Anatomical drawings and Bernard Herrmann pastiche for the credits, before Stuart Gordon locates the fun in Miskatonic Medical Center, MA, with student Bruce Abbott flailing over a flatlining patient. "A good doctor knows when to stop," he's told, although Jeffrey Combs, his new roommate, is the mad kind, thus lent carte blanche for morgue hijinks. Introduced on a squishy prologue in Zurich, Combs is Costello to Abbott, ready to update the dead-parrot Monty Python skit with a cat to test out his new, revolutionary experiment, a glow-in-the-dark serum that, injected into the brain, brings dead flesh back to life. "You killed him!" "No. I gave him life." Authentically Lovecraftian, it becomes logic as applied to Robert Sampson, the institute's dour dean and the "world's last living puritan," strapped into a straitjacket as a gurgling zombie yet showing far more vigor than in life. Soon enough, pompous professor David Gale tries to blackmail Combs, wanting the formula for himself, only to get his huge noggin separated from his body and plopped on a basin, thus validating a Talking Heads poster earlier on as a visual pun. The slapstick heightens as the decapitated trunk ambles the halls carrying the foaming head and looking for Barbara Crampton, Abbott's fiancée and the dean's daughter, naked on a table for the showstopper, severed, leering, licking Gale aiming south of her body. The heroes rush to the rescue, and out of the body bags leaps a mad parade of purple-pale re-animated stiffs, for spastic anarchy, intestines turning into tentacles, and maybe the closest thing to seeing Gordon's famous nude staging of Peter Pan. In any case, Gordon uses the camera's deadpan acuity to produce moist set-pieces, entrails and viscera shaken at the lenses to forge the link with the transgressive '70s of Morrissey and Margheritti rather than the smirky-ass '80s of the Coens. Comedy, creamed with splatter or not, allows filmmakers to get away with subversion, so Gordon seizes the gags for liberating offensiveness, probably appreciated by both Lucio Fulci and Blake Edwards, another comic subverter, who's to borrow the final joke for Skin Deep. With Gerry Black, and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon.
--- Fernando F. Croce