Re-Animator - Blu-ray Review

'Surely a film dealing with the dead being brought back to life through the scientific advances of man should pose some sort of question of morality, of meddling with nature, or of playing God?'

A little trivia to kick things off: the H.P. Lovecraft story “Herbert West - Reanimator”, upon which Stuart Gordon’s film Re-Animator is based, is one of the earliest pieces of fiction to depict zombies as corpses brought back to life through scientific methods. A trait, of course, which lives on in the genre today through the likes of 28 Days Later and Resident Evil to name just two examples, making Re-Animator by definition an important entry into the zombie genre.

Gordon’s film itself comes across as something like Frankenstein meets Evil Dead, but unfortunately never quite manages to achieve the memorable status of either of those. The problem comes from Re-Animator’s lack of underlying depth or message. Surely a film dealing with the dead being brought back to life through the scientific advances of man should pose some sort of question of morality, of meddling with nature, or of playing God? Shelley’s original novel Frankenstein was famously subtitled “The Modern Prometheus”, the author clearly raising the debate of whether her central character’s actions were justifiable scientific advancement or overstepping humanity’s control over life and death. Re-Animator never makes any attempts at such a subtext, leaving events to play out on a largely simplistic level.

This in itself isn’t necessarily a problem, as other horror-comedy franchises such as the aforementioned Evil Dead films have often got by perfectly well without offering much in terms of a moralistic message through providing copious and unadulterated entertainment. Re-Animator does offer several moments of gory humour, especially as matters go from one ludicrous plot development to another in the film’s final act, but it takes a while to get going. The first half too often feels decidedly tame with only a few real shocks, focusing too much on the intricacies of character relationships which ultimately end up not mattering all that much. The film never goes as far as the likes of Evil Dead II in terms of all-out slapstick and farce, and is arguably less successful than it could have been because of this.

There’s certainly enough here to entertain however, often thanks to the willing and able cast. Bruce Abbott does well as Dan Cain, often providing the audience’s perspective as well as filling the role of straight man more and more as the comedy elements are ramped up; a late attempt to transform him into Re-Animator’s equivalent to Evil Dead’s Ash feels unconvincing and unnecessary however. David Gale’s Dr. Carl Hill is also memorable, bringing the character into his own during the final act through an exaggerated and blood-soaked performance.

It’s Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West who will far and away stick in your mind after the credits roll however. Combs’ performance is tonally perfect for the horror-comedy genre, developing West as the film progresses from a shady, disconcerting presence into a modern-day quasi-Frankenstein. If only Gordon had managed to instil more substance into Re-Animator, raising at least some of those questions that so easily could have been dropped into this story, then Combs’ performance might have been more amply matched by the film surrounding it.

Re-Animator is released on UK Blu-ray Steelbook and DVD from today.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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