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Re-Animator (Millennium Edition) (1985)

1 rating: 4.0
A movie directed by Stuart Gordon

   Stuart Gordon's adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's Herbert West: Re-Animatorputs a Night of the Living Dead spin on the classic Frankenstein story. Jeffrey Combs furrows his brow and bugs his eyes as the preternaturally intense Herbert … see full wiki

Director: Stuart Gordon
1 review about Re-Animator (Millennium Edition) (1985)

Things Are Coming to a Head

  • Mar 9, 2006

Stuart Gordon’s "Re-Animator," one of the 1980’s most memorable horror films, is sick, excessive, and just plain fun. It’s a zombie flick with generous hints of dark humor thrown in for good measure - a combination that could satisfy even the most devoted fans of Dario Argento or George A. Romero. And why shouldn’t it? At one point, a length of intestine flies out of a headless body and wraps itself around actor Jeffery Combs; it was so disgusting that I wanted to turn away, but it was also so funny that I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. And then there’s a moment early in the film when a man’s eyes bulge grotesquely before bursting open, squirting blood onto a nurse’s face; you can’t watch that scene without laughing, especially since it ends with the line, "I gave him life!" Loosely adapted from H.P. Lovecraft’s short story "Herbert West - Reanimator," this film proves that a well intentioned but implausible story idea can be turned into cinematic gold ... splattered with blood and guts, of course.


"Re-Animator" tells the story of Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), a young medical student studying at the Miskatonic University Medical School in Arkham, Massachusetts. He’s eager, determined, well respected by Dean Allan Halsey (Robert Sampson), and loved by Halsey’s daughter, Meg (Barbara Crampton). Cain’s world is turned upside down when he meets Herbert West (Combs), a student of an odd and brooding sort, always seeming detached with the rest of the world. When asked what his field of study was, he replies simply, "Death." He then meets Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), introduced to the audience as he’s using a laser to lobotomize a cadaver. He and West immediately become bitter rivals, at odds over theories of postmortem brain function and controlling the will of the brainstem. This brings out the worst in Hill, not only igniting vindictiveness, but also an unhealthy obsession with Meg.


Things continue to go downhill when West rents out a room in Cain’s new home. Cain and Meg are clearly bothered by West’s reclusive behavior, and it comes to a head when they discover the body of Cain’s beloved cat, Rufus, lying in West’s mini refrigerator. They also discover a medicine bottle containing a phosphorescent green liquid, a volatile concoction later revealed to be biological reagent. Basically, West has created a serum capable of bringing the dead back to life. This is where things start to get ugly. West and Cain sneak into the morgue and attempt to re-animate a relatively fresh cadaver. What happens is a gruesome sight to behold, and while the scene seems like a serious moment, the events are so blood-soaked, you just know that Gordon was having the time of his life behind the camera. How can excessive gore not be fun? 


The incident at the morgue is only the first in a series of ill-fated attempts, all of which pave the way for a climactic scene featuring a group of re-animated corpses wreaking havoc. It plays like an overcharged movie projector, the action quick and random, their movements chaotic and sloppy. And yes, there’s a lot of blood. It seemed as if everyone in this film gets drenched in a sticky mess of stage blood at one point or another; this film must have made the manufacturers of that stuff filthy rich.


But this movie is not merely a campy gore fest. It’s also a well-structured parody, a fact that may not be obvious on first viewing. First, let’s examine the acting; despite the fact that it’s a B movie, "Re-Animator" features some surprisingly A-level performances, not the least of which was given by Combs. And then there’s Richard Band’s score, a none-too-subtle variation of Bernard Herrmann’s music from "Psycho." It’s a quirky, psychological opus, which is an interesting choice given the gruesome, silly nature of specific scenes. One scene in particular - one of the most infamous in the history of horror films - features the re-animated severed head of Dr. Hill initiating oral sex on Meg, who’s naked and bound to a slab; to this day, most filmmakers would lack the nerve to shoot something so outrageous, which is understandable since it blurs the fine line between indecency and comedy. If the head had still been attached to the body, if Dr. Hill wasn’t a re-animated corpse, that scene would have been deplorable. But a bloody severed head between a young woman’s legs? Now that’s hilarious.


"Re-Animator" is the kind of film that doesn’t revel in its goriness - it completely depends on it. As with all good campy films, it prides itself on being a frighteningly funny piece of trash. If you want proof of that, just look at the tagline: "Herbert West has a very good head on his shoulders ... and another one in a dish on his desk." Cleary, this movie had the courage to be true to itself, promising nothing more or less than bloody good fun. Looking back on it now, I’m reminded of a horror film from 2007 called "Hatchet": "A film this unabashedly tasteless should be given some credit," I said in my review. "It’s bad because I think it chooses to be, and that allows us to have a good time watching it." I can say the exact same thing about "Re-Animator," a film that makes no apologies for going to the extreme. Back in 1985, it injected life into the cinematic corpse of the horror genre. Twenty-six years later, it’s alive and well as one of the most influential cult movies of our time.

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