Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator (1985)

H.P. Lovecraft’s classic tale of horror

Talented medical student Herbert West has discovered a serum that re-animates dead bodies, though his previous human experiment in Switzerland ended in catastrophe. West goes to an American college where he moves in with student Daniel Cain. Immediately suspicious of West, it isn’t until Cain stumbles upon an experiment with a dead cat that he begins to believe in the serum. But when word of this discovery gets out to renowned brain research Dr Carl Hill and he tries to get his hands on the serum, West and Cain find themselves in an ever-worsening situation involving murder and reanimated bodies.

 

Cult classics don’t come much more cult than Stuart Gordon’s legendary 1985 horror-comedy Re-Animator. Though slightly dated in its appearance nowadays, Re-Animator is still a superbly horrific and humorous film in equal measure. Perfecting the art of black comedy to a tee, Re-Animator is based upon the Herbert West–Reanimator short stories by famous horror master H. P. Lovecraft which is a Frankenstein-style tale about a scientist who believes he can bring the dead to life by injecting them with a re-agent serum that he has designed. As we know from the world of literature, meddling in things that humans can’t comprehend doesn’t end well and this is no exception.

Re-Animator would never be made today. It was a labour of love from a team of people which was a lot like the effort that Sam Raimi and co. put into The Evil Dead. With low budgets forcing the makers to get creative and practical in their approaches, the films took the genre by storm. Whilst it gets overlooked in favour of Raimi’s ground-breaking film, Re-Animator has rightly been heralded as the genre-busting favourite it has become on its own two feet – it was a rare thing for famous critic Roger Ebert to be constructive about a horror film but he loved Re-Animator like most reviewers do.

Combining gut-wrenching home-grown splatter and fiendish “you shouldn’t laugh but you will” comedy is never an easy feat in the horror genre but Re-Animator gets the mix spot on. The gore is plentiful, sometimes gross, but never 100% realistic and this adds to the nature of the film. As things get out of control and more blood starts to flow, you just get to sit back and enjoy the silliness. The film knows that it’s a bit on the loopy side and goes with the flow, becoming even more outlandish in the process. It would be virtually impossible to watch this with a straight face. Part of the reason this works so well is down to the script, which treads the fine line flawlessly throughout the film, and creates some interesting characters.

Thankfully these characters were cast without fault. Jeffrey Combs is brilliant as the slightly-insane Herbert West. Right from the first moment you see him on the screen, he is a magnetic presence with his off-beat delivery and you’re unsure as to what is going through his head at any one moment. Should you root for him or hate him? Combs plays it straight throughout which is great as some of the deadpan situations the characters find themselves in could have been daft if everyone was goofing around. Much of the humour in Re-Animator is based on sight gags, the highlight of which being West and Cain’s struggle with a re-animated cat in the basement where the art of slapstick comes into its own. Special mention should be given to the late David Gale who plays Dr Carl Hill and spends a great portion of the film with his head sitting in a tray of blood as his decapitated body stumbles around trying to do tasks for him. Also of note is Barbara Crampton as Cain’s love interest Megan, who looks good, gets naked a couple of times and gives a new definition to getting head in the film’s most perversely funny moment.

The comedy only goes so far though and it’s up to the horror-based elements to come into their own when this happens. As mentioned, the film is gory and it gets progressively worse as the film goes on with zombies, decapitations and electric surgical saws all coming into play. There’s lots of violence though due to the nature of the film it comes off very cartoony as opposed to anything sinister or serious. There is a line in horror where gore goes from gross to comedic if handled in the right way and Stuart Gordon and co. know exactly what they are doing. It was one of the goriest films of its time and was butchered upon VHS release back in the day. But we live in an era of Saw and Re-Animator looks a little quaint now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not for the faint-hearted but the bad taste boundary is always maintained.

Richard Band’s theme, which is a none-too-subtle reworking of Bernard Hermann’s Psycho theme, sets the tone of the film during the title credits, adding a bit of mystery and eeriness to proceedings. It’s the icing on top of a very blood-soaked cake.

 

Any self-respecting horror fan should see Re-Animator. From the decade that brought us so many classic B-movie splatter flicks, it’s a twisted little film which comes with a massive reputation and delivers every second of its running time. A must see.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

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