I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Re-Animator

tn_re-animatorRE-ANIMATOR is one of those good old ’80s college buddy movies, you know? You got the tall, blandly handsome star student Dan (Bruce Abbott), he’s fucking the dean’s daughter Megan (Barbara Crampton), there’s an uptight professor, Dr. Hill (David Gale – the one from SAVAGE WEEKEND, who I still don’t think is the same one THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE is about), who disapproves of the relationship. Then a new student comes to Miskatonic U., the socially inept but brilliant Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), who maybe got kicked out of his school in Switzerland, or maybe had to flee. A troublemaker! Double secret probation!

Dan seems like a jock, Herbert like a nerd. Dan is a normal person, Herbert a creepy weirdo. And they become roommates! It would be fun if it was about Dan trying to loosen him up, bringing him to parties and stuff, or to pledge at a fraternity, but maybe that’s in the sequels.

Megan is not happy with the living arrangement, especially when she finds Dan’s cat Rufus dead in Herbert’s mini-fridge. This creates tension between the roomies, but then Herbert blows Dan’s mind by showing him the glow-in-the-dark “re-agent” formula he can inject into the cat to turn it into a hissing PET SEMETARY type zombie cat. Not at all cuddly, but somewhat alive, at least. And then he peer-pressures Dan into helping with his research.

The experiment gets Herbert kicked out of school and Dan super busted, so they fight back with good ol’ college shenanigans like disguising Herbert as a cadaver to sneak him into the morgue and test the serum on a corpse. And this leads to some hilarious pranking of the dean: a raging naked zombie kicks a metal door onto him and jumps up and down on top of it, then lifts him by the neck, slams him against a wall and bites a couple of his fingers off. And just when you think the gag is over he dies and they revive him as a zombie and pass him off as mentally ill. Classic! Take that, Dean! It’s like it’s straight out of a POLICE ACADEMY.

mp_re-animatorWell, I guess to be frankly honest the tone is pretty different from how I’m making it sound. This is a darkly humorous movie, but the surface isn’t comedic at all. It is genuine, serious horror, the humor comes from the gleeful abandon director Stuart Gordon approaches the mayhem with. This is a movie where a decapitated doctor sneaks around a hospital by putting an anatomical bust on his shoulders and carrying his own head in a bag. Then he ties up his colleague’s daughter (the aforementioned Megan) naked, wrestles the words “I think… I’ve always… loved you” from his dangling throat, and is about to place his severed head between her legs when he gets interrupted.

I hope nobody’s grandmas are reading this right now, but I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a regular, attached head of an old man try to go down on a girl in a movie. That would be pretty unusual. So this severed head version is definitely something you haven’t seen in too many other movies.

If anybody’s grandmas are reading this, I want you ladies to know you got some great grand kids, they have been a big help around here, you should be really proud of them. Maybe stay in the other room when they watch RE-ANIMATOR though. Thanks grandmas.

Dr. Hill is such a sicko that fuckin Herbert West starts to comes across like the good guy when he shows up to stop him. It’s a battle between two creeps. These two have been at it since West’s tour of the campus, when he tells his soon-to-be-teacher to his face that his work is derivative and outdated. His first day of class ends with him yelling “How can you teach such drivel? These people are here to learn and you’re closing their minds before they even have a chance!” Not necessarily the smoothest way to kick off the school year.

Sometimes in a horror movie the bad guy turns into a monster and then he grabs the hero’s girlfriend just ’cause that’s what’s supposed to happen. I like that in this one the doctor (who looks just like John Kerry, by the way) is already secretly obsessed with Megan. You wonder what’s up when he makes a weird toast to her beauty early on, then Dan discovers the old perv has a file on her that includes newspaper clippings, napkins (?) and a lock of hair! This pathetic revelation is one of the two things that makes usually-humorless Herbert West laugh. The other is when a zombie cat is splattered dead against the wall behind Dan and he yells “Look out!”

There’s a nice simplicity to this story that you only get in a low budget movie. It makes sense that Gordon came out of theater, and that he recently revived RE-ANIMATOR as a stage musical. Most of the story takes place either in the apartment and its basement lab or in the school morgue. Within this framework the movie makes an impact by going so extreme and imaginative on the gore effects that you can’t help but laugh. One zombie gets torn apart but is so determined to get West that its large intestine coils around him like a boa constrictor and tries to suffocate him.

There’s this secret world of horrors that Herbert and Dan have unleashed, and for me the highlight is when the uninitiated unwittingly catch a glimpse of it. So I love the shot of the security guard looking in the door in terror as a severed head is hurled above him, splatters and bounces hard off the wall behind him.

