Sunday, October 17, 2010

Horror/Comedy Tag-Team -- Reflections on "Re-Animator" (1985)

"The ladies'll still dig me -- looking like this? Right?"

I've always felt that horror and comedy were two sides of the same coin. They both rely on similar timing, and an expectation that the obscene will elicit a reaction from their audience. The difference, of course, is the emotion being sought, but since most comedies get jokes out of bad things happening to good people, and most people seem to laugh during horror films, maybe the emotion isn't all that different.

Re-Animator is a horror/comedy from 1985 by Stuart Gordon and loosely based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft. It lives in the same neck of the woods as Sam Raimi's classic The Evil Dead, Peter Jackson's Braindead (or Dead Alive, as it's known here in the U.S.), Fred Dekker's Night of the Creeps, and most recently Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead. The movie's a gory, grostesque, campy romp through horror's most often trodden ground -- the sci-fi mad scientist film -- and it gets every beat just right. Re-Animator is not often celebrated as one of the horror genre's best, but once you see it, you'll realize what a mistake that's been.

The movie tells the simple story of Dan Cain (Bruce Abbot), a medical student in love with the dean's daughter, Megan (Barbara Crampton), who gets a creepy new roommate named Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs). Herbert has transferred to the United States after one of his experiments goes wrong in Germany, leading to the death of the legendary brain researcher, Dr. Gruber. His experiments involve the re-animation of dead tissue. Herbert gets Dan involved after re-animating Dan's dead cat, and then the shit hits the fan. The university's leading brain researcher, Dr. Hill (David Gale), wants Herbert's research.

Nothing good comes of this.

As the story unfolds, and Dan gets deeper and deeper into the mess Herbert's obsession creates, the movie becomes increasingly brilliant. The climax, involving a morgue-full of re-animated corpses, is one of the great horror film moments, not only because of the creep and shock factor, but because of the humor. Re-Animator is all about gallows humor, and gets funnier as it gets darker.

Many don't want to admit that horror and comedy are indeed a tag-team duo, but after watching Re-Animator, they would be hard pressed to deny it.

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