Re-Animator (1985)

Once again I’d like to welcome James “Buzz” Saunders to AnythingHorror.com.  His first review here, Zombie’s HALLOWEEN 2, had such positive feedback that I decided to invite him back as a guest contributor.  This time Buzz reviews the 1985 classic, and one of my all-time favorites, RE-ANIMATOR.  Enjoy!!

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“Who’s going to believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow!”    -Dr. Herbert West

RE-ANIMATOR is the apex of what a blend of horror and comedy should be.  It’s ludicrously horrific; so at the same time we’re being shocked and appalled by the events we’re watching, we’re also laughing at the shear absurdity of it all.

Directed in 1985 by Stuart Gordon and based on a H.P. Lovecraft story, RE-ANIMATOR had roughly half the budget of Wes Craven’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, released the previous year, which itself was a very low budget movie.  Whilst never achieving the status of NIGHTMARE it still holds a place in many a gore fans bloody heart as a classic and was voted in at number 32 of Entertainment Weekly Magazine’s “Top Cult Movies” (2003).  Looking back on the film now, the effects are very dated but this only serves to add to the films charm.  Thinking about it, although I was only 2 years old at the time; I’m pretty sure the scene with the dead cat would have actually looked quite dated even in 1985.  Marvelous.

Oh that Dr. West … he’s always up to no good!!

The story follows the scientific exploits of Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) and his roommate Herbert West played by Jeffrey Combs, who given his absolutely fantastic performance in this movie I’m genuinely surprised that he never made it onto at least the acting B-list.  West’s ground breaking research on reactivating the brain stem after it’s been dead for an extended period of time is cut short in Switzerland and he is forced to enroll as a student at Miskatonic University in New England to gain access to the corpses he needs to continue his work.  He enlists the help of his roommate and fellow classmate Dan who’s a bright up and coming medical student, by re-animating his dead cat.  This scene is one of the funniest things I’ve ever watched.  It’s so ridiculous but at the same time so completely awesome that it has to be seen to be believed.  After this the pair get to work on testing their formula with deceased humans.  Raising the dead from beyond the grave, what could possibly go wrong that, right?  In the midst of this Dan and West’s professor, Dr. Hill played by David Gale, discovers what they’re up to and try’s to steal the data and the formula for himself.  He also tries to steal Dan’s girlfriend Megan played by Barbara Crampton who he’s had a somewhat disturbing crush on for a long time.

Rufus the (reanimated) dead cat!!

This is a movie which focuses more on the villains than the hero’s, which more often than not makes for thoroughly enjoyable storytelling and this is certainly the case here.  The contrast between the two villains and how this plays out when they are interacting with one another is fascinating to watch.  West is a creepy, calculating man who will hurt and kill people apathetically if it will lead to the furthering of his goals.  Hill on the other hand has a genuine malevolence in his actions that West doesn’t have.  Hill will hurt people and find enjoyment in it.  The pair have similarities too, they both perform their deplorable acts in the name of science.  Although, where as West genuinely does want to further scientific knowledge, Hill just wants to further his own career and status.  This dichotomy makes for a fantastic rivalry, like a pair of prize fighters.  The old fighting to keep his hands on the title and the young battling to take his place as the champ.  Only here … well you know, with lots of living dead people and blood and gore and stuff.

The finale fucking rocks!!

There are a lot parallels to be made with James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN, which I think was the direction Gordon was trying for.  West’s story is virtually identical to that of Dr. Frankenstein and more over Jeffrey Combs has clearly taken a lot of inspiration from Colin Clive.  So much so that I was half expecting him to shout out “It’s alive, it’s alive!” at any moment throughout most of the movie, which he never actually does.  The lines and actions that he does deliver though, are perfectly timed and almost as memorable as that classic.  It’s good to see a relatively modern film take it’s inspiration from such classics as FRANKENSTEIN whilst still keeping the movie as a whole fresh, original and exciting.

Talking heads in lasagna pans make this one stand way out!!

