Re-Animator

Re-Animator-rev Re-Animator  (1985)    Empire/Horror-Sci-Fi-Comedy    RT: 86 minutes    Unrated Version (extremely graphic violence and gore, full frontal nudity, sexual content, language)    Director: Stuart Gordon    Screenplay: Stuart Gordon, William J. Norris and Dennis Paoli    Music: Richard Band    Cinematography: Mac Ahlberg    Release date: June 1985 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson, Gerry Black, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Peter Kent, Barbara Pieters, Al Berry.    Box Office: $1.8 million (US)

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 Don’t just think of Re-Animator as a mere horror movie. Think of it as a blood-drenched comedy of the macabre, one in which a severed head performs oral sex on a screaming naked chick. Based on a novella by H.P. Lovecraft, Re-Animator is one of those movies that people with weak stomachs avoid like a field trip to a slaughterhouse. It’s part slaughterhouse, part funhouse and all great demented fun.

 Re-Animator- posterI had the privilege of seeing Re-Animator at the movies in June ’85. School had just let out for the summer and I wanted to celebrate. I knew I wanted to see this flick when I saw it carried a “No One Under 17 Admitted” policy instead of an MPAA rating. It meant there would be blood, lots and lots of it. For a gorehound like me, that automatically sealed the deal. I wasn’t about to miss this one. Not a chance! That first night of summer vacation is one of the best I ever had. While I can’t say that 86 minutes changed my life, it certainly gave me a cinematic thrill ride I’ll never forget.

 As implied by the title, Re-Animator deals with a mad doctor-type who’s found a way to re-animate the dead. After he gets kicked out of a Swiss medical school, Dr. Herbert West (Combs, Frightmare) comes to Miskatonic University (Arkham, MA) to further his studies. He rents a room from fellow med student Dan Cain (Abbott, Bad Dreams) who’s engaged to Megan (Crampton, Fraternity Vacation), the daughter of the school dean, Dr. Halsey (Sampson, City of the Living Dead). West immediately clashes with Dr. Hill (Gale, Savage Weekend), a professor he accuses of plagiarizing his old mentor’s work.

 Dan already thinks his new roommate is weird and creepy (so does Megan and everybody else) but doesn’t understand just how weird and creepy until he finds out what West has been up to in the basement. He’s created a serum that, when injected into the brain stem, brings a dead person back to life. Well, almost. They do return to life but in a psychotic, zombie-like state. Still, it’s a start. When Dan tells Halsey about West’s discovery, he doesn’t believe him. In fact, he thinks both men have gone mad. They decide to test the fluorescent green serum on a human subject and that’s when all bloody hell breaks loose.

 It’s been 32 years since Re-Animator came out so I guess it isn’t much of a spoiler to tell you that Dr. Hill ends up dead, decapitated by a shovel after trying to blackmail West out of his amazing discovery. It gets even cooler. West injects both the head AND the body with the serum. Hill’s head sits in a tray and talks to West. That is, until his body knocks West out and carries its own head away. It also bears mentioning that Hill has a creepy obsession with Megan which is why he has brought to the morgue where he strips her naked and sexually abuses her. Yes, the infamous aforementioned oral sex scene. It’s so depraved, it’s hilarious. The gore and makeup effects are amazing, especially when you consider the movie cost only $900,000 to make. The climactic scene in the morgue is a true gory highlight. There’s also a scene early on when West subdues a re-animated corpse by cutting a hole through its body with a bone-saw. The gore level in Re-Animator is extremely high and I love it for that.

 As Dr. West, Combs does an outstanding job. It’s the role that made his career. He’s the ideal mad doctor; brilliant, arrogant and creepy. He also has a penchant for one-liners like “Who’s going to believe a talking head?” and “Get a job in a sideshow.” Abbott is pretty good as Dan, the reluctant assistant who wants so badly to save lives as a doctor, he’ll go along with West and his depraved experiments even though they’re illegal and immoral. Crampton is good as Megan who’s horrified by what her beau and his weird new friend are up to. It helps that she’s easy on the eyes and has a nice body. Gale camps it up BIG TIME as Dr. Hill, the real villain of Re-Animator. I always joke that I voted for John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential election because of his resemblance to Hill. Watch this movie and tell me you don’t see it. It’s uncanny (and funny).

 Re-Animator is a perfect example of an exploitation movie done right. It’s trash and it knows it. It has fun with the genre without making fun of it. It’s a great debut for director Stuart Gordon who would go on to make From Beyond, Dolls, Robot Jox and Fortress (the one with Christopher Lambert). It was released by Empire Pictures, the studio responsible for wacky low-budget delights like Ghoulies, The Dungeonmaster, Trancers, Troll, Eliminators, TerrorVision, Crawlspace, Rawhead Rex and Dolls. Gordon shoots for over the top and hits the mark dead-on! I wouldn’t say Re-Animator is scary because it never takes itself too seriously. It’s kind of like a Grand Guignol production made and performed by inmates in an insane asylum. It is a truly insane movie that richly deserves its cult status. Of course, I loved it before it was a cult favorite.

TRIVIA TIDBIT: The name of Dr. West’s mentor at the Swiss med school is named Hans Gruber. Does the name sound familiar? It should. It’s the name of Alan Rickman’s villain in the first Die Hard movie. I got a good laugh out of that when I rewatched it this past week. 

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