A Review of Reanimator by Mark Slade
It’s funny how some movies on their initial run can be forgotten, ignored, or simply divide an audience. Years later, they are considered classics. That is the case with Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (1985). Based on the 1921-22 serial short story, Herbert West—Reanimator, by H.P. Lovecraft, Stuart Gordon and his cohorts go all out with this Horror-comedy. Believe it or not, it was written as a parody of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and ran in the amateur magazine Homebrew. According to some, its believed not to be Lovecraft’s best work, and he himself disliked the story. Actually, the story is pretty damn good and works as a parody. It fit well with Gordon’s humor.
The movie begins with Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs in one of his best performances) hold up in a room of University of Zurich, working on Dr. Gruber, when the cops and a colleague break in and find Dr. Gruber lying on the floor, seemingly dying. The Colleague says: “You killed Dr. Gruber!” And West replies, “No… I gave him life!” The look on Combs face is priceless, then again, all of his reactions in this film are.
Then we meet struggling medical student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) at Miskatonic University. Cain works hard, cares too much for patients, has a girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton) who won’t move in with him and can’t pay his rent. Herbert West enters Cain’s life. West is introduced to Cain and Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), whom West accuses of stealing Brain Death idea from West’s mentor, Gruber. West has invented a serum that can bring the dead back to life. After that, he reels Cain into his world, and what a depraved world it is.
West moves in with Cain, in spite of Megan’s concerns. West can pay the rent. He in particular is very happy there is a basement in the house. Dr. Hill in the meantime has dinner with the Dean (also Megan’s father) and he is a little upset that West has moved in with Cain, but more upset Cain is dating Megan. He turns the dean against West and Cain. They are kicked out of the University and not allowed in the medical facilities. Cain discovers West has re-animated his cat, thus stumbling on to West’s experiments. They begin stealing from the morgue. Re-animating a corpse that goes on a rampage. The Dean stumbles on their work and the corpse kills the Dean. West kills the corpse with a band saw. They inject the serum into the Dean and he is in a zombified state of incapacity. The dean tries to kill West, Megan walks in on them along with a security guard, and the Dean runs away.
Gory, over the top, yes. And funny as hell. You almost question why you are laughing when you should be offended or even frightened. Not only that, Gordon’s camera movements are vivacious and masterful. Of course we could talk more about the infamous scene. I’d have to reveal more of the film, but by now most horror geeks and movie cultists have already seen this film.
The scene I am referring to is that of Dr. Hill has already lost his head, which sits in a pan of the serum that keeps him going. His body is being controlled by his head. Megan has been kidnapped and is lying on a slab, the body begins to feel her up and we cut to Dr. Hill’s face, his expressions climbing higher to an orgasm.
But then there’s the conversation between West and Dr. Hill’s unattached head. “You’ll never be able to take credit for my work,” West tells Dr. Hill’s head. “Who’s going to believe a talking head—get a job in a sideshow!” definitely the best line in the movie, if not the entire decade of 1980s films.
Originally, Gordon wanted to adapt it for stage (which he eventually did) and according to Wikipedia, the idea stemmed from a conversation with friends regarding there were too many vampire films. The Lovecraft story was suggested. Gordon was a huge Lovecraft fan, and strangely he’d never read Herbert West. He had planned on making it a half hour TV show, writing a script. Advised that it wouldn’t work in that format, Gordon and two other writers rewrote the show as twelve one hour episodes, plus a pilot. He was introduced to Producer Brian Yuzna and a deal was struck to make it into a film. Yuzna made distribution deal with Charles Band and Empire Pictures in return for post-production services. John Naulin did the makeup job, and has said it was the bloodiest film he had ever made. Before this film, Naulin never used more than two gallons of blood. On Re-Animator, he used twenty-four gallons of blood. The biggest problem was the effects involving a headless Dr. Hill. One effect they had to build an upper torso big enough for actor David Gale could stick his head through so that it appeared to be the one that the walking corpse was carrying around.
The film is driven by fantastic performances, and a funny script didn’t hurt. Of course having the lead character as the bad guy and a great character actor who could sink his teeth in that role, as well as David Gale as the second villain, was a major coup of the filmmakers.
There are different versions of the film that was released on home video. A Rated R and an unreleased, with footage that would have gotten the film an X. There were sequels such as Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003) and the musical stage adaption (2001) mentioned before.