Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Stuart Gordon|
|Produced by||Brian Yuzna|
|Screenplay by||Stuart Gordon
William J. Norris
|Based on||Herbert West, Re-Animator
by H. P. Lovecraft
|Music by||Richard Band|
|Edited by||Lee Percy|
|Distributed by||Empire Pictures|
|Running time||86 minutes|
Re-Animator is a 1985 American science fiction horror comedy film based on the H. P. Lovecraft story "Herbert West–Reanimator." Directed by Stuart Gordon, it was the first film in the Re-Animator series. The film has since become a cult film, driven by fans of Jeffrey Combs (who stars as Herbert West) and H. P. Lovecraft, extreme gore, and the combination of horror and comedy.
At University of Zurich Institute of Medicine in Switzerland, Herbert West brings his dead professor, Dr. Hans Gruber, back to life. There are horrific side-effects, however; as West explains, the dosage was too large. When accused of killing Gruber, West counters: "I gave him life!"
West arrives at Miskatonic University in New England in order to further his studies. He rents a room from medical student Dan Cain and converts the building's basement into his own personal laboratory. There is an instant animosity between West and faculty member Dr. Carl Hill. West declares that Hill stole the theory of brain death from Dr. Gruber, West's mentor. Dan discovers that West has re-animated his dead cat, Rufus, with a glowing reagent. West recruits Dan as his partner in research to defeat death. Dan's fiancee Megan dislikes West, especially after discovering Rufus re-animated in a state of dismemberment.
Hill manages to turn Dr. Halsey, the school's dean and Megan's father, against both West and Dan. Barred from the school, the two sneak into the morgue to test the reagent on a human subject in an attempt to salvage their medical careers. The revived corpse goes on a rampage, attacking them. Halsey stumbles upon the scene and, despite attempts by both West and Dan to save him, is killed by the corpse. Armed with a bone saw, West dispatches the reanimated cadaver. Unfazed by the violence and excited at the prospect of working with a freshly dead specimen, West injects Halsey with the reagent. Halsey returns to life, but in a zombie-like state.
Hill discovers West's work and gains guardianship over Halsey, whom he puts in a padded cell adjacent to his office. Dan and Megan break into Hill's office where they find evidence that Hill is obsessed with Megan and has lobotomized her father. Hill has gone to confront West in his basement lab and threatens to blackmail him to continue his research so that Hill can take credit for West's reagent. While Hill is distracted, West decapitates Hill 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 body knocks him unconscious. The body carries the head and steals West's reagent, returning to Hill's office. Exercising mind control over Halsey, Hill sends him out to kidnap Megan from Dan.
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. West distracts Hill while Dan frees Megan. Hill reveals that he has re-animated and lobotomized several corpses from the morgue to do his bidding. However, Megan 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 save his work as he continues fighting.
Dan retrieves the satchel containing West's reagent. 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. In despair, he injects her with reagent. Just as the scene fades to black, Megan screams, implying that she has been re-animated.
- Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West
- Bruce Abbott as Dan Cain
- Barbara Crampton as Megan Halsey
- David Gale as Dr. Carl Hill
- Robert Sampson as Dean Alan Halsey
- Al Berry as Dr. Hans Gruber
- Carolyn Purdy-Gordon as Dr. Harrod
- Ian Patrick Williams as Swiss professor
The idea to make Re-Animator came from a discussion Stuart Gordon had with friends one night about vampire films. He felt that there were too many Dracula films and expressed a desire to see a Frankenstein film. Someone asked if he had read "Herbert West-Reanimator" by H.P. Lovecraft. Gordon had read most of the author's works, but not that story, which had been long out of print. He went to the Chicago Public Library and read their copy.
Originally, Gordon was going to adapt Lovecraft's story for the stage, but eventually decided along with writers Dennis Paoli and William Norris to do it as a half-hour television pilot. The story was set around the turn of the century, and they soon realized that it would be too expensive to recreate. They updated it to the present day in Chicago with the intention of using actors from the Organic Theater company. They were told that the half hour format was not salable and so they made it an hour, writing 13 episodes. Special effects technician Bob Greenberg, who had worked on John Carpenter's Dark Star, repeatedly told Gordon that the only market for horror was in feature films, and introduced him to producer Brian Yuzna. Gordon showed Yuzna the script for the pilot and the 12 additional episodes. The producer liked what he read and convinced Gordon to shoot the film in Hollywood because of all the special effects involved. Yuzna made a distribution deal with Charles Band's Empire Pictures in return for post-production services.
Yuzna described the film as having the "sort of shock sensibility of an Evil Dead with the production values of, hopefully, The Howling." John Naulin worked on the film's gruesome makeup effects and worked from what he described as "disgusting shots brought out from the Cook County morgue of all kinds of different lividities and different corpses". He and Gordon also used a book of forensic pathology in order to present how a corpse looks once the blood settles in the body, creating a variety of odd skin tones. Naulin said that Re-Animator was the bloodiest film he had ever worked on. In the past, he never used more than two gallons of blood on a film; on Re-Animator, he used 24 gallons.
