As the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Halloweekend series of Scary Movies continues, we look at Re-Animator, from 1985, which screens on Sunday night with director Stuart Gordon and star Jeffrey Combs on hand.
While it’s not even director Stuart Gordon’s best H.P. Lovecraft adaption, Re-Animator, his second feature after the made-for-tv comedy Bleacher Bums, remains the standard by which all of his films are judged. In Re-Animator, Gordon goes to town with the knowledge that Lovecraft’s “Herbert West, Re-Animator” story was originally supposed to be humorous. This might seem odd to anyone who’s read “Herbert West,” a story that was published in serialized installments in a comedy magazine called Home Brew. We are talking about a narrative wherein a missing girl is discovered being eaten alive by a big black zombie, her little pink arm protruding out of his gaping mouth.
In Gordon’s adaptation, Jeffrey Combs plays West, a snotty, presumptuous medical student who has conceived of a way to re-animate dead tissue. West immediately butts heads with Miskatonic University faculty member Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), who dismisses West and his wild theories outright. This leads to a lot of grisly shenanigans, like the now infamous disembodied-head-giving-head scene, and the resurrection of a dead cat, which is equally unsettling, albeit for entirely different reasons.
Re-Animator is a cult classic thanks to its happily juvenile body horror pratfalls. Combs, a character actor who went on to play everyone from Vic “The Question” Sage in Justice League Unlimited to Lovecraft himself in the horror omnibus film Necronomicon, gives his most satisfying performance in Re-Animator. As a physical comedian, Combs is totally committed to his role, squinting and glaring as if he were trying to see into the far-flung future. You couldn’t ask for a better Herbert West.