We all know that this Halloween will not look like other Halloweens from years past. And yet, the month of October waits for us all the same. It is about time we put the spirit of Halloween back into that abandoned department store that we call the year of 2020. So to celebrate, we at Full Circle Cinema put together a curated, month-long series called Screen Screams. This time, we will be covering all things zombies. For the review, we will look at perhaps one of the most delightfully straightforward horror movies of the 1980s: Re-Animator.
H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator understands exactly what it is. As a gloriously gory, campy, and melodramatic romp, it has one goal only: to engage its audience. Bolstering a blisteringly fast pace, dedicated, but not exactly great, performances, and oodles of oozing, visceral gore effects, it’s an ideal choice for a fun, light, riveting Saturday night watch party with friends.
Regarding its plot, Re-Animator doesn’t hold very many surprises. However, despite its predictability, watching the events unfold never feels dull. The film primarily centers on Daniel Cain (Bruce Abbott), a skilled, up and coming medical school student. Everything in his life seems to be panning out nicely; the university’s administration reveres him for his work, his girlfriend is gorgeous, and he’s a big fan of Talking Heads. However, when the mysterious genius Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) becomes his roommate, things take a macabre turn for the worse. Resuscitating the dead is West’s specialty, and that’s only the start of Daniel’s woes.
Easily the biggest boon for Re-Animator is its tight, concise pacing. Clocking in at a succinct 86 minutes, it indulges in its most grotesque fantasies while never outstaying its welcome. Even if audience members don’t connect to its thin, archetypal characters, there are plenty of aspects of the film that will keep them interested. Committed performances breathe life into these shallow characters, with Combs’ portrayal of Herbert being a standout. His wild eyes, impulsive behavior, and borderline sociopathic tendencies make him an absolute joy to watch. This is a man who will stop at nothing to prove a point and Combs does a wonderful job of conveying that to the audience.
However, this is not a particularly unique or special film. It’s enjoyable in the same way Panera Bread’s mac and cheese is; it taps into some basic desire held by fans of this particular genre. If a viewer doesn’t already hold some reverence for low-budget, 80’s B-movies, they may walk away from this feeling as cold as a corpse. However, as a fan of those films, Re-Animator struck a chord with me. It’s earnest, it’s competently made, and it utilizes its relatively tiny budget in fantastic ways. The detailed, remarkably disgusting practical gore effects seal the deal here. As someone who is easy to please, there’s something innately cool about seeing a decapitated head bark labored, whispered orders to its revived body.
In fact, the most surprising thing about Re-Animator is its comedy; not just the fact that it exists, but how well it lands. The physical humor in watching a detached body bumble around, wearing cheap, unconvincing disguises, will never cease to amuse me. The exaggerated performances, over-the-top gore, and high school one-act play-tier set design all highlight its humorous aspects. Cats getting slammed upon walls, reanimated bodies bumbling around, a nonchalant security guard failing to notice obvious red flags; it all can be so damn funny at times. The film not taking itself too seriously is a blessing when it belongs to a genre like this. It doesn’t have any ambitions outside of entertaining its audience, and frankly, that can feel refreshing in a genre that’s undeniably oversaturated.
So if a person is looking for a fun, horrifying romp this Halloween, it’s hard to go wrong with Re-Animator. It drives its hooks into the audience within the first five minutes and doesn’t let go until its explosive, perverted climax. If a viewer can embrace the campiness, they’re in for a wild ride. – Dominic Dold
Re-Animator is available to stream with a Showtime subscription or through Tubi. It is also available on Blu-Ray and Digital HD.