Movie Review – “Re-Animator” (1985)

Posted on by Dave

Bea Harper

Aud lang syne, dear Amigos! Are you ready for 2014 yet? I know I am! They say “out with the old and in with the new”, but I feel we all need the old in our lives. The only old we shouldn’t have are the Old Ones, which is naturally why I will be spending my January driving you to the edge of Cthulu’s door by offering up a series of Lovecraft or Lovecraft inspired reviews! I will be covering but several facets of H.P’s immortal horror/science fiction legacy so please forgive me if I do not cover every single piece of his work that has been given life on-screen or select page. To kick off, let us have a look at arguably the best and most prolific Lovecraft brought to us by Schlock and Horror Maestro Stuart Gordon- “Re-Animator”!

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I can guarantee that any horror fan worth their salt has experienced the hilarious splat-fest that is “Re-Animator” (1985). It is one of those films is compulsory viewing for any horrorphile wanting to cut their fangs but one that is also quite well-known in general due to its notable and justified reputation in notoriety. First and foremost, it is a comedy with a whole lot of gruesome horror thrown in with a sprinkle of Barbara Crampton being eaten out by a severed head- a head giving head. Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa, me so clever.

Jeffrey Coombs, who has enjoyed a long-standing of being the go-to horror villain in B-movies all but made this role his absolute own were it not for the fact Lovecraft created the character of Doctor Herbert West, the overly ambitious scientist who just meddles with stuff you shouldn’t meddle with. In West’s case, he has made a truly revolutionary discovery in the form of a reanimation agent (or Reagent as it is formally known) which is able to bring the dead back to life. The Shakespearian rub however means the process differs from subject to subject and is also influenced by the true nature or physical condition of the individual at the time of its death. For example, a recently deceased cat that has been dismembered can come back in that mutilated state with a feral attitude by being in constant pain and confusion. If the Reagent is used on a mentally unstable individual, that particular trait is magnified.

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Apart from the truly magnificently abbitoirish gore ‘n’ guts, and hilariously over the top caricatures of other characters (which are endearing unto themselves don’t get me wrong) the most outstanding part of the film is Coombs himself. The way he plays West is unlike your typical mad scientist style villain. He doesn’t go out of his way to do “I AM EVIL, MOO HA HA” things- the reason why he goes so far with something so ungodly as the Reagent is simply due to the fact he has a hyper-curious mind. He isn’t necessarily conducting these forsaken experiments for glory, he’s doing it to further his own intellectual prowess. He wants to prove the Doubting Thomases in his field wrong by legitimizing this discovery even if he must sacrifice absolutely everything that stands in his path. This no doubt is the main comparison Gordon wished to draw from his initial desire to make a “Frankenstein” film for the excessive 80’s crowd. The only thing that matters to West is the Reagent and the ways it can be applied, he cares naught about money, he wants to be taken seriously. A tremendous amount of the comedy in this film stems from West’s nonchalance to the unseemly. After morbidly icing the dean of the university that he is in residence, he doesn’t waste the opportunity to bring the man back to follow his bidding only to be shocked that the dismembered head of the man gives him lip, telling West he will be found out and raked across the coals, to which the good doctor incredulously fires back with that immortal and oft-quoted line “Who believes a talking head? Get a job in the sideshow!”. It’s this dry, almost deadpan humour that Coombs delivers amongst the wet, sticky red-shedding that inexplicably gets audiences on West’s side even if he’s as non-heroic as they come. By the time the unimaginably conker bonker shonker climax comes around, West inadvertently becomes the one who saves the day, but he doesn’t do it out of good conscience or humility- it’s because the Reagent is in jeopardy and he can’t afford to allow all of his research go down the toilet. Doctor Herbert West in arguably one of the finest anti-hero horror villains ever to walk across celluloid as if he had a stick stuck up his sit-upon.

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Generally speaking, this is one of the films that you will either really dig or really not dig as there is no major way to sit on the fence with this one. It’s over-blown and ridiculous but that is part of its charm, this is the vision that Stuart Gordon came up with. It is by no means faithful in terms of what Lovecraft himself wrote (in fact, I think the man himself would have perhaps been a little disgusted that his work was taken to the extreme that was not his narrative style) but you don’t doubt Gordon did this mischief without every affection for the original source material. Naturally the effects of time has taken a toll on some of the visuals, but from an aesthetic standpoint, it makes the intelligent audience member be thankful for the fact that this was a practical production. Very little of the numerous effects of this film was cooked up by a computer or some type of digital aid. What you see in front of you was made on set during the production within hours and it reminds you just how ingenious the minds behind horror had to be in order to deliver a satisfying product. While I do partly favour this film out of fond, sickening nostalgia, I genuinely do subscribe to the motion that “Re-Animator” is a classic in the B arena and I mean that without insult or discredit toward everybody involved. How we define ‘classic’ is more or less subjective, but in terms of contemporary splatter paired with surprisingly socially relevent culture observation (don’t fuck with what you don’t understand, the Promethean legend gone horribly wrong), Gordon’s interpretation is as best as we could hope for. So yes, I would certainly consider this film classic on the terms it has presented itself as. Is it classy? Have you not been reading this review? 😀

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