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Review: Re-Animator

[The following review contains SPOILERS; YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!]

Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (an extremely loose adaptation of a serialized story penned by H. P. Lovecraft) comfortably resides at the intersection of horror and slapstick. The scenario of a zombified corpse carrying its own severed head, for example, wouldn’t feel out of place in a Chuck Jones animated short (albeit a particularly grotesque, macabre one)—though actor David Gale’s talent for nonverbal communication elevates the classic gag (sheer annoyance has never been so palpable).

And no, I won’t elaborate on what exactly that decapitated torso gets up to. If you know, you know.

The true MVP, of course, is young Jeffrey Combs, who is seemingly impervious to the inherent absurdity of the film’s premise, delivering an utterly earnest, straight-faced, unironic performance. In his capable hands, ambitious medical student Herbert West epitomizes arrogance, vanity, and egotism; despite his formidable intellect, the aspiring scientist is neither wise nor self-aware enough to recognize his increasingly obvious madness. Thus, Combs’ unwavering sincerity merely reflects his character’s humorless disposition and unflinching confidence in his academic brilliance—a compelling, insightful, thematically appropriate creative choice.

The movie is hardly flawless; indeed, Arrow’s recent 4K restoration inadvertently exposes some rather lackluster cinematography (flat lighting, bland compositions) that might otherwise have been disguised by the fuzzy grain of a VHS transfer. Such minor blemishes, however, are ultimately inconsequential. The artistic value of a production like Re-Animator is measured not in the quality of its craftsmanship, the structure of its plot, or the depth of its narrative, but in gallons of gore and volume of sleazy subject matter—and on those dubious “merits,” it is an undeniable success.

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