Synopsis: Herbert West has a very good head on his shoulders… and another one in a dish on his desk.

Herbert West is obsessed with the idea of bringing the dead back to life. Experimenting with a glowing green fluid, he successfully reanimates dead tissue. Unfortunately, the dead are uncontrollable and difficult to subdue. Dr. Carl Hill, West’s instructor, is determined to steal his secret and take all the credit for the discovery. Herbert isn’t willing to give it up so easily. No matter what the consequences are! Stylishly directed by Stuart Gordon (From Beyond), this film adaptation of the short story “Herbert West: The Reanimator” is a non-stop gore fest filled with wit and humor.

Re-Animator 6.5

eyelights: Bernard Herrmann’s ‘Psycho’ redux. the creative make-up effects.
eyesores: Jeffrey Combs’ performance.

You know, there are movies that, no matter what you do, truly underwhelm you; despite reviews, acclaim, word of mouth, high production values, good intentions, …etc., these films just can’t seem to capture your interest.

‘Re-Animator’ is one such film for me.

For years I’ve stumbled across the various home video editions of this motion picture in stores or I would find references in various media. However, between the so-so title and the film’s hokey sci-fi allure, I was never intrigued by it enough for it to even place it on my radar.

However, one day I got a chance to pick up a bunch of b-movies from some local guy for dirt cheap, including a number of cult classics. ‘Re-Animator’ was part of the bunch, and I decided to take the plunge once and for all. I figured that it was time to discover what everyone’d been talking about all these years.

Hmmmm. Well, as far as I’m concerned, there’s not much to talk about. In fact, I think that I will keep my comments on this one comparatively brief.

For starters, I find that ‘Re-Animator’ defies logic all too frequently. For instance, there’s the matter of the Dean getting killed and no one noticing his disappearance. Also, Dr. Hill runs around headless and no seems to notice that something’s amiss. Or how about when our hero, Dan, decides to collaborate with Herbert in his experiments? Why would he do such a thing? He could easily have turned Herbert in to clear his good name instead of incriminating himself.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

I’ve read somewhere that this film was one of the goriest films ever when it came out. While that’s conceivable, I’ve seen way worse. However, I must admit that I found some of the make-up effects quite ingenious, such as when Dr. Hill manages to walk around without a head – or carries it in both of hands. It’s likely a simple process, but it looked really cool. Having said that, one has to completely ignore the fact that it’s ridiculous that his head can control the beheaded body…

‘Re-Animator’ is especially notorious for its having borrowed key themes to ‘Psycho’. Now, from what I’d read, I was under the impression that it was a direct lift and that there was no original compositions in the film. This is simply not true. Granted, some important passages are ripped off wholesale from Bernard Herrmann, but they are given brand new treatments, such as synthesizer backings and a faster pace. I understand the controversy surrounding it, but it didn’t bother me one bit.

One thing that really bewilders me, however, is that Jeffrey Combs’ performance as Herbert West has been acclaimed many times over. I simply don’t get it. To be perfectly honest, I found him absolutely grating: his delivery was offbeat (imagine Norman Bates as played by Adam West!), he emoted unnaturally and was plain just irritating when he was supposed to be eerie. Perhaps it was meant to be sslightly off, but I don’t find that it translated as such – it appeared inept, not purposeful.

Which leads to wonder about the film itself. All along I was unsure whether it was intentionally meant to be cheesy or if it was just ill-conceived. There are movies such as ‘Braindead’ that are so outrageous that they are clearly intended to be kitschy. This film falls right in that grey area where I wasn’t sure if I was laughing at the movie or with it. Many would argue the latter, but I wasn’t convinced that, in many of these scenes, this was the filmmaker’s intention.

All this to say that, overall, I found ‘Re-animator’ disappointing; to me, it’s a fairly standard low-budget ’80s sci-fi/horror motion picture. Frankly, I’ve seen countless such movies raked over hot coals on ‘Mystery Science Theatre 3000’ – and deservedly so. Admittedly, this one was better than what one would find on ‘MST3K’ – but not enough for me to warrant its popularity and the many sequels that it has since inspired. I just don’t get it.

Perhaps I needed to see it at the time of its released for it to have had an impact on me. Perhaps it’s a concoction that doesn’t work for the likes of me. Perhaps I wasn’t in the mood for it. Or perhaps it stumbled in the shadow of the awesome Braindead. Well, whatever the case may be, I don’t know that I can ever be bothered with watching ‘Re-Animator’ again. I wasn’t bored stiff, but I was left unmoved and under-stimulated.

Now for something that will re-animate my interest…

Story: 5.0
Acting: 4.5
Production: 6.0

Chills: 4.5
Gore: 6.5
Violence: 6.0

Date of viewing: September 20, 2012

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