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The Audacity Of Re-Animator

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Re-AnimatorStuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985) will screen via 35mm print Friday, June 7th, and Saturday, June 8th at the Hi-Pointe Theatre in Saint Louis, Missouri.  The screening is presented by Destroy The Brain! as part of their Late Nite Grindhouse series.  All the juicy details can be found right here.

Most horror film fans would agree that Re-Animator, based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, is a standout entry in the mountain of horror movies released over the past few decades.  After reading about this ultra-gory flick as a teenager (in “Horror Holocaust” by Chas. Balun, as well as Fangoria), I couldn’t wait to see it.

Re-Animator became an instant favorite, and it still is today - but perhaps for different reasons.  When I was younger, the gore and the energy of the film hooked me in.  Today, the energy is still a highlight, but the special effects - while I still love ‘em - appear a bit dated.  So what’s the appeal?

When I was younger, I probably connected - albeit subconsciously - with another, less overt aspect of Re-Animator: the film’s audacity.  This element is likely the primary reason why there’s still a special place in my demented heart for Re-Animator now that I’m older.

The film still thrills because it is a movie that seems to break all the rules (well, as long as you’re watching the unrated cut).  First and foremost, this is a primary theme of the movie.  Even the ultimate rule - death is the end - can be broken.  This theme extends into Herbert West's antics.  He is tenacious in achieving his goals, and is willing to sneak, steal, and greatly overstep his bounds to reach success.  (His defiant attitude and unauthorized use of university resources echoes how many low-budget indie films get made… including my early student efforts.)

There are other layers to Re-Animator’s subversive unruliness.  There is certainly a cathartic thrill in seeing stuffy ol’ Dean Halsey reduced to one of the raving, slobbering undead.  The film's use of nudity is beyond the norm, while never degenerating into ridiculous b-movie T&A.  Even the infamous "head" scene between Megan Halsey and Dr. Hill isn't terribly explicit - it's more the idea of it that's shocking.  (I remember, during the film's theatrical release, some theater chains capitulated to the controversy and instructed the projectionists to snip this sequence from the film prints.)  And, of course, Re-Animator’s far-beyond-the-norm use of over-the-top violence and gore crosses the line in a most triumphant and entertaining way.

I'm a big believer in learning the rules before you break 'em… but breaking them can be just as important.  While breaking the rules won't turn a terrible film into a good one, it can definitely make a good film better.  Re-Animator certainly breaks the rules… and it's a good film made better as a result.

As a young, green filmmaker, Re-Animator had an impact on me.  On every movie I've made, when I heard, "You can't do that," it was my cue to question, "Why not?"  This is the primary lesson Re-Animator's audacity taught this filmmaker… and, for me, it's a major component in making this film worthy of repeat viewings to this day.

If you're in the area, be sure to enjoy a 35mm screening of Re-Animator June 7th or 8th at the Hi-Pointe in Saint Louis.  If you've seen the movie before, catching it on the big screen will be a new thrill… and if you've never seen it, this is a good way to learn how breaking the rules can result in an exceptional horror film.

Thanks for reading.

- Eric Stanze

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