The biggest makeup challenge in the film was the headless Dr. Hill zombie. Tony Doublin designed the mechanical effects and was faced with the problem of proportion once the 9–10 inches of the head were removed from the body. Each scene forced him to use a different technique. For example, one technique involved building an upper torso that actor David Gale could bend over and stick his head through so that it appeared to be the one that the walking corpse was carrying around.
The film was re-released with a premiere on May 21, 2010, as part of Creation Entertainment's Weekends of Horror.
When Re-Animator was originally released on VHS and Beta by Vestron Video, two versions were available: the unrated theatrical cut and an edited R-rated version, for those video stores whose rental policies would not allow them to rent unrated films that would be considered films with an 'X' rating.
In the R-rated version, all extreme gore was edited out, but edited back into the film was a deleted scene: Before going to the Hospital morgue to confront Dr. Hill, Dan discovers West injecting himself with a watered down version of his Re-agent in order to fight off fatigue.
The film was well received by critics, earning mostly positive reviews, and today has a 95% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Pauline Kael enjoyed the film's "indigenous American junkiness" and called it "pop Buñuel; the jokes hit you in a subterranean comic zone that the surrealists' pranks sometimes reached, but without the surrealists' self-consciousness (and art-consciousness)." Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, "I walked out somewhat surprised and reinvigorated (if not re-animated) by a movie that had the audience emitting taxi whistles and wild goat cries". In her review for the New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "Re-Animator has a fast pace and a good deal of grisly vitality. It even has a sense of humor, albeit one that would be lost on 99.9 percent of any ordinary moviegoing crowd". Paul Attanasio, in his review for the Washington Post, praised Jeffrey Combs' performance: "Beady-eyed, his face hard, almost lacquered, Combs makes West into a brittle, slightly fey psychotic in the Anthony Perkins mold. West is a figure of fun, but Combs doesn't spoof him". In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas wrote, "The big noise is Combs, a small, compact man of terrific intensity and concentration". David Edelstein, writing for Village Voice, placed the film in his year-end Top Ten Movies list.
In their book Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft, Andrew Migliore and John Strysik write: "Re-Animator took First Prize at the Paris Festival of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, a Special Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and even spawned a short-lived series of comic books. Even though it was a hit with audiences, the film generated a huge amount of controversy among Lovecraft readers. Fans thought the film a desecration of Lovecraft; their literary hero would never write such obvious exploitation! But the final criticism of the film might have been a bit more muted if these fans had actually read the "West" stories, which are pure exploitation. Lovecraft himself acknowledged as much, and female love interest and black sex humor aside, Re-Animator really is one of the more faithful and effective adaptations."
Re-Animator was followed by Bride of Re-Animator in 1990 and Beyond Re-Animator in 2003. Both sequels were preceded by another film based upon an H. P. Lovecraft story, From Beyond; though this film featured a story unrelated to Re-Animator, it was also directed by Stuart Gordon and starred both Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton.
In the book Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft, producer/director Brian Yuzna mentions an idea that he had for a fourth Re-Animator. This version would have been titled Isle of Re-Animator, and would have been strongly influenced by the H. G. Wells novel The Island of Doctor Moreau.
In 2006, a crossover comic titled Army of Darkness Vs. Re-animator was released by Dynamite Entertainment in which Ash Williams of the Evil Dead series is admitted to Arkham Asylum and there confronts Herber West of the Re-Animator series.
- "Re-Animator". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
- Brody, Meredith (February 1987). "We Killed 'Em in Chicago". Film Comment. p. 70.
- Fischer, Dennis (August 1985). "A Moist Zombie Movie". Fangoria. p. 44.
- Fischer 1985, p. 45.
- "Creation's Weekend of Horrors Re-Animator Reunion Grows Bigger". Dread Central. March 3, 2010.
- Re-Animator at Rotten Tomatoes
- Ebert, Roger (October 18, 1985). "Re-Animator". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
- Maslin, Janet (October 18, 1985). "Re-Animator". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
- Attanasio, Paul (October 25, 1985). "Captivating Cutups". Washington Post. pp. D8.
- Thomas, Kevin (October 25, 1985). "Re-Animator". Los Angeles Times. p. 11.
- Andrew Migliore & John Strysik, Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft, Night Shade Books, February 1, 2006, ISBN 978-1892389350
- "The Top 50 Cult Films". Entertainment Weekly. May 23, 2003.
- "The Cult 25: The Essential Left-Field Movie Hits Since '83". Entertainment Weekly. September 3, 2008. Retrieved 2008-09-04.
- Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft by Andrew Migliore, John Strysik, Bernie Wrightson and Lee Moyer (Jun 6, 2006) ISBN 9781892389350 - page 317-319
- "‘Re-Animator the Musical’ pumps new life into cult favorite". Los Angeles Times. 2011-05-03. Retrieved 2013-01-01.
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- Official website
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- Re-Animator at Rotten Tomatoes