Movie: Re-Animator (1985)
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Why Did I watch this?
For some reason I watched Bride of Re-Animator (1990) a few years ago. I don't know why, maybe it was just the only one available on whatever streaming service I was using? Anyway, people seem to love Re-Animator, it's one of those well-regarded cult horror films that always escaped my radar. Maybe it's not that well known, but it exists in that perfect zone of popular enough to be notable but obscure enough to be cool. And it's Spooky Season!
What Did I know ahead of time?
I had seen the sequel, but I kind of forgot what happened. I remember the character of Dr. Herbert West and how he's just this insane autistic mad scientist who is very logical, pretentious, and determined. Just really compelling. I know it was about them bringing the dead back to life, and a bit of a Frankenstein riff, and as it was rolling I remembered the disembodied head stuff, but I didn't know about that ahead of time, either. I knew it straddled the line between camp and horror and horror-camp but I was pleased by how seriously it took itself.
How Was It?
Damn this movie starts out fast. Scientist eyes exploding, fun for the whole family. It really is a trip to watch. It's definitely a Frankenstein riff, but it replaces the new science that people feared most in the 19th Century, electricity, with the new science people fear most in the 20th century, pills and serums! It's this shortcut to ever lasting life, the neon glowing Reanimating Reagent.
Dr. West is a perfect Dr. Frankenstein analogue, he's cold, thinks he's above God, and wants to prove his science is correct in the face of all the stodgy haters. But it's remarkable that by the end of the movie he seems like he's the reasonable one! Sure he's insane and definitely killed his roommates' cat, but it's all in the name of science. His older rival, when he is reanimated shows us how easily this can be used for power instead, as he reanimates horribly disfigured corpses in a bit for pure power. It's not like Dr. West is great, but you know where is motivations and limitations are. The Head Guy is just maniacal and evil.
So it becomes a little more zombie movie than Frankenstein in that there's no singular monster risen from the dead, but many recently and not-so-recently deceased folks injected with the reagent. They don't really seem to have souls when they come back though. It's got a bit of a Pet Sematary (1989) vibe in that the people that come back aren't really the people we put in the ground. But this came out before that movie. But the book came out before this movie! But the book this is based on came out before that book! Oy vey.
I wouldn't go as far as call this a Horror Comedy but it definitely knows how ridiculous some of its scenes are and the edits are sometimes cut for laughs. The characters don't mug at the audience at all, despite how progressively insane the whole affair becomes. The gore is sincere, there is a tremendous amount of blood and guts everywhere. I started getting Dead Alive (1992) vibes when the intestines started wrapping folks up. It's got a bit of an edge and attitude to it in the wake of its horrific chaos. Not to the extent of like, a Return of the Living Dead (1985), but it knows that it's having fun in its B-movie pulp.
The effects are solid, too. You can tell that they used some old tricks to show the disembodied head, like sticking the actor in a table or making his shoulders look like a linebacker. It was really just the Headless Body of Spiro T. Agnew on display. There were other clear shots of just his face, not showing the neck down. I don't know, I almost prefer that to really cheesy 80s green screen effects that take you out of the whole affair.
Should we talk about that cunnilingus scene? Yeah. I don't think you'd see that in a modern movie. The titties were surprising enough, then this woman is bare-ass naked and unconscious while strapped in on the operating table. I appreciate that it generates this real visceral horror and vulnerability. Is it problematic? It didn't feel exploitative and the attempted oral rape is clearly presented as horrific and insane on the part of the severed head. I'm curious what ya'll think, I'm not going to call this feminist, but it's clearly wrong. It might have originally been meant as funny, which is a whole other thing, but it shows that this movie really goes for it.
This is also originally a Lovecraft story, which doesn't quite feel like a Color Out of Space (2019) kind of Lovecraft. It doesn't seem to have the racism, either, except that there is one black character, a security guard, who runs away when the zombies start rising. I mean, I'd Nope on out of there as well.
I enjoyed this quite a bit, I recommend for any Halloween viewing - stay spooky out there, friends!