This is just a unique and well-made movie, funny without being jokey, just like I like it. The only straight up joke is that Dan has a STOP MAKING SENSE poster in his room, but that’s subtle because it’s way before we’ve seen a talking head in the movie. I hadn’t seen this since the ’80s, and it’s as good as or better than I remembered.

One goofy thing: the main theme is the most blatant ripoff of the PSYCHO theme you could imagine. It works well for the movie, but how did they get away with that? And I wonder if Richard Band sent in the CD as a demo to try to get the job on Gus Van Sant’s PSYCHO.


VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 29th, 2013 at 1:38 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

35 Responses to “Re-Animator”

  1. Great movie. Gotta love Barbara Crampton.

  2. it’s been a long since I’ve seen it, but yup this movie is just all around good not so clean fun

    by the way Vern, have you seen Gordon’s DOLLS? you really should

  3. “Kicked out of his school in Sweden or maybe had to flee”? I am pretty sure the opening takes place in Germany if that was what you meant, Vern. But it would have been hilarious if he had to flee from Sweden. That would have been an unusual backstory.

  4. According to his biography on IMDb; “Herbert West is a medical student at the fictional Miskatonic University of Arkham, Massachusetts. His work with Dr. Hans Gruber (pre DIE HARD, I guess) in Switzerland leads to his discovery of a mysterious “re-agent”, a glowing green fluid that will “re-animate” any dead tissue it is injected into.”

    I have always loved this movie. But back in the 80’s I loved FROM BEYOND even more.

  5. such a total classic. i also love how its funny without being jokey – the tone is just so perfect, plus combs is just a joy to watch.

  6. There is a book coming out next year about miniauteur Charles Band that covers Re-Animator and his other movies with Stuart Gordon while running Empire Pictures.

  7. Did you notice the character named Hans Gruber, Vern? Thought you might find that cool.

  8. A fuckin’ classic. Gordon pulled off the thing Vern’s been talking about for years with DTV action: He didn’t listen to anybody who said his sleazy little B-movie about zombies at medical school didn’t have to be very good, so he just went ahead and made an amazing movie full of wit and style and legitimate madness. He could have just been a slumming theater guy making a quick buck in Hollywood, but he dug deep and made something that stands the test of time.

    I’ve seen most of these 80s splatter comedies, and none of ’em, not even the great ones like BRAINDEAD or EVIL DEAD 2 or BRAIN DAMAGE or other movies with the words “brain” and/or “dead” in their titles, manage to nail RE-ANIMATOR’s tone. What makes it so distinctive is that it never goes out of its way to make sure you get the joke. If you laugh at this stuff, that’s because you’re a sick fuck, not because somebody put a wacky sound effect on the soundtrack. I can imagine that plenty of less fucked-in-the-head people could watch the movie and not think it’s a comedy at all. I mean, it ends on a note of pure Gothic tragedy. Nothing funny about it. Compare it to the most recent Brian Yuzna-directed sequel, which ends with a zombie penis fighting a rat. Somewhere along the line the recipe got corrupted.

    I still love that RE-ANIMATOR was referenced in a Best Picture winner, even if it’s one of the ones everybody thinks they’re too cool for nowadays.

  9. I have to admit that I’ve never seen it. Although it got recently a nice uncut home video release over here (if I’m not mistaken, the uncut version is a first!), so I might change that soon.

  10. Hands down the best HP Lovecraft adaptation ever put to film. This and Evil Dead 2 are, to me, the pinnacle of horror-comedy. But as you mentioned, Vern, this one nails it even more because of the way it handles that balance between true horror and dark humor. I love this movie and am eyeing the blu ray on my shelf.

    Majestyk: Which best picture winner referenced it? I’m drawing a blank on that.

  11. This film has one of my favorite bits of dialogue. It comes right after Dan discovers the dead cat in the refrigerator.

    “Christ Herbert, couldn’t you have at least left a note?”
    “Oh great Dan, and what would the note have said: cat dead, details later?”

    To this day I harbor the dream of using that last bit of dialogue to name my first punk album: cat dead, details later.

    London Calling, eat your heart out.

  12. I’ve been meaning to check out this movie for a long time. Hopefully this review was the kick in the ass I needed to get that done.

  13. Dtroyt: Kevin Spacey and Creepy Eyes McGurk get high and talk about it in AMERICAN BEAUTY.

  14. Majestyk: Nice! I don’t remember that but I’ve only seen American Beauty when it first came out. Never was a huge fan of it but it does get a gold star for the reference.

  15. Dagon is my favorite Gordon Lovecraft film, but Reanimator is a close second. From Beyond was decent, and his Masters of Horror, Dreams in the Witch-House is good also.

