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Episode 84: RE-ANIMATOR

  

289 members have voted

  1. 1. Is RE-ANIMATOR Canon?

    • Yes!
      144
    • Call time of death on this one.
      145


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I vote yes. Although it may seem easy to make this kind of movie, it is not. This is a cream of the crop, top 1%, upper echelon film.

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I guess I'm considering this a "soft no". Interestingly, this has been one of my favorite episodes of the Canon thus far, and I agreed with a lot of points from both sides. I think I may have actually enjoyed the conversation much more than I did the actual movie. On the one hand, this means that the movie has some significant repeat-value and fosters a healthy depth for the conversation surrounding it. On the other, I feel that all of the good elements of the pro-RE-ANIMATOR arguments were directly tied to the very reason FOR this episode--as indulgence. I feel that many horror and especially gore fans can all claim a somewhat more obscure or otherwise pejorative film that hits many of Devin's points. For me, Herschell Gordan Lewis' movies changed my perspective on gore at a crucial age and made me a much more dedicated horror fan. However, I'd be hard pressed to find apt opportunities to recommend RE-ANIMATOR or something like THE WIZARD OF GORE. I don't think they are canon material - rather they belong to the communities that indulge them, and are specifically coming from a more niche taste to indulge in the conversations surrounding them. For this reason, it made for a great episode no doubt. But the movie, on its own in my opinion, does not inherently bring that level of wonder, enthusiasm, depth, or influence.

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However, I'd be hard pressed to find apt opportunities to recommend RE-ANIMATOR or something like THE WIZARD OF GORE. I don't think they are canon material - rather they belong to the communities that indulge them, and are specifically coming from a more niche taste to indulge in the conversations surrounding them.

 

The whole idea of the canon rests on the useful fiction of there being a relatively uncontentious set of values you can use to judge the qualities of a film, things like pacing, performance, editing, etc but film is so diverse you often end up developing your values based on the qualities and the traditions they fall into. Often I think this is solved by resort to autuer theory: if a film's qualities express a vision, if they're intentional.... but I'm not always convinced about this. Visions are about the world as much as they are about the artist. There's also the issue of fairly transparent choices often being the best ones. (Remember the saying about the oscars meaning "most" instead of best.)

I think part of the argument Devin and Amy are having is over precisely this: how niche is horror and by extension its component parts? Devin, near the end of the podcast, made some remarks about how everyone likes scary movies. I think he finds them more mainstream. If horror were perfectly mainstream, a lot of the qualities that make up horror movies would become something you'd want to showcase with your canon picks, just like you want to showcase certain quality in the realistic dramas that often make up the bulk of these sorts of selections like the plausibility of character motivations, the plausibility of the conflicts and the events that advance it, the importance of the conflicts to our lives, etc. I'm not a big horror-goer so I can't say, but I'll venture you'd want to showcase something like Devin's "viscerality." I take issue with how much spectacle there is in this film, and that might just be an inherent quality of horror that I don't understand because I care about a different tradition, which is the dramatic-realist one. Devin also puts forward some broader reasons why these qualities might be important. That stuff about confronting the reality of death. There's an argument that wasn't made about how Herbert West and how Herbert West is made, say, forces that confrontation.

 

I think he also gets at how some of these qualities can actively be in tension with different critical values. If you want to make a campy story, or the most actiony action movie ever, you're probably making one that somebody who only likes pure Ibsen-style drama can't like.

 

There's also the question of how art films, often lauded as the best in film, are niche or not. But I think that's a bit of a digression.

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I'm a little bothered by some people dismissing horror/genre cult/gore as a "boy thing". Aside from that being more than a little condescending, it's just not true. It was my girlfriend freshman year of college who first turned me on to "Re-Animator". Years later, one thing a best female friend and I loved doing most was getting take-out on a Sunday night and watching some '70s or '80s horror. I mean, she got a tattoo of the tar zombie for "Return of the Living Dead" on her calf! We revisited Re-Animator frequently. Women like horror and gore as well, and can also be just as excited about these films as a teenage boy (or an adult man).

...and what I mean by that is, the false sense that this is "another movie that appeals to teenage boy genre fans and man-children" is not a very good reason to dismiss this film. Because it's simply not true. Or, at least, not most of the women that I know . Like John Waters said, "I want to know the girls who give the middle finger under that tables while the family is saying grace, not some boring debutante."[paraphrased]

 

(Of course, the woman I'm currently seeing can't stand horror/gore/sci fi, but, well, life is funny and throws us a curve ball like that sometimes.)

