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John’s Horror Corner: Re-Animator (1985), among the very best Lovecraft adaptations with excellent gore and performances alike.

June 27, 2020

MY CALL: This film continues to impress me even today. The entire cast really went for it, the writing and direction were on point, and the effects and gore are so memorable. Can’t recommend this enough! MORE MOVIES LIKE Re-Animator: Looking for more funny yet still gory zombie movies (i.e., zombedies)? Try Night of the Comet (1984), Return of the Living Dead (1985), Night of the Creeps (1986) and Dead Alive (1992).

MORE LOVECRAFTIAN HORROR MOVIES:  For more Lovecraftian adaptations, try Screamers (1979; aka Island of the Fishmen, Something Waits in the Dark and L’isola degli uomini pesce), From Beyond (1986), The Unnamable (1988), The Unnamable 2: The Statement of Randolph Carter (1992), The Resurrected (1991), Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993), Lurking Fear (1994), Dagon (2001), Dreams in the Witch-House (2005), Color Out of Space (2019) and The Dunwich Horror (1970). And although not specifically of Lovecraftian origins, his influence is most palpable in Prince of Darkness (1987), In the Mouth of Madness (1994), The Void (2016), The Shrine (2010), Baskin (2015), Cold Skin (2017)—most of which are on the more gruesome side to varying degrees.

Based on H. P. Lovecraft’s story “Herbert West, Re-Animator,” director Stuart Gordon (Dolls, The Pit and the Pendulum, Dagon, King of the Ants) and producer Brian Yuzna (Bride of Re-Animator, Society, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead) form a perfect team for this gory yet often sickly funny delight. The fleshy effects are full-tilt from scene one as a screaming man’s pulsating eyes burst blood as he is clearly dying the worst of possible deaths. Then the opening credits grace us with impishly energetic scoring by Richard Band (Parasite, Mutant, Ghoulies, Puppet Master) (very much Danny Elfman meets Beetlejuice) with all the wonderful mood-setting hand-drawn anatomical illustrations of a crudely barbaric medical era. Even the colors of the credit imagery breathe animated life into a normally limp stage of a film.

And about as Lovecraftian as it gets, our story takes place at the Miskatonic Medical School is Arkham, Massachusetts. Medical student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs; Necronomicon: Book of the Dead, Would You RatherThe FrightenersLurking FearCellar Dweller) transfers from Zurich and brings with him some radical research ideas that will change modern medicine forever. West recruits the interest of his classmate Dan (Bruce Abbott; Bride of Re-Animator) to assist him in his bizarre Frankensteinian medical experiments to bring life to dead tissue. Dan’s girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton; Beyond the GatesYou’re NextLords of SalemChopping MallWe Are Still Here) wisely doesn’t trust West one bit.

Most disapproving (and disbelieving) of West’s position on tissue re-animation, Dr. Hill (David Gale; Bride of Re-Animator, The Brain, The Guyver) and the Dean (Robert Sampson; The Dark Side of the Moon, Netherworld, City of the Living Dead) are instant adversaries to his work.

Every use of the reagent finds messier and messier results. The first re-animations of the cat are brutal and gory and mean (and kind of funny), followed by the first human trial of a very large man who is animated into a feral veiny murderous rage until West bone-saws a hole through his back and out his chest. We eventually graduate to the iconic severed head reanimation (which actually predates that of Bishop in Aliens), and of course the bloody murder that led to it, along with a lot of headless body shenanigans, squishy juicy head smushing, mass ugly zombie hysteria, zombie sexual assault, naked spastic zombie antics, and all sorts of bloody chunky drooling. But my favorite was when the intestines erupted from a body and attacked West, constricting and suffocating him like a ridiculous monster all its own.

Dare I suggest that this devastatingly young Jeffrey Combs may have given the greatest performance of his career with his focused, idiosyncratic intensity that typified Herbert West. And this excellent zombie-ish movie is the first thing that comes to mind when I see a green glowing fluid in subsequent films.

There are lessons to be learned from Herbert West. If a would-be tenant is overjoyed by the fact that you have a dusty basement you clearly never use, don’t rent to them; you shouldn’t expect that your roommates will respect your stuff… or your cat’s life; and definitely watch out pervy medical professors and their murderous intestines. Of course, the movie ends with one final use of the reagent… roll credits.

I love this film and find it strikingly well-made for a horror movie which occasionally lets itself be so zany (i.e., very dark but frequent humor). It never reaches Dead Alive (1992) or Return of the Living Dead (1985) levels of silliness—but make no mistake, there are funny parts. Yet the story itself is also interesting and well-staged by the cast, and it doesn’t get lost in its own reanimated hysteria. I’d go so far as to call this the best “film” but most humorously subdued of the zombedy forefathers (e.g., Night of the Comet, Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Creeps).

5 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2020 7:27 am

    Re-Animator is without doubt the best Lovecraftian adaptation. I love this move. Its so gory and OTT, brilliant, and the special effects are just astonishing!

    • John Leavengood permalink
      June 28, 2020 9:07 am

      For me, I think this, The Resurrected and Color Out of Space are the best, maybe with Dagon behind them.

  2. June 28, 2020 3:06 pm

    This film inspires me.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      June 28, 2020 4:06 pm

      …to experiment in reanimating the dead? Or in your own writing? 😉

      • July 1, 2020 12:39 am

        Muahahaha!

        It inspires my writing on a philosophical level: Be bold, don’t hold back.

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