Friday, May 23, 2008

David Byrne Would Be Proud

Sometimes a tagline says more than I ever could:

"Herbert West has a good head on his shoulders... and another one on his desk."

Accurate? Yes. Hilarious? Slightly. Intriguing? You had better goddam believe it. This is Stuart Gordon's greatest film, his magnum opus: Re-Animator. Like many of Gordon's films, it's based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, but only in the loosest possible sense. It takes place within the Lovecraft universe, certainly, but transposed into the "contemporary" era of the 1980s. I've actually read the story, so I can go ahead and sum up the major differences between the film and its source:
  1. The movie isn't the most racist short story ever written
  2. Due to Lovecraft's intense hatred of females, there are considerbly fewer boobs in the story (none?!)
...and that pretty much covers it. If your appetite for racism is matched only by your distaste for the female form, definitely check out the story. I can print you out a copy. It's surprisingly frightening.

Otherwise, I can't recommend the movie enough. Despite its unfortunate lack of lumbering Negro murderers, it still manages to capture that certain something that makes reading Lovecraft occasionally worthwhile. The plot is more or less your run-of-the-mill Frankenstein ripoff, but with an exciting twist! Instead of harnessing the the mysterious power of the ALMIGHTY ELECTRON to raise the dead, Herbert West simply injects corpses with his own carefully researched "re-agent." The result--depending on the freshness of the corpse, and the amount of re-agent administered--is a mindless, violent, zombie-like creature.

Re-Agent: mostly glow stick innards, some radiation.

Things start getting tricky when Dr. Hill (the film's main jerk-ass) discovers West's secret, and attempts to blackmail him so he can claim the discovery as his own. Lucky for us, this leads to one of the all-time great decapitations in film history. Which in turn leads to one of the all-time great oral sex scenes in film history! Yay!

Barbara Crampton, as always, is a delight. Keep up the good work Barbara! Way to get sexually munched on by a corpse!

As hard as it is to imagine, things escalate even further from there. A trip to the morgue means more corpses, and more corpses means more fun! The film actually starts to get pretty scary toward the end (thanks to some ridiculous lighting and fog effects), and there's plenty of excellent gore. It also completely stops making sense. Apparently the re-agent has capabilities that West hadn't planned for, like exploding people's torsos open so their intestines can drag bystanders away for some sinister corpsely purpose. I guess it's about as logical as anything else in the Lovecraft universe...

I mentioned Barbara Crampton already, but really everyone in the movie is great. Bruce Abbott as the spindly med student hero, David Gale as the lecherous Dr. Hill, Robert Sampson as Dean Halsey (who sounds exactly like Dick Van Dyke, I don't care what anyone says), and of course Jeffrey Combs as the brilliant and terrifying Herbert West. And a special mention goes to Combs' forehead, which manages to inspire a particular variety of inexplicable dread previously thought to be long extinct.

Please note: forehead terror.

And while we're on the subject of dread, I should probably mention one of Re-Animator's major selling points. It's chock full of everyone's favorite film phenomenon: dead nudity! Since the majority of the "zombies" are coming straight off the slab, very few are clothed. Once they ditch that white sheet, they're 100% free and natural. White corpses, black corpses, male corpses, female corpses, fresh corpses, hideously mangled corpses--all are given equal opportunity to flap their junk around on screen for your enjoyment. I respect that.

Finally, I should probably note that Re-Animator has two existing sequels: Bride of Re-Animator, and Beyond Re-Animator (both directed by Gordon's friend and coworker, Brian Yuzna). Neither are worth your time. Rather than watch the sequels, I'd just suggest watching the original another two or three times. Then watch it again. Recently there's also been talk about Gordon trying to get a new sequel off the ground, somewhat unsuccessfully. Entitled House of Re-Animator, it's supposed to be set in the white house, leaving plenty of room for hilarious political satire. In theory. Yuzna has already expressed interest in directing the two shitty sequels to THAT one as well. (I'm not making that up.)

So to summarize: racism, boobs, glow sticks, cunnilingus, intestines, forehead, dead nudity, white house. Equals Re-Animator! Capiche?


elgringo said...

Finally! A movie that has everything I've ever wanted. Throw in a Charles Nelson Reilly cameo and I'm hot to trot.

whitney said...

I completely forgot about this movie for my list of best pee-pees in film. Dammit.

elgringo said...

Hey Keith.
I just posted my Top 5 Movies I Never Want to Watch list. I was wondering what would make you list. One word: Gigli?

Scott said...

I'm really looking forward to Stuart Gordon's new one STUCK. I hear great things and if nothing else, at least the sicko is still working!

Keith said...

Yeah! I can't wait for Stuck. It looks weird and funny and gross... Stuart Gordon-ey, in other words.