Re-Animator


Year 1985

Jeffrey Combs as  Herbert West
Bruce Abbott as Dan Cain
Barbara Crampton  as Megan Halsey
Robert Sampson as Dean Halsey
David Gale as Dr. Carl Hill   
 
Director - Stuart Gordon
Screenwriters   Stuart Gordon
    William J. Norris  
    Dennis Paoli

I just finished watching the three Re-Animator movies that had Jeffrey Combs in them.  I was afraid of a let down (you know how sequels are never as good as the original).  There was no let down. Check out my comments for Bride of Re-Animator and Beyond Re-Animator.

If you're not familiar with Herbert West, Re-animator, he's the guy who brings dead things back to life using his special serum. Herbert West was "brought to life" by H.P. Lovecraft, one of America's two great horror writers.  The other great horror writer is Edgar Allen Poe.

In this movie Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is a medical student transferring under dubious circumstances to Miskatonic (an H.P. Lovecraft name) University.  He takes an room in a house with another student - Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott).  The latter happens to be sleeping with Dean's daughter.  To West, Cain's potential career suicide isn't even worth noticing. West has other interests.

West is consumed with understanding the mechanics of life. He wants to control life. At the house, West spends a lot of time in the basement...experimenting. Although he and Cain aren't the best of friends, they aren't adversarial. At the university, though, West makes one powerful enemy. One of his professors, Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) is an idea thief and he and West are at each other's throats (a bad pun) from the first.

Nothing will stop West from experimenting though. His experiments are all about reviving dead tissue using his special serum.  There are downsides to his results, like murderous insanity if the serum isn't administered within six to twelve minutes after death.  I know that the whole bringing-the-dead-back-to-life idea sounds like Frankenstein, but Lovecraft's twist and Stuart Gordon's interpretation make the treatment unique.

West always conducts his investigations with a detached, always in control, superior air.  This approach brings humor to the oddest situations, like when they bring a cat back to life for the second time.  Or, when everyone in the morgue wakes at the same time.

West to Dr. Hill (his nemesis): I have a plan.
Dr. Hill: So do I. (and the dead move)
West acts only mildly surprised but you can see his mind working.

Dr. Hill has his share of one liners and expressions that are used best when body parts don't perform as commanded.  Considering that Dr. Hill is nothing more than an eye-rolling, talking head through most of the movie, it takes some skill by David Gale to do this.

The movie's definitely low budget.  But because everyone cared about their little project, the effects never seem cheesy.  The glowing serum is always top notch.  The blood is always spurting in the correct direction so that it lands on someone's face.  Viscera explode realistically.  (Yes, it's that kind of movie.)  And there are some genuinely scary moments.

The cat coming back to life the second time gave me the creeps.  Wondering if the Dean's daughter would arrive before or after her father was re-animated was suspenseful.  The interrupted love scene caused me to jump.  The laser lobotomies made me wince.  And through it all, there's the superior Herbert West judging things.  The ending is great as well since you're left wondering if the person being re-animated was dead too long for the serum to work successfully.

The music is always perfect.

There are some downsides to the movie.  It's a maiden voyage for director Stuart Gordon so it's not exactly sophisticated.  Bruce Abbott's and Barbara Crampton's acting is sometimes bland.  There are some contrived scenes that will make you wince.  For example when Cain meets West, Cain is dressed in only a sheet because this was supposed to be some sort of foreplay between him and the Dean's daughter.  (Personally, I can think of better gamuts to use to seduce someone than that of wearing only a sheet and pretending to be a ghost.)

The movie is also slightly dated.  Today, a movie needs to move quickly and stay moving.  Although there's not a lot of set-up time in Re-Animator, there is some and this may lose people with ADD.

Should you watch this movie with a girl?  I know of one who liked it.  But be warned that there's a fair amount of nudity in this one and if you watch the director's cut, there's a scene involving a spread-eagled Dean's daughter and Dr. Hill's head that's...well, it's a one of a kind scene and potentially embarrassing.

If you haven't seen it and you're in the mood for a dark, funny, adult type of horror movie, I'd recommend it.  If you have the time, I'd also recommend seeing it with its two Jeffrey Combs sequels "Bride of Re-Animator" and "Beyond Re-Animator".


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