Re-Animator

Based loosely on an H.P. Lovecraft tale, Re-Animator brings us another variation on the Frankensteinian desire to bring the dead back to life.

This time it’s set in a New England hospital, where an intense young intern, Herbert (Jeffrey Combs), arrives bearing a strange new potion. He’s fresh from studying with a disturbed genius in Switzerland, and he believes his serum can re-animate dead tissue.

He moves in with a fellow student, David (Bruce Abbott), and promptly “borrows” his friend’s cat for an experiment. The dead cat is injected with the serum, but the dosage is too high; the crazy kitty starts bouncing off the walls and screeching its lungs out.

This gets David’s attention: he’s initially horrified but then fascinated by the process. But when he tells the dean of the medical school (whose daughter he is dating) about it, he gets himself expelled.

Hoping for a dramatic demonstration of the re-animation process, the two lads sneak into the hospital morgue and inject a corpse. It—he—springs into life, unwieldy and insane. Unfortunately, the dean picks that moment to walk in on the experiment, and the re-animated corpse kills him.

But, as our heroes have proven, death is not necessarily forever, and …well, you get the picture.

Lots of things get re-animated after this, including a nutty professor who’s been lusting after David’s girlfriend Meg (Barbara Crampton). This professor had discovered Herbert’s secret formula, so the young genius decapitated him; but then, in a gory sequence, his parts are re-animated with such skill that he walks around, escapes from the lab, and even manages to kidnap Meg.

The professor’s corpse then brings her back to the laboratory—stay with me here—and when Herbert finds them there, it sets him up for one of the funniest lines of dialogue heard all year: “So, professor—you discover the secret of life and death, and here you are trysting with a bubble-headed co-ed?”

I hope these descriptions impart some of the flavor of the film. Its subject matter is thoroughly gross and repulsive, and it’s made with a considerable amount of wit and skill. It’s not a comedy, although there are some sly bits thrown in, straight-faced.

Nope, this one just wants to make audiences jump, and that they do—when they’re not groaning from the explicit examinations of autopsies and decaying corpses, that is. Bleccch.

Stuart Gordon, who also worked on the screenplay, directed with a healthy sense of what will make an audience squirm. He shouldn’t be pardoned for the rip-off of Bernard Herrmann’s music from Psycho, though; it’s blatant.

But then, it’s a blatant film—it doesn’t hold much back. If you’re queasy about such things, don’t go. You won’t last.

First published in the Herald, December 10, 1985

The giddy high points of Re-Animator were a true breath of fresh air back then, especially in a horror field that had grown dismal with slashing. The movie seems to loom over everything Stuart Gordon and the actors have done since, and I guess there are worse things in life.

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