An obscure H.P. Lovecraft story gets twisted into a hilarious gore comedy in Re-Animator
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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. With the upcoming release of Warm Bodies, we look at horror comedies this week.
H.P. Lovecraft wasn’t generally a barrel of laughs, and his serialized short story “Herbert West: Reanimator,” originally published in 1921-22, was such a desultory paycheck effort that even the author himself reportedly disowned it. That may be precisely why it works so beautifully onscreen, transformed by the young Stuart Gordon—making an impressive feature debut—into a straight-faced gore comedy. Retaining only the title character and a handful of basic plot elements, the movie stars Jeffrey Combs as a hilariously dry, amoral medical student who’s found a way to revive dead tissue, using a neon-green fluid rather than Dr. Frankenstein’s jolt of electricity. This goes about as well as it usually does, and before long Miskatonic University is overrun by an early prototype of the rage zombie, most of which have also been super-lobotomized and are in the diabolical control of a decapitated but still mobile scientist (David Gale).
Rather than attempt to make jokes, Gordon allows the material’s inherent absurdity to carry most of the comedic weight. Combs gets a few snappy lines—the best being a hypothetical fridge note reading “Cat dead. Details later”—but it’s Re-Animator’s gleeful disdain for the boundaries of good taste that provokes incredulous laughter. When Gale’s lecherous villain, who looked cadaverously creepy even when he was still alive, places his own severed head at stark naked Barbara Crampton’s crotch, the giddy sense that anything can happen is confirmed with a vengeance. Even the discoloration of the various reanimated cadavers amuses, if only because it’s clear that somebody put serious thought into the question of where blood settles in a dead body, despite a context that makes that kind of attention to scientific detail seem ludicrous. Unlike most horror-comedies, this one simply amps up the horror and lets the comedy take care of itself.
Availability: Streaming now on Netflix and Amazon, and available on all physical formats, too.