Re-Animator (1985) – 31 Days of Horror: Oct 05

by Jovial Jay

I haven’t seen Re-Animator in at least 25 years. But from what I recall, it’s a crazy, bloody riff on the Frankenstein mythology, updated with shock, gore and profanity!

Doctor Herbert West is arrogant, creepy and has just discovered the secret to the reanimation of dead tissue. Not just bodies, but any tissue.

Before Viewing

The trailer shows him decapitating another doctor and then bringing just the head back to life. I am now remembering the sequence in the film with the head. I’ll tell you about that later! The trailer for Re-Animator makes it seem like it’s a darker version of a Frankenstein story, but there’s also some dark humor that appears to be coming through as well. The trailer also reminds me that this film is based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, which adds to the creepiness. I’m going to screen the film and see how it holds up to my memories. We’ll get reanimating after you check out the trailer below!

Presented below is the Trailer for the film.


Spoiler Warning - HalloweenAfter Viewing

Re-Animator (1985) is a solid, darkly comedic interpretation of the Frankenstein story. I cannot speak about how closely it follows the source material “Herbert West – Re-Animator” by H.P. Lovecraft, but the story definitely has a Lovecraftian bent.

Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is an egocentric med student who enrolls in the Lovecraft favorite, Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts. He has specific ideas about the reanimation of dead tissue, which do not agree with the medical teacher, Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale). West moves in with another med student, Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), who is very straight-laced and also happens to be dating the Dean’s daughter, Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton).

Soon Dan discovers that his cat is dead and being kept in Herbert’s mini-fridge. When confronted with the discovery Herbert pulls out a syringe of yellowish glow-in-the-dark fluid and injects the feline corpse, which promptly comes back to life. The two decide to test out the formula on a larger, human subject in the school’s morgue. They succeed and bring the body back to life (re-animated, if you will) but are soon discovered by Dean Halsey, who is attacked by the reanimated body and killed. The two modify their formula and reanimate the Dean, but he is damaged enough that he is kept in a padded cell, so as not to hurt himself, under the care of Dr. Hill.

Dr. Hill suspects that West may be on to something and follows him home to take some of the formula, but Herbert knocks out the doctor and decapitates him. He then decides that reanimating the head and the body is a good idea. The doctor’s body manages to knock out West, take the doctor’s head and escape, kidnapping Megan in the process. It seems that while alive, the doctor had an unhealthy fascination with the young co-ed, and feels that now is the time to make her aware of his feelings.

What follows is one of the more memorable scenes from a horror film, in which Megan is strapped to a medical table, naked, and the doctor’s body directs the severed head to rape the girl. It’s quite a scene! Anyway, Dan and Herbert show up to rescue Megan and she and Dan escape while Herbert, along with some assistance from Dean Halsey, who can still understand that his daughter is in trouble, hold off Dr. Hill and a number of other reanimated corpses. The lab erupts in a cloud of noxious gasses as Herbert, Dean Halsey and Dr. Hill are all lost to the fumes. Megan is injured in the escape, and in a repeat of the opening scenes of the film, Dan tries to revive her. But when CPR is not enough, he injects her with the reanimation fluid, as the film fades to black!

Who’s going to believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow.” – Herbert West

To say this is a low budget horror film would be a disservice. Certainly it’s not the same caliber as A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) or The Thing (1982), but it is an important work at its budgetary level. This is one of the first works by director Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna, who would go on to work on some great lower budget horror and action films in the 80’s (along with producer Charles Band) such as Robot Jox, Dolls, Trancers, The Pit and the Pendulum, and the not so low-budget Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (as Writer and Producer).

Something that I realized on this viewing, that I was not prepared to recognize many years ago is the musical score by Richard Band (Charles’ brother). It has heavily borrowed from the Bernard Herrmann scores from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and North by Northwest (1959), especially in the opening credits. This music plays over the opening credits that seem highly influenced by Saul Bass, the designer that worked on the title sequences for many Hitchcock films. This film is not on par with Hitchcock, but it definitely comes from the same creative place.

This film also feels much more over the top from my recent viewing. I think when I had originally seen this in the late 80’s, I could not understand the comedic strokes interplayed amongst the horror elements. It seemed more like a campy horror film, but I now see it as much more. The gore and effects are certainly over the top – there’s no shortage of fake blood in this film – but the filmmakers are definitely aware of their own shortcomings and don’t take the whole thing too seriously, allowing for a more enjoyable product. I liken this production to Return of the Living Dead, which uses humor and parody to reference other horror films knowingly, while still creating something new.

I would recommend this film for Jeffrey Comb’s over-the-top performance, but the creepy Dr. Hill played by David Gale really takes the cake. He plays a severed head, for Pete’s sake! A severed head that still has sexual feelings for his co-workers daughter! Just let that sink in! Many actors can only dream of a role like this!

While not a great film, there’s a certain place in my heart for this little, quirky gem. It may not really scare you, but I think there’s plenty there to satisfy true horror aficionados as well as casual fans!

Assorted Musings

Re-Animator

Re-Animator (1985) – Hans Gruber was the terrorist in Die Hard (1988).

 

  • Herbert West starts the film in Switzerland working with a Dr. Hans Gruber. You may recognize this name as Alan Rickman’s bad guy from Die Hard (1988).
  • Jeffrey Combs is the B-movie version of Bruce Campbell, having starred in many schlocky horror films, such as the three Re-Animator films. But also in Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners and a film I reviewed last year Would You Rather.

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