

I haven’t even mentioned the kicker when it comes to why I love Halloween: horror movies. There’s something about this time of year that just makes me want to binge-watch them, whether it’s a newer, jumpier tale or an old-school bloodbath. The film in store for today is the latter. Come along now, we’ll keep this short and sweet. *wrings hands menacingly*

“Re-Animator” is a modern day version of H.P. Lovecraft’s classic tale written almost a century ago. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is a rather strange medical student obsessed with bringing the dead back to life; he’s quirky, neurotic and just downright odd. On the contrary, his fellow classmate Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) is a good-looking, smart and gifted medical student who dreams of becoming a doctor one day. (Don’t they all?) He seems to have his life in order and plans to marry his longtime girlfriend Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton) when he officially becomes a certified doctor.

Through a series of events, West becomes Cain’s roommate, much to the chagrin of Halsey, who immediately realizes something isn’t right with the little guy. Through another series of events that I care not to explain because I can’t make it too easy for you, West coaxes Cain into helping him modify his undead serum to bring the once-living back to our world. As you may have guessed, things, uh, don’t go exactly as planned.

Re-Animator
Photo Courtesy of IMDB.

I digress here because I’d rather you see this crazy ass movie than keep explaining. The movie is one of those classic B-movie horror films that you catch late at night on TV as a kid and think, “whoa, gnarly.” I remember seeing the poster for this bad boy as a kid long ago and I can tell you with confidence, a movie like “Re-Animator” is best watched at 2 a.m. with the lights off.

It has it all: guts, blood and some of the best usage of a severed head that I’ve ever seen. Rather than go for the complete, realistic gross-out gags that most modern horror movies go for, this one invites you to play along. Yes, it has its cringe-worthy moments, but it also has some good laughs. It reminded me a lot of the original “Evil Dead” from the early ‘80s: low budget, good laughs and excessive blood and gore. If you like that one, you’ll surely find another winner here.

Horror movies are seldom well done. Most of them try so hard to scare and gross you out so much that they have a numbness to them; simply, they begin to bore us. “Re-Animator” could have easily tried too hard and whiffed entirely. Instead, it knows it’s preposterous and has fun with itself. I wish more horror movies did this because the ability to combine laughs, jumps and gags is much harder than we give it credit.

Lovecraft’s themes are as old as horror itself and you’ll recognize some vintage horror ideas, such as making the dead undead, life after death, etc. It’s been explored and adapted in hundreds of films and books. I was reminded of Mary Shelley’s original “Frankenstein,” written more than 200 years ago, when I watched “Re-Animator.”

The actors are good in their respective roles and the plot has a few twists that I admittedly didn’t see coming. Horror acting is very easy on the surface: run around, scream, trip, fall, die, the end. However, that is in essence what makes it so difficult. To do it is one thing, but to do it effectively is another. Parts of the movie certainly don’t date well but hey, the movie was made on a $900,000 budget and that in itself is quite impressive.

“Re-Animator” is no revolutionary film, but it’s not meant to be. It’s meant to be downright fun and that’s the feeling I got when I watched it. Much of our generation bitches and moans about old-school horror movies being cheesy or the special effects lacking. Be better than those people. Roger Ebert once said that if we can’t appreciate good trash, we can’t appreciate the good movies. (I’m paraphrasing.) “Re-Animator” isn’t garbage, but it certainly didn’t change movies as we know it. My suggestion? Enjoy it for what it is and embrace the carnage. Enjoy All Hallows’ Eve, everyone.

Until next time.

In Good Films We Trust,

Matt “Roger Ebert wishes he was half the film critic I am” Poe