Parkin’s Pit of Perversion: The Head Scene in RE-ANIMATOR (NSFW)

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UK-based teacher, actor, musician and fearful film enthusiast Nigel Parkin ongoing column charting sexual perversion in classic horror films.

A few weeks ago our esteemed editor celebrated the opening scene of Stuart Gordon’s 1985 gross-out splatter classic, RE-ANIMATOR. It is certainly a great moment but we all know which scene really gives this film its legendary status. There are few experiences in cinema more gloriously and deliriously perverse than seeing the re-animated figure of David Gale’s Dr Carl Hill grasping his own severed, leering, blood-drooling head and guiding it down the naked body of Barbara Crampton‘s gorgeously appalled Megan.
 
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What you might not know is that viewers in the UK had to wait 22 years to get the full extent of that experience.  When I first saw the film on VHS the climax of that sequence was the magnificent moment when, having rasped his vile suggestions of love close to Megan’s ear, Hill gleefully thrusts his bloody tongue into that particularly unfortunate organ. And you know what? That was enough! Not because I am a prude – far from it! No, it was because that particular stage in Megan’s terrible ordeal really is played to the hilt. Crampton, breasts  heaving and voice wavering with disgust, shame and terror, suffers superbly as Gale assaults her with his words. The oral violation is already taking place, so thoroughly indeed that the scream that greets the violent intrusion of the tongue leaves us in no doubt that Megan already feels thoroughly polluted.
 
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This is all made spectacularly vivid not just by Crampton’s commitment but by Gale’s villainous relish and extraordinary presence. We know this scene is all about the head(!) but let’s really consider what that means. David Gale’s head was one of the wonders of cinema. That long, solid, monolithic, heavy face with its intense eyes and menacing chin is employed here to tremendous effect. Standing in its surgical tray in a pool of blood, looking for all the world like a perverse hunk of meat swimming in its own juices on a roasting tray, that face gazes hungrily at Crampton’s delicious body and our minds are filled with suggestions of a grotesque feast. This all neatly reminds us of an earlier scene where Hill fixes Megan with his obsessive, creepily penetrating stare at a dinner table. Savouring a glass of red wine that will in the later scene be mirrored by the blood in his mouth, Gale’s monstrous lecher is already anticipating this carnal feast and Megan knows it. Crampton shows this brilliantly; watch what happens to her body and face as she is forced to watch Gale raise his glass and offer her a toast. She is already beginning to feel strapped, undressed, entered in some appalling way by those eyes, that tongue. Such is the dark power of Gale’s smiling face, the overpowering sense of iniquitous intention behind those eyes, that his head seems as close to her in this scene as it is in our celebrated moment.

 
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I can’t imagine anyone other than David Gale in those scenes. In a film full of inspired casting he stands the tallest in every way. It is entirely fitting that, since his untimely death in 1991, prints of this fabulous film have been dedicated to his memory. He can also be seen in Brian Yuzna’s blissfully batshit sequel, BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, soon to be released in a beautiful new blu ray package by Arrow, in a cover that looks like it’s designed to glow in the dark. Brilliant. Quite right. Glowing in the darkness of the pit of perversion, just like those wicked eyes in that long, long, wicked face…
 

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Weekend: Dec. 12, 2019, Dec. 15, 2019

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