As AnythingHorror has already mentioned in his “What are your Three Horror Essentials” discussion thread, this is a great introductory movie for anyone who hasn’t seen a horror flick before.  It’s got some great horror concepts but doesn’t lay them on too heavily to put newbie’s off.  It’s got some great humour with some genuinely funny laugh out loud moments, which doesn’t distract from the horror but help to emphasize it.  It’s got a strong storyline which keeps you guessing as to what’s going to happen and how it’s going to end, which makes the movie gripping.  And the characters are all very strong, with good development throughout and good interactions with each other; interactions which have a significant impact upon their character as an individual.

And who can forget the infamous “head” scene!!?!

This is the type of film that Planet Horror is parodying and is defiantly deserving of its status as a cult classic.  If you haven’t watched it yet then, well, where the hell have you been? Go.  Find.  Watch.  Now.  For everyone else I think it’s still absolutely well worth another watch.  Find it anywhere you can, whack it in your DVD player, whack it on your computer, sit back and enjoy.  I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

Comment From AnythingHorrorScott:

Another great review Buzz!!  I must disagree with you on one point though.  You mention that “the effects are very dated;” but I find the effects, save for the dead cat scene, hold up pretty well over the years.  Plus the fact they are 100% practical f/x … no CGI in 1985!!

Thanks again for the contribution Buzz, and thanks for another great review!!

AnythingHorrorScott’s Summary:

Director:  Stuart Gordon

Plot:  4.5 out of 5 stars

Gore:  10 out of 10 skulls

Zombie Mayhem:  4 out of 5 brains (technically they ARE zombies!!)

Reviewed by James “Buzz” Saunders

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9 Responses to “Re-Animator (1985)”
  1. Deggsy says:

    Wow, talk about Memory Lane – I haven’t seen this in years, remembering it appearing out of nowhere and without fanfare on the shelves of my local video store. But as far as I’m concerned it should be included in any primer for people new to the horror movie genre. Watching it is like watching an old Hitchcock movie, and not just because the score is so uncannily reminiscent of those Hitchcock movies like Psycho and Vertigo. There’s a… classiness to it all (at least, as much class as you can have in a movie where a disembodied head is about to go down on a bound nude woman, and where intestines can attack people anaconda-style). Everyone was made for their roles, but especially the intense Combs, who at least received enough recognition to appear in numerous other movies before moving into his work in the Star Trek series, albeit beneath lots of latex. The dialogue makes the perfect dance between serious and self-deprecating humour, and the ending was suitably Grand Guignol. If I have any complaint about it, it’s that it didn’t need any sequels, though I still wonder what it would have been like if Stuart Gordon had went with his original plans to make it as a 13-part TV series, though I’m certain it would have been far ahead of its time and inevitably watered down into nothing.

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    • It blows my mind when I’m talking to self-proclaimed horror lovers and when I ask them about RE-ANIMATOR they tell me they never saw it. REALLY??? It is without a doubt, as you call it Deggsy, a classic that every horror fan needs to watch at least a dozen times!! I enjoyed BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR and felt they captured some of the feel from the original. I really wanted to love BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR but felt they were trying too hard to recapture the spirit of the original. I enjoyed it but haven’t seen it more than once.

      And you’re absolutely right; Combs was born to play Dr. West!!

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    • Buzz says:

      I haven’t actually seen any of the sequels. I have been meaning to for quite a while now but have just never gotten around to it. I’m pretty sure that they won’t measure up to the originals but just to see Jeffrey Combs reprise his role as Dr. West would be enough for me. It breaks my heart a little that he never really made it as an actor. I mean I know he has loads of Star Trek episodes under his beat but he’s never really anyone specific, just random bad alien of the week no. 37. At least Bruce Campbell’s got Burn Notice.

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      • … And I watch BURN NOTICE every week Buzz (it’s one of the few TV shows I watch).

        I enjoyed BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR (the 1st RE-ANIMATOR sequel). It definitely has it’s flaws but also has a lot of fun moments in it & manages to maintain the fun spirit of the original. BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR was even more flawed and lost that fun spirit of the original. But BEYOND did have a re-animated cock in it!!

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  2. Barbara Crampton says:

    Thanks for a thoughtful review! Enjoyed reading it!
    Barbara Crampton

    Like

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