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I feel like I wasted my vote for trashy but artsy 1980's B-movies that punch above their weight on "They Live", so this is a tough one for me because I feel the style and visuals of Re-Animator hold up better, and what elevates genre movies if not style? A film like "Working Girl" - with a well-honed script, an immediately recognizable and familiar milieu, and certified movie stars can afford to sit back and let the screenplay and the actors do the heavy lifting (and it very shrewdly does just that), but a low budget grindhouse movie like Re-Animator has to dig deeper into the art of movie-making to sell us on the reality of what we are seeing, so when it's executed with such panache its like catnip to us film geeks. There's an artistry behind the gore that elevates it beyond disgust.

 

But I think Amy has a point about the genre-heavy canon, and there are, for example, more straight-up genre movies than foreign art movies in The Canon right now (Battle Royale and Oldboy fit comfortably in both categories), and listening to this episode, and thinking of "They Live" I was reminded of Pauline Kael's essay "Trash, Art, and the Movies" in which she argues that film is a lower art form when she writes that "Movies took their impetus not from desiccated European high culture, but from the pee show, the Wild West Show, the comic strip - from what was coarse and common" - and then says that to make films "respectable" is to kill them. From this perspective, hell yeah, Re-Animator!!!

 

I'm probably going to vote yes, but that being said, I'm ready for some Antonioni, or some Renoir, a little of the art-house rather than the grindhouse, Devin, please. We promise to listen.

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I think part of the argument Devin and Amy are having is over precisely this: how niche is horror and by extension its component parts? Devin, near the end of the podcast, made some remarks about how everyone likes scary movies. I think he finds them more mainstream. If horror were perfectly mainstream, a lot of the qualities that make up horror movies would become something you'd want to showcase with your canon picks, just like you want to showcase certain quality in the realistic dramas that often make up the bulk of these sorts of selections like the plausibility of character motivations, the plausibility of the conflicts and the events that advance it, the importance of the conflicts to our lives, etc. I'm not a big horror-goer so I can't say, but I'll venture you'd want to showcase something like Devin's "viscerality." I take issue with how much spectacle there is in this film, and that might just be an inherent quality of horror that I don't understand because I care about a different tradition, which is the dramatic-realist one. Devin also puts forward some broader reasons why these qualities might be important. That stuff about confronting the reality of death. There's an argument that wasn't made about how Herbert West and how Herbert West is made, say, forces that confrontation.

 

 

I'm actually pretty inclined to believe that Horror, in its broadest strokes, is quite mainstream. The subset of the genre and especially the specific temporal context RE-ANIMATOR occupies is more niche to me though. As you state, you don't consider yourself much of a horror fan. To my mind, that factor might actually make it easier for you want to put RE-ANIMATOR in the canon for all that is does accomplish. But, I think my point was that for anyone who is deeper into the genre probably has their own "indulgence" choice to swap it out for, for better or worse. As a horror fan, it is a groundbreaking moment when you watch something campy or seemingly pejorative or low-brow, as much of horror is deemed, and find such depth and rehabilitative qualities within it. Devin obviously found this in RE-ANIMATOR, but I think a lot of that is honestly somewhat coincidence, the serendipity of time and place (which Amy sort of points out). RE-ANIMATOR is worthy of such a realization, but I think this status makes it fun for other specifically horror fans, and perhaps even more niche subsets of those fans, to argue about which movie did that for them. Many of them accomplish the same things. Few of them would probably be worth throwing into the capital "C" Canon because they do not do enough to transcend this more narrowed (yet still awesome and rewarding and dear to my heart) conversation.

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Hi, new to the show! I'm still going through some of the older ones, but started with this since it's newest. Loved it, and love this movie.

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I feel as though most of the discussion in this thread wouldn't be this way if this weren't a genre film. The arguments against it involving the fact that there are too many films like it in the canon just don't hold up. Saying that Evil Dead 2 already fills the slot that Re-animator would fill is just absurd. Making the argument that one horror movie that uses gore to get a rise out of the audience can't get in because there is already another gory horror movie is like say that two dramas shouldn't get in because they both are heavy on the emotional dialogue or that two comedies can't get in because of there use of goofy humor. Evil Dead 2 is my favorite movie and I vote that re-animator be right there with it. Hard Yes!

