Re-Animator, 1985. Directed by Stuart Gordon. Written by Stuart Gordon, William Norris, Dennis Paoli. Starring Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbot, Barbara Crampton, David Gale.
Jeffrey Combs owns this movie with his mad intensity. This adaptation of a short H.P. Lovecraft story is brought to the 1980’s and turned into a horror show/ black comedy. Herbert West (Combs) is first seen in Switzerland crouched with a syringe over the body of a Dr. Gruber, who he was working with. We don’t know exactly what brought him to that state, we just know that when he is accused of murdering the Gruber, he exclaims “No! I gave him life!”
When he next reappears, he is in Arkham at Miskatonic Medical University, where he spars with resident neurological expert Dr. Hill (Gale) and becomes roommates with third year medical student, Dan Cain. Mad science is at the center of this story, West has been working on the secret of re-animating dead people and he is close to perfecting it. He ropes Cain into assisting him and in the process of re-animating a corpse causes the death of Dean Halsey, father to his fiancé, Megan (Crampton). Things just get messier from there. Halsey is reanimated and Hill begins examining him and suspects that West has perfected Gruber’s research (who Hill made a career plagiarizing). Dr. Hill goes to Cain and West’s apartment to blackmail West and steal his discovery for his own fame. West kills and reanimates Hill and the story turns even gorier and more absurd. It also gets very gross (yeah, the special effects, which are very well done are gory and splattery in the best sort of body horror way) when Hill, who was beheaded by West, kidnaps Megan, who he has been leering at throughout the movie (and who he has been stalking for years). This is when we move into sexual assault, as the headless body ties her down and then holds the head to violate her. Thankfully, he is interrupted by West and Cain, and the horror returns to the absurd body horror as all of the corpses in the morgue are reanimated and attack Cain, Megan and West. The conclusion of the movie is solidly in the tradition of the mad scientist movie, and because this film only covers the first half the Lovecraft’s story, the characters return for Bride of Re-Animator.
This movie takes the mad scientist movie and places it firmly in camp territory, while still delivering on the 80’s level of gore and horror movie notes, which might make it even more unsettling. It’s unfortunate that it uses rape as a throwaway plot moment for an impressively executed, but cheap special effects gag. Gale does a great job making you instantly dislike him and there is no question that even though Herbert West is the mad scientist running around reanimating dead bodies that Dr. Hill is the real villain. Bruce Abbot and Barbara Crampton are sturdy enough leads for a B-Horror film, but this movie is all about Jeffery Combs performance. Like Bruce Campbell, Combs is an excellent actor who knows how to dial up the comedy and camp intensity and has made a career in B Movies. He is always a welcome addition in a cast and when he turns up in more “prestige” material, you are always surprise because he’s “that guy” (he’s played multiple alien characters in prosthetics for various Star Trek series). While Bruce Campbell has ventured successfully into other genre films and television series, Combs is still best known for his work in Lovecraft adaptations (From Beyond is a wonderfully disturbing body horror film with monsters ripping into our reality from another dimension) and B Horror movies.
More later …