Re-Animator

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When medical student Herbert West came up with a formula to reanimate the dead, fellow student Dan Cain felt it was his responsibility to help, but their pairing may have further reaching consequences than either are aware. A loose adaption of the H.P. Lovecraft short story.

I would be so upset if there was a formula that could make you a zombie. Not about the formula itself you understand, no, my annoyance would come from sheer bitterness. If I had to get bit by a zombie to become a zombie, then so do you damnit. You cannot imagine how painful it is to be bit by a set of human teeth. I’m not talking about being bitten by your psychotic cousin as a child, or having grandma dig into your arm when she forgets the difference between a turkey leg and a human appendage for the second Thanksgiving in a row. No, I’m talking about having a strong set of teeth, real human teeth, tearing into your flesh and ripping an entire chunk out like your body was a blood filled orange, or a blood orange if you will (fun fact: actual blood oranges aren’t named for their color, but the high blood pressure a person receives when they bite into one only to realize the orange they just payed so much for tastes exactly like a regular orange). Sure, it was a small price to pay for becoming a member of the living dead, but it still hurt like hell if hell was full of people that spent eternity biting you. It’s a rite of passage that all zombies need to experience, and I say this with no actual reasoning behind it other than absolute bitterness and jealousy that someone else might get the privilege of being a zombie without having to go through the pain of being munched on a bit. So to hell with your fancy formulas and medical trickery, you want to be a zombie, you go get bit like the rest of us undead plebeians. Or don’t, I probably would have gone with the less painful option myself, but being rational is a hell of a thing.

Our film begins at the Miskatonic Medical School in Arkham, Massachusetts where student Dan Cain is learning that he can’t save everyone, an idea opposed by new transfer Herbert West who believes he can cure death. The results of his prior experimentation led to West having to flee his previous school, but the experience has only strengthened his resolve. Though West is immensely arrogant, and possibly very disturbed, he’s also brilliant, and his formula for stopping death is actually workable. Not long after West makes his presence known by challenging the school’s brain specialist and money maker Dr. Hill, he and Dan are thrust together when Dan allows West to move in with him. West initially tries to hide his experiments from Dan, but the secret is eventually exposed, and though Dan is worried about the ethical implications of what his roommate is up to, he agrees to help the man based on what West’s formula is already capable of, reanimating a dead body. The problem is that the reanimated dead don’t seem to retain their intelligence, becoming rabid, nigh unstoppable monsters instead, but the pair are positive they can change that. They set to work in earnest, Dan slowly losing his idea of ethics and West proving he never had any, but things are about to get much worse. With the bodies piling up, the school’s Dean catching on, and Dr. Hill desperate to discover what West is doing, it’s only a matter of time before chaos overtakes the Miskatonic Medical School.

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{And yet, West looks like such a stable individual}

Re-Animator is loosely based on the serialized story Herbert West: Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft, or at least parts of it anyhow. The original Lovecraft tale, one of the first examples of zombies that weren’t the product of voodoo, was presented in six chapters, Re-Animator covers a few of them while the sequel, Bride of Re-Animator, covers the rest. I’m always a tad worried whenever a movie comes out that’s based on a book, or a serialized novel in this case. Ever since I watched the David Lynch version of Dune where a huge part of the story was whittled down to “sound guns,” seeing the words “based on {insert novel here}” sets me on edge. The Will Smith travesty I Am Legend only cemented that worry. I’ll admit that most of the time my worries are unfounded, even if the movie strays, which is to be expected as movies and books are two entirely separate mediums, cinematic adaptions are generally pretty enjoyable and I’m just being a pretentious ass in getting all uppity before the thing has even come out. Re-Animator is one of the better adaptions out there if you ask me. It takes the core ideas, updates the setting, and then goes along its own path as it relates Lovecraft’s tale. The obscene amount of blood and gore doesn’t hurt things either.