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While I really enjoyed the movie, I'm with Amy on this. Specifically when it comes to having some "standards" to this incredibly, super for real serious list of the Greatest Films of All Time we call The Canon!

 

But really, she's got a point. Not every fun movie deserves to be held up above any other movie just because it's fun. The Force Awakens was fun, but I don't want it in the Canon. Neighbors is fun, but it shouldn't be Canon worthy. This list should be a "best of the best" kind of thing. There are movies that are legitimate masterpieces that are just as fun as Re-Animator and lumping those greats with the not-so-great-but-still-really-goods kinda ruins the whole point of this stupid... I mean profound list, I think.

 

So, while I agree with Devin in that fun could definitely be a factor in what should get into the Canon, I don't think Re-Animator has what it takes. It is fun, but not fun enough to single it out from anything else. If we're going to look at a film that is so goddamn fun that that in and of itself is enough, the gold standard should be something akin to Buckaroo Bonzai. Even then, I'm not sure if that one's a sure thing and it's one of my favorite movies.

 

So, with that, I say nay.

 

Edit: Also, I disagree with Amy on comparing this movie to Ed Wood movies. This is a *good* movie, not a "good" movie.

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Yes, yes, totally yes. Important as a major, well-done example of levity being added to horror after the oftentimes grim, disturbing, and baroque 70s. Amazing effects, tight plot, great characters, great ending. Definitive Jeffrey Combs. Definitive Stuart Gordon. A fine exploration of the multiple dark sides of men, and devilish fun. All this Evil Dead instead talk is claptrap (I refer to some comments I've seen, not whatever Amy said, just starting the podcast). This ain't Highlander, there needn't be only one.

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Nah. I feel it's an okay enough film, but I agree with Amy it's not good enough and barely feels they had enough plot for it's even short running time. It's fine but I feel if this movie didn't exist it wouldn't make a difference.

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Also, I understand where Amy is coming from, but it's not like you guys are considering Prince of Darkness or House of Wax or even later Gordon like Dagon, all to one degree or another solid, well-made, sometimes great movies, but not on the same level as Re-Animator. It has more meat, more nuance, more good. It's a top-shelf splatter film and a fine, classic horror entry. I don't think the standards have slipped. There are many metrics by which we grade a great film. Gojira may not be The Godfather but I certainly hope it makes it in when it comes up, because it's doing exactly what it wants to do exceedingly well, and better than most of its kind. Maybe that's the real test: is it better than most films trying to do similar thiings?

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I really prefer when Devin dislikes a movie because he's more likely to explain its technical failings or really show his work. When he likes a movie you can really replace most of the podcast with him saying he liked it, putting his hands over his ears and screaming for all the defense of the actual movie you'll get.

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I'm going to go a bit further than Amy and say it's a Terrible film.

+ Evil Dead 2 and Braindead are the poor neglected children :(

 

This is probably the hardest i'm voting No since Working Girl.

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Nay.

 

Watched this for the first time for the Canon. Enjoyable enough, without feeling like something that is worthy of being considered an all-timer.

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You know I read these, right?

I do. Yeah, I came in a little hot there. Sorry. I gotta remember to wait a little while before posting. :mellow:

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I had no idea this was going to be such a contentious vote! Has a movie ever tied before? And if so what is the process, because Amy and Devin themselves were split and cannot break a tie.

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I had no idea this was going to be such a contentious vote! Has a movie ever tied before? And if so what is the process, because Amy and Devin themselves were split and cannot break a tie.

I think the only time there's been a tie so far was giving Empire Strikes Back and Jurassic Park each another chance. The next episode was when Elijah Wood came to do The Goonies, so they got him to break the tie.

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My vote is no.

 

I feel like my feelings on this film, which Devin will almost certainly think are bullshit reasons for disliking the movie, are wrapped up in my opinions of the original short story and HP Lovecraft himself. I recently watched the movie for the first time while on a bit of a binge of Lovecraft's stories and research into his life for my own interest and I have to say I was very disappointed. I have every faith that Stuart Gordon loved the original story (for instance I am aware that he actually had to seek out an old 1st edition copy at a library because at the time the story hadn't been largely reprinted). Most of this is personal bias on my part. Jeffrey Combs for instance is not who I see in my head as Herbert West, nor does the modern looking hospital the movie is largely set in/around remind me in any way of what Miskatonic University is supposed to look or feel like. It just looked to me that in the process of adapting and updating this story for the screen, it lost a bit of that Lovecraftian feel that I loved so much from the original short story. I didn't find this to be a "fun" movie at all so I disagree with the fundamentals of that argument Devin and Amy devolved into midway through this podcast.

