Many gross out horror films are far from timid in treating viewers to all manner of vile and disgusting make-up effects, and accordingly many are just so dour and ugly. Cheerless marches of unpleasantness. All such films are potentially ridiculous, and 1985's RE-ANIMATOR not only recognizes but fully embraces this notion. Of how violence and gore can be taken to an extreme that far surpasses any inherent shock and transfigures into a comic ballet.
Sam Raimi skillfully orchestrated such a dance with the original EVIL DEAD and its sequels. If I described to you what occurs in those films, you might be repelled, but the cartoonish approach tempers what otherwise might play as unwatchable in other hands (pardon the pun if you've seen those flicks). Director Stuart Gordon's style is not kinetic like Raimi's, but rather a steady approach to a third act crescendo of outrageousness. Over the top carnage that set new lows for the genre. This is high praise, indeed.
Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) has concocted a reagent that can re-animate the deceased. His reputation precedes him as he arrives at Miskatonic University and almost immediately sets about to show his med school roommate Dan (Bruce Abbott) the results of his labor. After bringing Dan's dead feline to life, the duo are expelled and are forced to find corpses in the local morgue as subjects. But, the re-animated tend to be uncontrollable and quite violent. You can't reason with them.
Soon, the reagent will be necessary to use on Dr. Alan Halsey, dean of the school (Robert Sampson), and his egotistical colleague Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), who ends up with a separated re-animated head and lower body. In his new state, Dr. Hill is still coherent, and lucid enough to devise some rather perverted designs on the dean's daughter/Dan's fiancee, Megan (Barbara Crampton), in a scene of wicked invention and demented humor.
Those words sum up RE-ANIMATOR entirely. Director Gordon's screenplay - based on an old story by H.P. Lovecraft - is a trashy good time that adheres to the conventions of the genre while drolly commenting on them. The story follows an insane logic right to its final fade out. Gordon's tone is straight faced and that is the only way such an absurd movie could possibly work. Yet it is never relentlessly somber or self-serious. There is a wink in every moment, with Richard Band's score an apt accompaniment.
That is not to say that if you are squeamish you should give it a go, but the cabaret of excessiveness here approaches heights (or depths) that put it firmly in the schlock Hall of Fame. And I was not at all surprised that this movie was later adapted into a Broadway musical. RE-ANIMATOR could easily be LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS' even more twisted cousin.