s a fan of American genre films, I've heard Stuart
Gordon's "Re-Animator" being mentioned in the same breath as other
cult films such as Sam Raimi's "Evil
Dead" movies. But for one reason or another, I've never seen Gordon's
movie. Then came "Beyond
Re-Animator", the latest (and presumably, last) "Re-Animator"
sequel, which I liked tremendously, especially the franchise's star, Jeffrey
Combs. Then Gordon's "Dagon"
further piqued my interest in the man's past works. With that in mind, I've
searched out not just "Re-Animator", Gordon's 1985 original, but also
its 1990 sequel "Bride
"Re-Animator" stars Jeffrey Combs as Mad
Scientist Herbert West, a nerd with a God fixation and a neverending supply of
glowing green goo he keeps in -- as he proudly announces at one point --
unbreakable plastic bottles. After a stint at an overseas college where his
professor basically blew up, West has returned home to the States and Miskatonic
University. Here, he comes under the tutelage of egotistical doctor Hill (David
Gale) and moves in with young handsome med student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). West
also meets Dan's girlfriend, Megan (Barbara Crampton), who is suspicious of
West, and is also the Dean's daughter -- not to mention Hill's secret crush.
After a lot of nothing happening, it's revealed that West
is experimenting in Dan's basement with the green goo. First the good doctor
kills Dan's cat, revives it, and then with Dan's help, begins experimenting with
corpses at Hill's lab -- the hospital morgue. As the experiments of Mad
Scientists are wont to do, the whole thing goes awry when the Dean (Robert
Sampson) is killed by a rampaging re-animated corpse. The whole thing culminates
in a 20-minute hack-em-all sequence at the morgue, where re-animated bodies
battle each other, and a severed head nearly rapes Megan. I kid you not on that
As with most films bearing the Brian Yuzna name (Yuzna is
producer here), "Re-Animator" is gory and perverse at the same time.
Poor Barbara Crampton provides the film with its nudity quotient, including the
aforementioned near-rape by way of the severed head. Yes, it's quite in poor
taste; and yes, it's also really, really funny and entertaining to watch. As for
gore, the film lays it on pretty think, but there's no real horror here. If
anything, the "Re-Animator" franchise seems to take the "Evil
Dead" route -- that is, comedy-horror. In a nutshell, you'll probably laugh
more than you'll be scared.
Made in 1985, "Re-Animator" looks like a movie
made in the '80s, although strangely there's a general absence of big hair. Go
figure. The film has the look and feel of a low-budget horror indie, which isn't
a bad thing but there are obvious limitations, such as West always seeming to do
his super important experiments in the dark for some strange reason. The
acting across the board is palatable, with Combs and Gale providing some winning
and memorable tongue-in-cheek performances. On the other hand, Abbot and
Crampton seems to be taking things too seriously, which only makes their
characters dry and dull compared to the two opposing Mad Scientists.
"Re-Animator" certainly doesn't have the
slickness or polish of Gordon's "Dagon", but the absence of a sizable
budget is easily to blame for that. Still, this is a good movie, with a very
interesting premise that begs for sequels. The execution leans toward the
absurd, with Combs and Gale embracing their respective archetypes with aplomb.
The script seems to exult in its more sleazy elements, and the gore isn't so
overboard as to be indigestible by non-gorefiends. Although this version of the
movie is unrated and uncut, I really can't see anything about it that would keep
it from obtaining an R rating. The gore is rather tame.
In my review of "Beyond Re-Animator" I mentioned
that that sequel really didn't tell us why West was obsessed with bringing the
dead back to life. Was there a childhood trauma? Something that made him
obsessed with beating death? I also mentioned that the original probably
contained the answers I was looking for. After seeing the original, this proves
to not be the case after all. In short, it seems that West's only reason for the
risky and highly unethical experiments is in search of fame and fortune, and not
for any altruistic reasons whatsoever. One might have liked a more involved
pathos for our anti-hero, but alas there is none to be had.
Like most of Stuart Gordon's films, "Re-Animator"
is based on an H.P. Lovecraft story. The script is written by longtime Gordon
collaborator Dennis Paoli, Gordon himself, and William Norris. It's a minor work
of cinema, the kind that gets built up overtime by an enthusiastic and niche fan
base, but really doesn't deserve it. Is it revolutionary? No, I wouldn't say
that. It's definitely quite entertaining, and at just barely 85 minutes, it
certainly doesn't wear out its welcome before an ending that prompts the title
of the first sequel, "Bride of Re-Animator".
It could be worst, I suppose. Movies made in the '80s
always have the potential to be much worst with age. "Re-Animator"
stands the passing of time rather well. And who would have thunk it -- not only
is there not one big hair in the bunch, but no cheesy '80s music!