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“Re-Animator” and “The Perfect Crime”

“Re-Animator” and “The Perfect Crime” (photo)

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Pulp is as pulp does, but sometimes its context is the pivotal factor — take Stuart Gordon’s outrageously uncomfortable, justly famous 1985 classic “Re-Animator,” adapted from a nothing Lovecraft story (cowritten by Gordon, career snickering cheese-master Dennis Paoli and theater vet William Norris). The indie-made movie, which initiated the still-seething stream of cheap Lovecraft filmizations, was very much a creature of its time — released tentatively and briefly into busy multiplexes and the last few real urban grindhouses left by the mid-80s, “Re-Animator”‘s ludicrous gore, humor and theatrical elan zoomed right over most audience’s heads, and so it sank unceremoniously (and despite a glowing, albeit characteristically clubfooted, review by Pauline Kael).

Ah, but by 1985 VCRs were just becoming standard operating equipment for most homes and dorm rooms, and VHS-renting video stores were cropping up like mushrooms on every street corner, ushering in the era of low-cost, low-impact, risk-allowing movie choices, and therefore the now-market-dependent principle of scantly released features finding new audiences on video. Gordon’s film found a new audience in a big way — generations of shelf-scrounging renters discovered this ghoulish hopfest, and then passed on the good news, so that by now it has accumulated five straight-to-video sequels and ripoffs, including the upcoming “House of Re-Animator,” which brings Gordon back to the franchise for a scenario set in the White House.

Gordon was one of the original founders of the experimental Organic Theater group in Chicago; his dalliances with movies have been erratic, with “Re-Animator” remaining his premier achievement. (It beats out his recent David Mamet adaptation, “Edmund.”) “Re-Animator” is such a fierce, energetic, high-flying concoction that every aspect of it feels like a well-tuned joke — from its timeless, TV-tinged university setting to the iconic acting to the balls-out comic gore, which predated Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead 2” by a few years, and in any case set a new standard for discomfiting dismemberment satire. Lovecraft’s young intern Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs, in a performance that should’ve made him a household name, not just a psychotronic favorite) is a megalomanic wacko with a reanimating serum he tests out at every opportunity, resulting in crazed, out-of-control corpses staggering about, body parts (including intestines) perambulating on their own, and, in the film’s most Dantean set-piece, the defilement of a young blonde’s naked body (Barbara Crampton paid her dues here, but never cashed in) by a long-tongued severed head held by its own headless body. It’s delirious, unpretentious chutzpah of a kind that no one — not even Gordon — has been able to tap reliably since. The ersatz sequel, “From Beyond” (1987), is almost as transgressive and hilarious, but after that, the magic was gone.

Scabrous fun of a newer stripe, Álex de la Iglesia’s “The Perfect Crime” has this nasty Spaniard, in a crowd of nasty Spaniards, going more and more glitzily commercial. De la Iglesia made a splash in the mid-90s with “Acción Mutante” (1993) and “Day of the Beast” (1995), inventively offensive genre blasts barely released here. Since, he’s apparently become an ironic Hitchcockian-Tashlinian, evolving into his country’s most daring camp satirist after Almodóvar (when Almodóvar bothers with satire). This aggressively misogynist murder fantasy is set entirely within a department store, the ladies’ section of which is the kingdom of vain, womanizing sales-god Rafael (Guillermo Toledo). Everything is changing-room-nookie bliss until a contest for the position of floor manager is upset by a rubber check, and a scuffle produces an accidental corpse; butchery, blackmail, skullduggery and hijinks ensue. De la Iglesia has no fear of tastelessness — the demonization of the cast’s only plug-ugly woman (a lovelorn schemestress played by Mónica Cervera) would be cheap and insulting if it weren’t for the film’s speed, wit and generally low view of humanity.

“Re-Animator” (Anchor Bay) and “The Perfect Crime” are both currently available on DVD.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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