Saturday, October 23, 2010

1980's "Movie" Flashback: Re-Animator

Death Is Just The Beginning ...

Directed by Stuart Gordon, Re-Animator was a 1985 sci-fi/horror film based on the H. P. Lovecraft story "Herbert West–Reanimator." The movie has become a cult-favorite, due to its extreme gore, nudity and a successful blending of horror and comedy. This film launched the genre career of character actor Jeffrey Combs, who starred as Herbert West. Perhaps no other genre flick from the 1980s is better described by the term "bat-shit crazy" than Reanimator.

Herbert West arrives at Miskatonic University in New England to further his studies, having previously succeeded in resurrecting his dead professor, Dr. Hans Gruber, in Zurich, Switzerland (with horrific side-effects) and meets medical student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). Cain has just tried in vain to revive a patient, after other medical personnel have already given her up for dead.

Dan has been secretly dating Megan (Barbara Crampton), the daughter of school administrator, Dean Halsey. West soon converts the building's basement into his own personal laboratory; recruiting Dan as his partner in research to defeat death (after Dan discovers that Herbert has re-animated Dan's dead cat, Rufus, with a glowing reagent). Simultaneously an instant animosity develops between West and faculty member Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale). West accuses Hill of stealing the theory of brain death from West's late mentor, Dr. Gruber. Megan dislikes West, especially after discovering Rufus re-animated in a state of dismemberment.

Hill succeeds in turning Halsey against both West and Dan and they are barred from the school. The pair later sneak into the morgue to test the reagent on a human subject in an attempt to salvage their medical careers. Unfortunately the corpse goes on a rampage upon revival, attacking the duo. Dean Halsey stumbles upon the scene and despite attempts by West and Dan to save him, is brutally killed by the re-animated corpse. West finally manages to kill the creature with a bone saw and without batting an eye, excited at the prospect of working with a freshly dead specimen, injects Halsey with his reagent. Halsey returns to life in a zombie-like state.

Dr. Hill discovers West's work and gains custody of Halsey (whom he puts in a padded cell adjacent to his office). Dan and Megan break into Hill's office uncovering evidence that Hill has an "unhealthy" obsession with Megan and that he has lobotomized her father. Hill goes to confront West and to blackmail him to continue his research so that Hill can take credit for West's reagent. While Hill is distracted, West decapitates him with a shovel. Overcome with curiosity, West re-animates both Hill's head and body. While West is questioning Hill's head and taking notes, Hill's headless body knocks out West. The body (now carrying the head) steals West's reagent and returns to Hill's office. Exercising mind control over Halsey, Hill sends him out to abduct Megan.

West and Dan track Halsey to the morgue where they find Hill's body holding his head in a compromising position over a restrained Megan (this erotically-charged scene is what I meant by "bat-shit crazy" - see photo above). West distracts Hill while Dan frees Megan, as Hill reveals that he has re-animated and lobotomized several other corpses from the morgue to do his bidding. Megan somehow manages to get through to her father, who fights off the other corpses long enough for Dan and Megan to escape. In the ensuing chaos, Halsey is torn to pieces by the corpses, after he destroys Hill's head, and West injects Hill's body with what he believes is a lethal overdose of the reagent which began to destroy Hill's body. Hill's body mutates horribly and attacks West, who screams out to Dan to preserve his work as he continues fighting.

Dan retrieves the satchel containing West's reagent, but as Dan and Megan run from the morgue, one of the re-animated corpses attacks and kills Megan. Dan takes her to the hospital emergency room and tries in vain to revive her. Finally in despair he injects her with reagent. Just after the final scene fades to black, Megan screams (implying that her re-animation backfires) just like the previous re-animated.

Entertainment Weekly ranked the film #32 on their list of The Top 50 Cult Films. The film spawned two sequels, Bride of Re-Animator and Beyond Re-Animator. If you've never seen this film, quickly go out and rent it, because you will be in for a treat. Recommended! [Background art (above'top) by Cowboy-Lucas.]


Daniel [] said...

My favorite allusion to Reanimator was in the CSI episode “Jackpot”.

On The Incredibly Strange Film Show, Gordon noted that it had been hard to find a copy of Lovecraft's original series, and even years after the movie I had to undertake a special search to find it. I don't know if that's still the case.

Chuck Wells said...

"I heard you got some head."