|Alone in the dark: Barbara Crampton and Bruce Abbott in Re-Animator.|
For those of you keeping score at home, I’m still in the process of working my way through a list of fifteen or so horror films from the silent era to the present, a project that will likely be wrapping up around mid-April. Most recently, I screened Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985)—an utterly zonked, splatter-happy update of the Dr. Frankenstein story—for the first time. Initially I wondered how, having grown up scouring the cable TV listings for horror movies in the early to mid-1990s, I had never seen it before. It soon became clear to me why: the film is so gory, and so nudity-heavy, that it never would have survived being cut for television.
While I never actually saw Re-Animator growing up, I was very much aware of it, thanks mainly to John McCarty’s book The Modern Horror Film, of which I made a careful study from roughly the ages of ten through fourteen. The book runs through most of the major horror films from the 1950s to the late 1980s, illustrated with numerous black and white photos (it was there that I first learned about Roman Polanski’s Repulsion). The entry on Re-Animator was mainly noteworthy for featuring at least three still photos of the nubile Meg (Barbara Crampton) fully nude and laid out on an operating table beside the severed but still-animate head of Dr. Hill (David Gale). To an adolescent boy who hadn’t yet discovered his homosexuality, these images were tantalizing—and disturbing. In one of the images, the severed head is about to attempt oral sex on the helpless Meg; seen in the context of the film, it makes a grotesque rhyme with an earlier scene in which we see Meg in the throes of sexual ecstasy with her med-student boyfriend (Bruce Abbott) (see above).