The second in a series, "Losing It at the Movies," which is explained here.
In 5001 Nights at the Movies, Kael wrote of Re-Animator:
[T]his horror film about a medical student with a fluorescent greenish-yellow serum that restores the dead to hideous, unpredictable activity is close to being a silly ghoulie classic—the bloodier it gets, the funnier it is. It’s like pop Buñuel; the jokes hit you in a subterranean comic zone that the surrealists’ pranks sometimes reached, but without the surrealists’ self-consciousness (and art-consciousness). This is indigenous American junkiness, like the Mel Brooks–Gene Wilder Young Frankenstein, but looser and more low-down.
The part I agree with most is that "the bloodier it gets, the funnier it is". For one thing, this should warn off anyone who isn't a fan of excessive buckets of gore. I also realized that it's probably best to spread out your viewings of Re-Animator, so that you forget the funny parts. Then you can laugh all over again.
Barbara Crampton is at the center of what is the most outrageous scene. There's a DVD commentary featuring Crampton and several others involved with the film, and Crampton is hilarious. I'll just quote some of the commentary ... if you've seen the movie, you'll know what she's talking about (and keep in mind, she and everyone else is laughing and having a great time during the commentary):
Crampton: This is my mom's favorite scene. Oh, she loves this part.
Other actor: Look at those lights.
BC: Look at those lights? Look at those breasts! They're right there!
[A bit later]
Actor: You know this scene coming up, where he takes his head right into your crotch?
BC: Well, it doesn't quite go into my crotch, okay?
Actor: David felt spiritually bereft, those were the words he used, he said I feel awful doing this.
BC: Well, he should have!
Actor: It starts with the tongue in the ear, that's when it sent his wife over.
Other actor: It did, after that first screening, she split on him. And this is where it ...
BC: Oh, it's only a movie!
You can listen here:
There's also what I assume is a future in-joke. Three years before Die Hard, frequent mention is made of a scientist named Hans Gruber.
Back when I did that 50 Fave Movies thing, Re-Animator was one of my final cuts. And, for those who found the story of my daughter and Thelma & Louise fun, I'll mention her again. In her younger days, she was an aficionado of slasher movies. (One of the people on my dissertation committee was Carol J. Clover. I told her about my daughter, and how I let her watch pretty much anything, but I drew the line on I Spit on Your Grave. Carol said I should let her watch it. Eventually, I did.) She liked to check out the names of the directors on the video boxes ... she got us to watch From Beyond, which was Stuart Gordon's next movie after Re-Animator.
Kael wasn't the only critic who liked Re-Animator. Roger Ebert called it:
[A] frankly gory horror movie that finds a rhythm and a style that make it work in a cockeyed, offbeat sort of way. It's charged up by the tension between the director's desire to make a good movie, and his realization that few movies about mad scientists and dead body parts are ever likely to be very good. The temptation is to take a camp approach to the material, to mock it, as Paul Morrissey did in "Andy Warhol's Frankenstein." Gordon resists that temptation, and creates a livid, bloody, deadpan exercise in the theater of the undead.