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{See, he likes it}

If you’re a gorehound like myself, you can’t do much better than Re-Animator. There is a ridiculous amount of blood (rumored to be around 25 gallons), and the gore is top notch. Director Stuart Gordon, as well as actors Jeffery Combs (Herbert West) and Robert Sampson (Miskatonic school dean Halsey), took a group of people working on the film to both a morgue and an insane asylum so that they could get a good look at how dead people actually look up close and personal while also examining the habits of people locked up in mental health institutions. The director wanted the film’s gore to look realistic but not too realistic, something he called “fun gore,” and he needed his crew to know exactly what a body looked like after death, everything from how the blood pools to how the skin deteriorates, so they could tweak their makeup a bit while still keeping a realistic look. Gordon obviously knew what he was doing because the results are fantastic. The zombies look very much like reanimated cadavers, bloated, discolored, and with a wide range of bodily damage, none of them come across as cartoonish in the slightest. Though that doesn’t mean that some of the gore doesn’t enter cartoonish territory at times, but it only serves to create the “fun gore” Gordon was aiming for. Scenes like human intestines sprouting from a zombie and attacking someone are interspersed throughout what are otherwise less crazy gore, so you get the enjoyment of over the top mayhem without the movie devolving into just being silly. I adored how great the zombies looked and how amazing the gore turned out.

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{The only time this happens to me is when I drink cheap whiskey}

Re-Animator also has a great cast, and though I don’t think anyone did a bad job with their characters, Jeffery Combs and David Gale (Dr. Hill) definitely stole the show. Combs has always been a favorite of mine, he does creepy but endearing in a way no other actor seems capable of replicating. I don’t know how he manages to do it, but Combs always makes his characters extremely off putting, but still relatable. Plus he was in my favorite Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine, so I can’t help but love the man. Gale on the other hand plays creepy a much different way, a way that makes your skin crawl and your hair stand on end. I’m not knocking him at all, quite the opposite, an extreme creep factor is what the character needed to be as effective as he was. I’m not sure why the guy never got more roles with his level of talent, he was prefect for the role in both this and the only other thing I’ve seen him in, The Guyver. His infamous scene here involving severed Dr. Hill’s head getting rapey was so convincing that rumors began swirling among the cast that his divorce post film was due in large part to his wife’s feeling about the performance. I don’t know if the scene in particular was really the cause of his divorce or not, but I can see why the rumor would have come about as the scene is one of the creepier you’re bound to find in a horror flick and Gale nails it.

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{Fun Fact: The formula in the jar is fluid from a glow stick}

Re-Animator is a fun movie with plenty of gore, great characters, and an over the shoulder camera angle that always makes you feel like you’re a voyeur following the actors around. My one recommendation would be to always look for the unrated version, the R rated version is ten minutes longer, but it cuts out some of the fun gore and replaces it with unnecessary dialogue.

 

The Undead Review

 

Directed By: Stuart Gordon (Dagon, Castle Freak)

Starring: Jeffery Combs (The Frightners, From Beyond), Bruce Abbott (Command 5, Bad Dreams), Barbara Crampton (We Are Still Here, From Beyond), and David Gale (The Guyver, Pulse Pounders)

Written By: H.P. Lovecraft (Original Story), Dennis Paoli (The Dentist, From Beyond), William Norris, and Stuart Gordon (Robot Joxs, The Dentist)

Released By: Vestron Video, Elite Entertainment, and Empire Pictures

Release Year: 1985

Release Type: Theatrical Release

MPAA Rating: Unrated

About The Undead Review

When I was alive I was an asshole and after I died remained pretty much the same, if not a little worse. You’d think becoming a member of the walking dead would mellow a person out, no more worrying about awkward small talk with people, no more having to be politically correct, and the entire world is your upright, bipedal buffet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun as hell to be a zombie, just somewhat irritating at times, especially those times you have to watch a lame movie or read a lame book. Thankfully, when I am forced to watch these films or read those books, I’ve got places like The Undead Review to bitch and moan to my heart’s content. {When he’s not devouring the living or sinking his teeth into a good film The Undead Review (Andy Taylor) spends his time writing his own stories or hunting down the paranormal. Oh, and did we mention his blind dog once saved the world?)
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