A couple of years ago, some friends invited me to a night at the theater that seemed a little peculiar: A musical version of the cult horror/gore film Re-Animator. I was in a strange position to see this live show, since I knew nothing about the movie, but it was odd enough that I couldn’t say no.
The live show itself seemed like straightforward hipster irony: Mash up two forms (musical + horror) into something weird and unpredictable, sure, why not. And there was certainly plenty of stage blood, fake entrails, and goofy wide-eyed mugging to the audience to make it a fun time. But I couldn’t figure out why, of all movies, this one was adapted.
I mean, I know Re-Animator is super popular with a certain kind of horror nerd, and that it’s a foundational text for a lot of gore-movies today. But somehow I’d just never seen it. So I didn’t get it.
But now I’ve finally caught up with everyone else and with the mid-80s. I watched Re-Animator for the first time last night and at last I understand. I took some notes as I watched — follow along for my impressions from the film.
0:40 The movie opens with people walking urgently down a hall in an overwrought way that reminds me of High Anxiety. Is this just a straight up goofy comedy?
1:20 Well a guy’s eyeballs just exploded so probably not a comedy.
2:50 Weirdly, the music is literally just a copy of Psycho with a dance beat.
9:14 The hero’s address is 66 Darkmore, so maybe it is a comedy after all?
15:00 Just watched a man’s scalp slowly peeled off of his skull. Probably shouldn’t have sat down to watch this movie while eating.
22:26 Okay, there’s a crazy doctor living with the hero. This is basically “Frankenstein’s Roommate.” Still not sure if that makes it a comedy, though!
27:16 They’re about to reanimate a dead cat that looks like they just cut a cat shape out of a bathmat.
33:40 A character was just posing as a dead body, then when it was safe to do so got up and put on clothes. But he was wearing a toe tag, and pulled a sock on without removing the tag. That is the most upsetting thing that has happened so far, and there’s been a LOT of blood.
40:35 I normally like male nudity in a film, but this naked muscle man just had a bone saw embedded through his body, which kind of reduces the sexiness. Still, he has a nice butt.
45:40 There is a man guarding the morgue in a weirdly tight shirt that gives him incredible breasts.
1:01:00 The mad scientist is acting like Steven Colbert acting like a mad scientist. I think it’s a comedy! I’m still not sure!
1:04:20 The dean just got a lobotomy and it made his hair very silly. I think it’s a comedy! But then again it’s been really gross and gloomy up until this point so I’m still not totally sold.
1:19:20 Well, okay. We just watched a whole bunch of zombies staggering around, which sure seems like horror to me. But we also saw a headless body walking around and bumping into things, which seems like comedy. There was a sad death — horror! — but also a rib cage flapping like barn doors at a saloon — comedy?
So the verdict on this movie’s genre is: There is no possible verdict. It has no genre. It is its own genre.
And that’s why it makes so much sense as a musical. Re-Animator already exists outside of the bounds of any “type” of film. And so slapping one more type on top of it — one more category — is perfect. The movie spends an hour and a half careening between hilarious (for example, putting a goofy fake head on a torso to avoid detection) to macabre (lots of dismemberments). So heck, if it’s going to be a genre-buster, why not pile as many genres on top of that sandwich as you can?
The Re-Animator musical doesn’t seem to be going on anymore, which is a shame. Now that I’ve seen the film, I think I’d be in a much better position to appreciate it. Oh well… maybe someday I’ll get to see the Evil Dead musical.
Previously published August 28, 2016.