Horror movies are a lot like pizza. You see, it’s really hard to make bad pizza, but it’s just as hard to make a really good pizza.
Horror movies are the same. Making a passable one is easy. Just add some creepy music, a slasher and some young people. Can’t write? No problem. Just use a bunch of cheap jump scares to cover up your inability to build suspense.
To make a truly good horror movie is a monumental task to which there are many solutions.
Sure, you could craft an atmospheric masterpiece of suspense and primal fear, but I tend to like my horror movies like I like my pizza: extra cheesy and spattered with red.
A common misconception is that a “non-scary” horror movie has to descend into camp to be effective, but Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator” proves just the opposite.
The film is based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, a favorite author of mine, titled “Herbert West-Reanimator.”
I was saving another movie based on his works for this week, but its SyFy channel-level production values made me think that I might be looking at it through the rose-tinted glasses of source-material appreciation.
“Re-Animator” follows Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), a debt-ridden medical student who decides to take on Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) as a roommate to help make rent. I found it odd that Dan would immediately agree to the deal, seeing as everything about Herbert screams “mad scientist.”
I mean, the guy has an unhealthy obsession with death, and the only question he asked before renting was “Does this building have a basement?”
It doesn’t exactly take a Lovecraftian loremaster to figure out that he’s going to be bringing people back to life within the next half hour.
“Re-Animator” can be considered at least partly a comedy, but it differs radically from much of its horror/comedy brethren. Whereas a movie like “Evil Dead II” revels in its own gore-spattered absurdity for entertainment, “Re-Animator” is rather deadpan.
The film certainly isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as any of the “Evil Dead” movies. There aren’t any “I’ll swallow your soul” moments, and there are no badass heroes with chainsaw hands. But the movie still manages to present itself in a way that’s fun.
This is mostly due to Herbert’s character and his maniacal nerdy devotion to bringing life to whatever he can get his hands on. Even the cat.
Of course, all this re-animation couldn’t be accomplished without special effects. Luckily, special effects are what Gordon is quite good at (something he would further prove in “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” four years later).
The greatest part about Gordon’s special effects is his handling of zombies and gore. The fake blood flows like water, and the zombies are all high quality and distinct, rather than indistinguishable shambling corpses.
In other words, these aren’t your average zombies. These are your top-shelf premium braineaters.
For example, Dr. Hill died of decapitation by shove, so he carries his head around in a tray. While it is slightly conspicuous that his head needs to be set down on a table every time he has a line, I’ll just chalk that one up to being the ’80s.
The ultimate effect of all this dry humor and high-class cheese is that it allows “Re-Animator” to be a caricature of the prototypical mad-scientist movie without going too deep into campiness.
While I am a big fan of camp, it has become depressingly obvious to me that it is just as easy to make a passable camp horror film as it is to make a passable scary horror film.
After all, the core story of “Re-Animator” is nothing new and doesn’t really go anywhere. I could give you the synopsis—Man brings dead things to life, gore ensues—and you’d pretty much have the full picture.
Yes, “Re-Animator” is just another movie about a boyfriend, a girlfriend, a mad scientist and zombies. But it’s good and it’s fun.
After all, it’s Halloween.
What more could you ask for?