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Not in My Wheelhouse: Re-Animator

Not in My Wheelhouse: Re-Animator

Welcome to “Not in My Wheelhouse,” a weekly column in which one of our staff members recommends a movie to another that is outside of their cinematic comfort zone! See other entries in the series here.

The Film
Re-Animator ( 1985). Directed by Stuart Gordon, written by Stuart Gordon, William J. Norris, and Dennis Paoli (adapted from a story by H.P. Lovecraft), starring Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, and Barbara Crampton. Recommend by Garrett Smith as a good example of a campy, over-the-top horror fun.

How Far Outside My Wheelhouse is Re-Animator?
Based on what I was told about this film going in, it didn’t seem too far a stretch with regards to the campy horror I am vaguely familiar with (buckets of neon blood, silly, but effective, practical effects involving exploding body parts, etc). I looked at watching Re-Animator as a way to broaden my reference base for such horror films, without going into left-field. Because when it comes to horror, baby steps are in order, especially for this wuss.

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Pre-viewing Impressions
I knew a little about Re-Animator before watching, as my husband Ryan had already seen it, and actually dressed up as Herman West for Halloween a couple years ago. I also recalled the bright green serum and copious syringes from said Halloween costume. Other than that, I expected healthy amounts of goopy blood and guts and I wasn’t disappointed!

Post-viewing Verdict
I want to be a part of the horror fan club, but so far, I just can’t seem to muster the enthusiasm for the genre. I didn’t dislike Re-Animator! In fact, I rather enjoyed parts of it, but I can’t ever see myself seeking out this kind film on a regular basis. Re-Animator is gross, but oddly, I was surprised that at the time of its release, it was considered over- the-top gory. I was expecting a lot worse, so I guess I’ve come a long way.
I think Jeffrey Combs’ performance as the Re-Animator is perfection; I hated him from pretty much minute one. I thought the practical effects were really fun and effective, and the film does a good job of balancing the horrific manner of death with moments of humor (Dr. Hill’s reanimated corpse carrying around his own head in a duffel bag and using an anatomical model as a replacement was a particular high-point for me). Honestly, the only moment of true horror was the sexual assault scene. And I get it, okay? It’s meant to be excessive and insane and ridiculous, but…why? Ladies who love horror, please chime in here, because it’s scenes like this that really make me feel unwelcome to the genre as a whole because of it’s prevalence. I’d love a compelling reason why women and their bodies should be routinely used to invoke discomfort in the audience and horrific humiliation to the character on screen. No snark, I’d love an excuse to reconsider my thoughts about content like this.

One thing I did notice and appreciate though, just having watched a lot of classic Universal horror, is the use of stark lighting and dark contrast on the faces of the actors in certain scenes, as well as the use of vignette corners on some of the shots (I’m thinking particularly of the scenes when Hill confronts West in his basement laboratory). I realize this film is based on a Lovecraft story, and while I am not too familiar with his work, I liked learning about the nods the movie made to his horror universe, as well as some other fun little set dressings that reinforced the mayhem to come on screen (The Talking Heads poster!). I like the heavy-handed use of gross-out body horror to really hit home just how demented some of these characters are. Dr. Hill’s wanton bureacratic greed literally causes him to lose his head and yet he remains unfazed. West’s evil genius also gains strength proportional to the increasing violence and pandemonium he causes around him. More interesting still, is Cain’s enabling of such reckless behavior on the part of West, and his ultimate co-opting of West’s actions for his own purely selfish, if not understandable, reasons at the film’s conclusion. Despite all the horror he’s seen, he makes the choice to embrace the madness with the hope (and there’s always hope) that this time will be different.

Takeaways

I can see why this became a cult classic, and I can only imagine watching this on the big screen with other like-minded individuals. I’m glad I watched it, as I can already tell its influence on other horror films of it’s ilk, and if you’re embarking on a journey, best to start at the beginning. Watching this also helped me further define what I find appealing, and distasteful, in the horror I consume.

Passing the Baton
For Andy, a novice in musicals, I have selected Meet Me in St. Louis. This one surprised the hell out of me the first time I saw it. It’s a little weird for a “classic” musical, but worth a watch for Judy Garland’s voice alone. And the best performance by a child actor ever in Margaret O’Brien, who won an Academy Juvenile Award that year for her work in this film among others.

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