"Re-Animator" is the kind of movie that only a director like Stuart Gordon could make this well. It is based upon an H.P. Lovecraft short story (Herbert West - Reanimator); and there's a great author of the macabre that only Gordon and a few other gifted men in the film industry seem to understand. In a sense, it seems as if Gordon has his own vision, but at the same time, he takes a lot from the original material. He's faithful to the story in as many ways as he possibly can without achieving a grim sense of familiarity; and he emerges a victor. "Re-Animator" is gross, self-aware, funny, outrageous, absurd, and hard not to love when you're as devoted a horror fan as I am.
Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is a classic movie mad-scientist much akin to Doctor Frankenstein. His fascination is with death; and his life's work has been devoted to the reanimation of corpses by an injection containing a glowing, green, and bottled serum that the doctor himself invented. His experiments have always gone wrong - in fact, the film opens on West trying out one of them on his medical professor (at the time) with unintentionally horrific results - and this act gets him kicked out of medical school (in Switzerland) for good.
He then retires to another school somewhere in New England. West rents a room from fellow student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), who is dating a beautiful young lady named Megan (Barbara Crampton); who just so happens to be the daughter of the school's head official (Robert Sampson). At first, neither of the two lovers fully trusts West; as he insists on his personal privacy and that they never enter his room - ever. This would worry anyone - including myself - but I don't think anything can truly measure up to the events that are to follow.
First, it starts with the reanimation of house pets - which brings us to a great scene, in which the brilliant but deranged West "discovers" the couple's cat dead near their trashcans, hides it in fridge (it doesn't stay hidden for long, I can tell you that), and reanimates the animal later that night. This isn't quite where the madness begins (I'd say the opening scene claims the title of The Beginning), and it most certainly is not where it ends.
After showing Dan his serum, Herbert requests that his new-found buddy aid him in his further studies of the line between the living and the dead; and how one properly crosses it. It only gets worse - but suitably fascinating - from then on; Herbert West and Dan Cain work as a unit, breaking into the hospital morgue that Dan might as well call home given how familiar he seems with it, and ultimately conducting a good deal of new and improved experiments. Can I really say that any of them end particularly well?
Often referred to as a mere "80's trash classic", Gordon's first - and best - Lovecraft adaptation is horror satire at its finest. Sure, the genre of horror-comedy has as much supporters as it does detractors - many people find the artistic approach to the genre itself lazy and inept - but I love it when a filmmaker takes great literature, great material, and makes a film that I can honestly admit to loving through-and-through. "Re-Animator" is a special kind of horror-comedy; particularly because it's way out there, and often doesn't hesitate to go beyond the limits of most movie-goers. It's apathetic about whether you find it disgusting and irredeemable trash or not; but it makes it very clear that it's the kind of movie where the gross-outs are supposed to be fun.
So many people are probably going to see this film and hate it. That is how it should be; and you rightfully know who you are. This is a film in which one's idea of an iconic scene involves a man's decapitated, reanimated head attempting oral sex on a constrained, nude Barbara Crampton; dark comedy like that isn't going to appeal to everyone, but since it was cleverly made, I was able to absorb it. I've seen "Re-Animator" twice now and I'll gladly see it many more times in my lifetime. I enjoyed it immensely, and it stands as brilliant 80's satire whether you're judging by genres or not. There's relevance and even an understanding of human nature underneath this grotesque comedy of guts and gore; and no matter what audience you fall under, so long as you admire and appreciate the genre, there's something for everyone.