    I like the last Reanimator (Beyond Reanimator) also. The more dramatic portion of the film is okay, but it has a spectacularly gory end. And the only film I’ve seen with a severed penis fighting a rat.

  16. This is a great movie but a shitty H.P. Lovecraft adaption. That’s what I love about it, he took this extremely serious story by a weirdo racist shut-in (which I love) and did something completely different with it.

  17. Not to spam, but I figured you guys might like to know that Gordon is trying to kickstart a Poe biopic starring Combs.

    Doesn’t look like it’s going to go through barring a miracle. But it’d be cool if it did.
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/839006124/nevermore-0?ref=live

  18. Haven’t seen this one in years but it was a fun movie all the way. In fact, most of those early Stuart Gordon movies were, especially the ones with Jeffery Combs.

  19. Gordon isn’t just a “theater guy” he directed the first staging of mamet’s first play, “sexual perversion in Chicago.”

  20. Gordon isn’t just a “theater guy” he directed the first staging of mamet’s first play, “sexual perversity in Chicago.”

  21. Gordon and his crew were all set to go ahead with a fourth installment called HOUSE OF RE-ANIMATOR when their funding suddenly dried up. What a shame.

    http://www.upcominghorrormovies.com/movie/house-re-animator

  22. yeah, I remember hearing about that, too bad it never happened, I mean how awesome would a RE-ANIMATOR movie with William H. Macy in it be?

  23. Yep, a theater guy. A guy who did theater.

  24. Great review, Vern. I’m a big fan of Stuart Gordon. Both of his Masters of Horror films are great, especially The Black Cat. Also, if you haven’t seen Stuck, check it out. Fun stuff.

  25. Funny enough I just watched From Beyond last night and then came upon this review.

    I’m a devout Re-Animator fan and I gotta lament that the same director, same actor, and same source author failed to produce a film anywhere near as special and iconic as Re-Animator. All of the characters besides Combs fall flat, and it’s not like his character has any moment as incredible as when he breaks pencils at his professor in Re-Animator.

    Still, I wonder which 10.5 minutes of the film sync up floyd/oz style with Sleep’s stoner rock classic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GfM_uA0CJY

  26. I almost just spewed Diet Cherry Coke all over my monitor at the warning for the grandmas. I’ve been sifting through these reviews, trying to make up my mind about what movie to watch tomorrow night. I think I have found the winner.

  27. Vern always mentioned AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON as the perfect horror/comedy hybrid but I think RE-ANIMATOR is the pinnacle. None of what happens to the characters is funny (except for the sicko West) and even the “funny” parts for the audience are disgusting and repulsive. It’s perfect.

    And not to sound too sexist, but that Barbara Crampton is a fine looking woman.

  28. CrustaceanHate- My understanding is that HERBERT WEST RE-ANIMATOR was a shitty serial that Lovecraft wrote for magazines and had no love for. I read the first few stories in a collection but they sucked and it was more unbearable because every short had to recap what had happened previously.

    I might be wrong, but I think this is a clear case of the movie being much, much better than the book.

  29. isn’t the original HERBERT WEST RE-ANIMATOR also really, really racist? with Herb describing a black man’s corpse as basically being a shaved gorilla?

  30. Maybe he hates people with long arms?

  31. Griff- Lovecraft himself was a notorious racist, so yeah, unfortunately a lot of his work has little moments of really shocking racism. Reading “Herbert West, Re-Animator” today, putting the racism in West’s mouth makes him seem like the villain, but actually that wasn’t Lovecraft’s intent, he probably identified with the sentiment.

  32. So, uh, Ender’s Game sucked.

  33. Ender’s Game wasn’t very good; Space Camp meets Full Metal Jacket, but without the fresh funliness of the former or the satiric edge of the latter. Plus no R. Lee Ermey, who’s always an asset.

    The kid who played Ender was a good casting choice, but he seemed kinda scrawny, and maybe that’s why future perennial tomboy Hailee Steinfeld got an immediate stiffy for him. Not a bad trade off.

    For me, the best part was that surly punk who kept addressing his subordinates as “bendejo”, stood about a foot shorter than all the other kids, and looked and acted like a junior version of actor Tony Plana (the warden from Half Past Dead). What a loathsome little shit he was.

    Anyway, don’t expect a sequel. One & done.

  34. You know, this has been one of my mom’s favorite movies for years but it took a Vern review for me to finally watch it. Glad I did… You guys are right, the tone is perfect.

    I kind of feel like someone recent has completely aped Combs’s demeanor in this movie but I can’t remember where I’ve seen it. Great stuff though.

  35. How old is your mom? Are she and your father still together?

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