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Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Stuart Gordon|
|Produced by||Brian Yuzna|
|Based on||Herbert West–Reanimator
by H. P. Lovecraft
|Music by||Richard Band|
|Edited by||Lee Percy|
|Distributed by||Empire International Pictures|
|Box office||$2 million|
Re-Animator is a 1985 American science fiction horror comedy film loosely based on the H. P. Lovecraft episodic novella "Herbert West–Reanimator." Directed by Stuart Gordon, it was the first film in the Re-Animator (film series). The film has since become a cult film, driven by fans of Jeffrey Combs (who stars as Herbert West) and 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 as a medical student. He rents a room from fellow medical student Dan Cain and converts the building's basement into his own personal laboratory. West demonstrates his reanimating reagent to Dan by reanimating Dan's dead cat Rufus. Dan's fiancee Megan, who already thinks West is creepy, walks in on this experiment and is horrified.
Dan tries to tell Dr. Alan Halsey, who is Megan's father and dean of the medical school, about West's success in reanimating the dead cat, but the dean does not believe him. When Dan insists, the dean infers that Dan and West have gone mad. Barred from the school, West and Dan sneak into the morgue to test the reagent on a human subject in an attempt to prove that the reagent works, and thereby salvage their medical careers. The corpse they inject comes back to life, but in a frenzied, violent, zombie-like state. Dr. Halsey stumbles upon the scene and, despite attempts by both West and Dan to save him, he gets killed by the reanimated corpse, which West then kills with a bone-saw. Unfazed by the violence and excited at the prospect of working with a freshly dead specimen, West injects Dr. Halsey's body with his reanimating reagent. Dr. Halsey returns to life, also in a psychotic, zombie-like state. Megan chances upon the scene, and is nearly hysterical, but the sight of her seems to awaken some kind of memory in her reanimated father, who while still crazed, appears to suddenly feel a kind of regret.
Dr. Halsey's colleague Dr. Carl Hill, a research-oriented brain surgeon, takes charge of Dr. Halsey, whom he puts in a padded observation cell adjacent to his office. He carries out a surgical operation on him, lobotomizing him. During the course of this operation, he discovers that Dr. Halsey is not sick, but dead and reanimated.
Dr. Hill goes to West's basement lab and attempts to blackmail him into surrendering his reagent and notes, hoping to take credit for West's discovery. West offers to demonstrate the reagent and puts a few drops of it onto a microscope slide with dead cat tissue. As Dr. Hill peers through the microscope at this slide, West decapitates him with a shovel while decrying him as a plagiarist. West then reanimates Dr. Hill's head and body separately. While West is questioning Dr. Hill's head and taking notes, Dr. Hill's body sneaks up behind him and knocks him unconscious. The body carries the head back to Dr. Hill's office, with West's reagent and notes.
Exercising mind control over Halsey (in a filmed but deleted scene Hill is revealed to have psychic/hypnotic abilities), Dr. Hill sends him out to kidnap Megan from Dan. While being carried to the morgue by her reanimated father, Megan faints. When she arrives, Dr. Hill straps her unconscious body to a table, strips her naked, and sexually abuses her, shoving his bloody, severed head between her legs. She wakes up in the middle of this experience.
West and Dan track Halsey to the morgue. West distracts Dr. Hill while Dan frees Megan. Dr. Hill reveals that he has reanimated and lobotomized several corpses from the morgue, rendering them susceptible to mind control. However, Megan gets through to her father, who fights off the other corpses long enough for Dan and Megan to escape. In the ensuing chaos, West injects Dr. Hill's body with a lethal overdose of the reagent. Dr. Hill's body mutates rapidly and attacks West, who screams out to Dan to save his work before being strangled by entrails and then torn to pieces.
Dan retrieves the satchel containing West's reagent and notes. As Dan and Megan flee the morgue, one of the reanimated corpses attacks and kills Megan. Dan takes her to the hospital emergency room and tries to revive her, but she is quite dead. In despair, he injects her with West's reagent. As the scene fades to black, a seemingly revived Megan can be heard screaming.
- 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 (Wife and Business Partner of Director Stuart Gordon) as Dr. Harrod
- Ian Patrick Williams as Swiss professor
- Gerry Black as Mace
- Peter Kent as Melvin the Re-Animated
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.
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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 MPAA 'X' rating.
In the R-rated version, which the makers had no control over, all extreme gore was edited out, but edited back into the film was a deleted scene where before going to the hospital morgue to confront Dr. Hill, Dan discovers West injecting himself with a watered down version of his reagent in order to fight off fatigue.
The film's makers have all since disavowed the R-rated version.
The film was well received by critics, earning mostly positive reviews, and today has a 94% "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.
The character of Herbert West appeared in a number of comicbook adaptations as titular character by different companies such as Adventure Comics (Re-Animator: Dawn of the Re-Animator), Zenoscope Entertainment (The Chronicles of Dr. Herbert West) and Dynamite Entertainment (Re-Animator). West also appeared in Devil's Due Publishing's Hack/Slash series as a side character and in 2 crossover comics titled Army of Darkness Vs. Re-Animator and Army of Darkness/Re-Animator by Dynamite Entertainment in which Ash Williams of the Evil Dead series confronts Herbert West of the Re-Animator series.
- "Re-Animator". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
- Stephen Jones. The Essential Monster Movie Guide. Billboard Books. 2000. Pg. 313
- 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
- Kael, Pauline. "Re-Animator". geocities.ws/paulinekaelreview/r2.html.
- Ebert, Roger (October 18, 1985). "Re-Animator". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-08-27.
- Maslin, Janet (October 18, 1985). "Re Animator (1985) SCREEN: STUART GORDON DIRECTS 'RE-ANIMATOR". The New York Times.
- Attanasio, Paul (October 25, 1985). "Captivating Cutups". The 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 Box Office Mojo
- Re-Animator at Rotten Tomatoes