Monday, July 1, 2013

Classic Review: Re-Animator (1985)

Herbert West has a good head on his shoulders… 
And another on his desk.

Herbert West is a scientific genius with a special gift. He can bring the dead back to life. There is no supernatural hocus pocus, no book of evil or supernatural burial ground involved. His key is his latest project, a serum that he has invented that when injected into the skull of a recently deceased subject, restores motor functions… often to disastrous results. 

Adapted from HP Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West – Reanimator”, Re-Animator went on to become one of the greatest cult-hits of the horror genre. With the lead character brought to life by Jeffrey Combs, it remains a fan favorite and must-see for every horror fan of every age. 

Title: Re-AnimatorDirector(s): Stuart Gordon
Writer(s): Stuart Gordon, William J. Norris, Dennis Paoli
Producer(s): Brian Yuzna
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale


The film opens in Zurich, Switzerland, where West has already created his death defying reagent and has injected it into his mentor and teacher, Dr. Hans Gruber. However due to a large dosage there are horrible side-effects. When accused of killing him, West exclaims “I gave him life!” 

West decides to return to America, where he will continue his studies at Miskatonic University in New England. After a rocky introduction to Dr. Carl Hill, a professor whom West accuses of plagiarizing Gruber’s theories on brain death, West rents a room from fellow student Dan Cain. Cain is a promising young student, and also happens to be dating the dean’s daughter, Megan Halsey. 

After Dan discovers that West has re-animated his dead cat with the glowing reagent, he is recruited by West as his partner in his ongoing research on how to conquer death. Megan is none too fond of West, especially after she discovers their re-animated cat whom she had already found dead in West’s refrigerator. 

After Dan and West are barred from the school, thanks to Hill’s insistence to Dr. Halsey that they are bad news, West convinces Dan to help him re-animate a corpse in the morgue, as he had “never” tested the reagent on a human subject. When things go horribly wrong after Dr. Halsey crashes their experiment, West and Dan must fight Dr. Hill who has a fiendish plan that includes an undead army and the use of West’s special glowing potion.


This is a great film, known for its quirkiness and gratuitous gore that rightfully earned its place on the totem pole of horror. With films like this, a review is almost unnecessary. I choose to do one because I love the film, and I enjoy sharing my thoughts on the matter. So, suck it. 

There are several parts of this film that made it a success in my opinion; the number one factor being Jeffrey Combs and his amazing portrayal of Herbert West. There’s just something about that face, and that facial expression. He looks terrifying, like he could be an amazing villain, but he’s not. Or is he? Who the hell knows in this movie. He’s got the odd quirkiness that has made many a cult icon, i.e. Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks, and an odd, cool demeanor that inhibits you from ever really knowing what’s going on his head. Herbert West seems like a statue, he almost doesn’t even seem human. When he does show an ounce of fear or pain, it seems strange, considering he has such a tight hold on his emotions throughout the duration of the film. Despite all of this, there is a certain comedic nuance that underlies his lines and his being, and it makes him perfect.

Overall, there was a solid cast backing this one as well. Aside from Combs as West, we had David Gale as Dr. Hill, the maniacal doctor in search of world domination. There was something about him that was just perfectly creepy, his dead pan gaze, his horrible teeth and his snakelike hiss were all great contributions to the overall vibe and feel of the film. 

The only actor that I could really take any gumption with was the mediocre performance by Bruce Abbott as Dan Cain. In my opinion, it was quintessential shitty horror movie acting. From his pitiful attempts at CPR to his trite mumblings of terror and despair he was 50 shades of bad. Thank god for Combs, without him every scene focused on West and Cain would have been pure torture. 

To a certain extent though, I’m going to reference Twin Peaks again, the relationship between Cain and West reminded me a lot of the relationship between Special Agent Dale Cooper and Sherriff Harry Truman. You have the quirky leader, set in his own odd ways that still seem to work (Cooper and West) who enters the scene and steals the show backed by the bumbling, good intentioned local who isn’t necessarily the worst, but could be better (Truman and Cain). 

Another aspect that I truly love about this film is its soundtrack. Talk about an opening theme. It's underlined with a driving drum beat that’s very reminiscent of the time that it was released (mid-80’s), topped by carnivalesque strings that make it almost anthemic. A march, if you will. It gives the entire film a campy, silly vibe that counteracts with the gore and extreme violence beautifully. Yes, you probably recognize as the theme of a little horror flick called Psycho, but it's just perfect for this movie.

As with my review of The Exorcist there will be no P’s and C’s, it’s not needed. Re-Animator is a film that all should see, whether you’re into that sort of thing or not. I’ll say it again, it’s a classic for a reason. If you enjoy films like The Evil Dead trilogy, give this one a watch. You’ll dig it. 


-Rg Lovecraft

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