This is because it is so unassuming at first. The poster is funny, the premise is ludicrous and comic, the acting is delightfully over the top like a twisted, gonzo, end-of-the-pier, pantomime, the effects are obvious but so sticky, gross and played for gruesome laughs that it is a joy to behold and at no point is it really, truly scary as much as it is sick and silly.
However, when the film is over and you try to think back over everything you've seen, you realise just how demented, bizarre, perfectly crazy, gory, filthy and excessive it all is.
It is the Frankenstein-like tail of a medical student, Herbert West, with a dream and a stubborn ambition that is a notch below Hitler's, who attempts, at all costs, to get his re-animation serum to work and to blur the lines between life and death. Along the way he literally destroys lives, ropes a naive fellow student in to do his hideous bidding and does cruel and unusual things to a cat, all in the name of his beloved science. He turns the dean of the medical college into a mental zombie and his teacher, the malevolent, perverted, mind-controlling Dr.Hill into a headless tyrant with a psychotic lust for the dean's daughter and designs on stealing and claiming as his own, Herbert West's Re-animating agent. It's all eye-brow raisingly, hand-wringingly and scenery chewingly good fun.
Like I say, though, by the end you have sat through some of the most vividly disgusting yet blackly hilarious footage ever filmed. Along with Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2 and even American Werewolf this is some of the most comic book style, excessive gore out there but because of its sense of humour and odd-ball, almost old fashioned, gothic and dramatic acting it all flies by in no time and despite the lack of any real hero to root for, a sense of repetition to their constantly botched experiments and a few loopy plot holes it's a no-holes barred, laugh-out-loud, ridiculous and splatter-filled romp.
Although they are both technically second tier characters, because of the performances of Jeffrey Combs and David Gale, it is Herbert West and Dr.Hill that steal the show and it is surely no mistake that they show up on the poster. The main characters, if there are any, seem to be the happy couple of Dan Cain and Megan Halsey, played by the excessively brave and daring Barbara Crampton but it is difficult to invest in their story line too much once the mayhem begins and after all do we really think that a slightly dumb, rookie doctor who is schtupping the dean's daughter is going to live happily ever after with his intended bride? and do we ever really care? I know they are meant to be the heart and soul of the piece but really they make so many mistakes and especially the guy, Dan Cain, seems to spend the film continually screwing up and making the wrong decisions, how much sympathy are we really going to feel for him when West is about being so damn watchable and deliciously bonkers?
If watched too regularly the impact of all of this would gradually be diminished I am sure but watching it occasionally it is still graphic, shocking and surprising by today's standards, very funny in places and it gave the world Jeffrey Combs who through his constant genre work has, like Bruce Campbell, earned his seat in the high-court of the B Movie Kingdom.
Despite continuing to spawn lesser sequels (House of Re-Animator is currently being mooted) it never seemed to gather a group of rabid fans like the Evil Dead series and never caught a mainstream or studio's eye like the Freddys and Jasons of this world but this original movie, at least, has enough invention, extreme and entertaining set pieces and a villain you're compelled to like that it can happily stand amongst their ranks proudly like the crazy little cousin burning ants under a magnifying glass with lip-smacking glee at the horror family picnic.
8 out of 10 slices of red devil cake