Saturday, October 29, 2016

When in Doubt, Reach For the Re-Agent, or Thoughts on Re-Animator

Director and writer Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1987), based on H.P. Lovecraft’s updated Frankenstein series, Herbert West: Re-animator (1922) remains the gold standard of Lovecraft adaptations while adding both a welcome undercurrent of morbid humor and visualizing the actual nuts and bolts of reanimating dead people and the consequences of those actions.  Jeffrey Combs stars in a career-defining role as Herbert West, the twitchy, arrogant medical prodigy and madman who theorizes that life is a chemical process, with the help of his trusty glowing green re-agent, which he keeps injecting any dead flesh he can find.
Herbert West and his roommate Dan Cain, as portrayed by Bruce Abbot, are Miskatonic University medical students, presumably in Arkham, Massachusetts, though the filmmakers never explicitly state the location.  Dan gets dragged headfirst into Herbert’s experiments and the movie progresses fast, they’re expelled almost immediately and quickly raid the morgue for the freshest corpse.  The re-agent works best on “fresh” corpses, which seems counter-intuitive, (I mean why kill someone just so you can bring them back to life), but that’s part of the absurdist fun of the movie. 
The reanimated retain memories and rudimentary speech, but they’re violent (aren’t they always).  An interesting side effect on the re-agent is it works on body parts, which makes for some gory slapstick.  In fact the Re-Animator is surprisingly funny, the absurdist gallows’ humor is one of the reasons the movie has held up so well over the years.  Much like Peter Jackson’s Braindead (1993), horrific scenes are pushed so far they spin around and become humorous.  How can you not find it funny when you accidentally kill the dean who just expelled and your first response is to reanimate him?
With a sweeping, very non-80’s Bernard Hermann-inspired soundtrack by Richard Band, (in fact the only reference to the 80’s that you’ll find in this movie is the Stop Making Sense Talking Heads poster in Dan’s room) and impressive special effects for the 80’s, all analog prosthetics, animatronics, stop motion, latex molds and blood squibs.  Also starring Barbara Crampton as Megan Halsey, the (reanimated) Dean’s daughter and Dan’s girlfriend, and David Gale as Dr. Hill, the equally arrogant professor and academic rival of Herbert West.
Director Stuart Gordon has arguably made the best (and in many cases the only) Lovecraft adaptations, including From Beyond (1986), Castle Freak (1995, inspired from The Outsider) and Dagon (2001), in addition to cult favorites including Dolls (1987), Robot Jox (1989), Fortress (1992) and Space Truckers (1996).  Jeffrey Combs went onto enjoy a career playing quirky weirdos and multiple Star Trek characters including the Vorta Weyoun, the Ferengi Brunt (FCA) and the Andoran Shran.  He also featured in Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners (1996), revisited his signature Herbert West character in the sequels, Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003) and played Lovecraft himself in Necronomicon (2003).
H.P. Lovecraft has always been problematic for me; his casual racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism are well documented in his short stories and published letters.  While I admire his writing and his works are a particularly sentimental favorite of mine from high school, I can’t help but think that he wouldn’t have liked me if we’d met, and he’d have based his opinion on my skin color and the shape of my eyes.  But the author isn’t here to defend himself and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend him; every sentence he wrote is a lyrical work of art.  Just skip the mean parts.

my first novel?  thanks for asking:)  it’s a the first book in a 4-volume supernatural martial arts series chock full of killer kung-fu witches, haunted carnivals, punk rock assassins, and a 24-hour diner with the best pie in town…
read for free on kindle unlimited or buy the paperback, available at fine bookstores everywhere (amazon).