 

I also take issue with the idea of "Scream Queens" in general. It's a tacky trope at the best of times. And Barbara Crampton's presence in the film is really needless to me. She's only there to make Dan more of a character than he was in the story. Dr. Hill is a strange villain in that I don't see exactly why he is so evil from the outset? And why does he have psychic powers for some reason? I don't know, it seemed like he came from a completely different film. He's a composite of several characters from the short story and I dislike how he is used.

 

Piggybacking off of Amy's argument, if I were educating an alien about Re-animator, I would sooner show him the story than the movie.

 

PS, I feel like saying "this was Lovecraft's most hated story" is a bullshit argument for discounting it from the discussion altogether. Lovecraft was notoriously critical of all of his own work. We're talking about a man who had such low self-esteem that his friends setup a publishing house in his honor after his death because the man had handwritten novels socked away in drawers that he had simply never shown anyone. Were it not for Weird Tales he might not have been published in his lifetime either, not that Weird Tales didn't give him trouble too.

 

Yes, he wrote "Herbert West, Reanimator" in installments with cliffhangers that annoyed him and he got paid a pittance for it, but this was also his first serialized story and he refused to find money any other way. Even deeper, he wrote it as a parody of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Lovecraft was a privileged white rich kid with lofty ideas of his family's importance, which coupled with his fascination with the olden days, a general ignorance/fear of the rest of the world, and his crippling depression and self esteem issues manifested as spiteful racism and an unwillingness to find work or participate in the world in general. He never wanted to leave Providence and he was barely interested in sex of any kind. Even when he was married and she dragged him to New York, his hatred of the city outweighed any other emotion he felt at the time, leading him to write "The Horror at Red Hook," his worst and most racist story. He wrote largely because it was one of the only things he seemed to enjoy. Even as his inheritance ran out and he starved himself into intestinal cancer, he still found it difficult to even help himself. Were it not for the efforts of people like August Derleth and the rest of Arkham House we wouldnt even remember him.

 

PPS I also have an extremely hard time watching films where pets are harmed. Take that for what you will, but the scene with the cat was viscerally upsetting to me.

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I'm of a similar opinion to many in the thread, and some of Amy's opinion. I like this movie. I find it to be fun, but it is not an all-time classic. If we want more body horror in the canon we should be looking to Cronenberg first. I would recommend Videodrome to someone before this in terms of a great body horror movie. Again, Re-Animator isn't bad, it's as Devin has said before: "It's fine." Fine does not equal greatest of all time.

 

I think that the episode for this movie was a perfect time to discuss the size of our canon. I'm OK with a large canon, but lately I've been wondering if we haven't been discerning enough. I don't know the answer to that. I voted yes on They Live, a movie some felt undeserving, but I also voted no on Kiki's Delivery Service, which proved to be a divisive choice. Either way, I hope that this debate continues to come up from time to time as it made for a very entertaining debate, and that's in part what I listen to this podcast for.

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The thing that has always bothered me about the "we already have a movie of this kind in The Canon" argument is that it basically just boils down to which movie was chosen for an episode first, as opposed to judging each film on its own merits. Let's say Re-Animator happened to be done on a prior episode and got in, does that mean Evil Dead II would have to be kept out just because it came up on a later date?

 

If you wanna vote no on a film like Re-Animator because you don't think it's Canon-worthy, that's fine. But to vote no on a film simply because another one of its type got in first is silly to me.

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I'm going to weigh in with a pretty plain "no" here. I don't have a lot more to add to the argument, but like some others in this thread, I enjoyed Amy's string of arguments against during the middle of the episode. Perhaps the most succinct of these was:

 

The Fly is so much better than Re-Animator on every level.

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Felt like the entire podcast Devin really didn't offer a legitimate defence for his movie and mostly just attempted to cut off Amy as much as possible. Amy's criticism was some of the best I've heard from her, loved it. There's better movies in this niche genre that could be in the Canon, voting no.

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I love Jeffrey Combs, I thought this movie was very fun, and I think there is a more genre-specific canon that this film belongs to. However, it seems to me this movie isn't particularly important to anyone outside of a certain niche so it just wouldn't be fair to include it. Personally I'm glad films like They Live and Evil Dead 2 are included, but Re-Animator isn't in the same category of quality or cultural impact. That's a hard no.

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