The work of actor Jeffrey Combs was recommended to me by the guys at the movie podcast No, Totally! As they seem to be very enthusiastic about it, I watched the 1985 film Re-Animator.
The film, which is based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, is about Herbert West (Combs) a young medical student who has created a luminous green formula that can re-animate the dead. It all goes awry and the formula creates a morgue full of violent zombies. It’s as if Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was given the formula and has come back to life in a far gorier incarnation.
As someone without much experience of horror films or B-movies, it initially struck me as a cross between Garth Marenghi’s Dark Place and Shaun of the Dead – probably because both are loving parodies of the genre. Although Re-Animator is itself a horror movie, it also has a great sense of humour. It’s not camp or in-your-face, but treats its own absurdity with utter seriousness. Both the comedy and the horror rely on Re-Animator’s able to consistently surprise. One of the most satisfying things about the film is the series of unexpected – but not convoluted – twists that had me saying “What? No, he’s not going to… to her? With his own decapitated head?” The great (and awful in the case of the demon cat) practical effects are in equal parts horrific and amusing as characters are killed and re-killed in increasingly inventive ways. But this isn’t simply a gore fest. The story, although dripping in 80’s cliché, is not just a blood splattered comedy Frankenstein. It’s an original storyline, and when I say that it’s full of surprises I’m not talking about jump-scares.
No, Totally!’s beloved Jeffrey Combs is remarkably creepy. He’s very watchable in an unsettling way. He’s not evil, he’s not the scarred and wrinkled hunchback. He isn’t a chillingly charming psychopath either. He’s weird, but you can’t quite put your finger on what makes his that weird. Either he’s a fantastic actor, he’s actually that weird, or both.
It was very satisfying to watch a film that is part of the B-Movie tradition that I’m a generation away from. The people whose work I grew up loving, grew up loving films like Re-Animator. People like Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the creators of the Cornetto Trillogy; Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith of The League of Gentlemen; and Matthew Holness, Richard Ayoade, Matt Berry and Chris Morris who made the aforementioned Garth Marenghi.
I’ve done this the wrong way round: I’ve watched the homages first and the originals second. In return for their recommendation, I would like to recommend the 2004 film Shaun of the Dead to Shaun and Brian at No, Totally!. It’s a love letter to zombie B-movies and is probably packed with references that go flying over my head, so they can educate me on that too.