“You’ll never get credit for my discovery, who’s going to believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow.” Stuart Gordons “Re-Animator” is a loose adaptation of “The Curious Case of Herbert West”, one of the only stories Lovecraft ever wrote for a humor publication. This is a story of scientific necromancy, a tale where Herbert West the mad scientist never seems to learn his lesson. The man keeps telling himself that if he gets a fresher specimen next time he’ll be able to make his formula work right, no matter how many times the corpse turns into a horrific undead nightmare.
While studying medicine in Switzerland, West brings a dead professor back to life. Things go horribly wrong when it turns out that West gave the professor too high of a dose of his reanimating agent. The professor dies again and West decides it’s time to move on. When West arrives at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts he becomes the roommate of another student named Dan. Soon afterwards the dead body of Dans Cat shows up in the refrigerator. West claims the cat died in an accident, although the film seems to imply that West killed the cat to perform experiments on it. Dan comes downstairs late one night to a really confusing sight- his undead cat is attacking West?!! The manic cat is killed again and West takes the opportunity to demonstrate his reanimating agent to Dan. The cat is a mangled mess but it still manages to come back to life, unfortunately Dans girlfriend Megan walks in on the horrific scene and understandably is terrified.
When Dan tells the head of the University (who is also his girlfriends father) about the success of the reanimating agent the Dean implies that Dan and West are both ready for the Looney Bin. The young men are barred from the school but they decide they will break into the morgue to continue the reanimating experiments. West and Dan manage to reanimate a corpse but it becomes violent and ends up killing the Dean when he stumbles upon the commotion.
West is thrilled by the opportunity to test his reanimating agent on somebody who has just died and so he uses it on the Dean. Unfortunately the Dean ends up a confused zombie. Doctor Hill (the main rival of West) puts the Dean into a padded room and later lobotomizes him. Hill realizes during the procedure that the Dean isn’t alive but is actually a reanimated dead man.
Hill sneaks into Wests laboratory and tries to blackmail him, demanding that West give him all the notes about his reanimation technology. Hill wants to take all the credit for the reanimation work. West has none of it and decapitates Hill. West decides to try to reanimate Hills severed head. The experiment works and West questions the head for a little bit. Unfortunately for West the head is able to control its body on the other side of the room and West is knocked unconscious. Dr. Hill steals his notes and heads back to the University.
Hill has acquired the ability to use telepathy to control other reanimated corpses. He uses his army of the undead to kidnap Dans girlfriend Megan. What follows is one of the weirdest scenes of sexual assault I’ve ever seen in my life. I won’t go into graphic detail but it involves a head…and head… dammit Stuart Gordon, what the hell is wrong with you?!!
Fortunately the assault is interrupted by the arrival of West and Dan. West, being the complete psychopath that he is isn’t so much bothered by the assault he has come upon as he is amused. He insults Hill for being so pathetic, only to then be attacked by Hills zombie army. Dan rescues Megan in the middle of all the chaos. West injects Hills body with a massive overdose of the reanimation formula. Hills body transforms and attacks West. This is easily the most lovecraftian scene in the film in that it involves the main protagonist being pulled away into mist by a bunch of monstrous intestines. It would seem this is when West meets his end, but there are two more sequels in the series so he’s fine.
Dan saves the formula and attempts to escape with Megan only for her to be killed by one of the rampaging zombies. In a fit of desperation Dan takes her corpse to an empty room to inject her with the reanimating agent. Obviously he knows this is going to end horribly but he just can’t help himself. He fills a syringe with the glowing green mixture and the screen goes black, a couple seconds later Megan begins screaming.
I read the original Lovecraft story years before seeing the movie and while there are many differences I absolutely adore this adaptation. Yes, that one scene of sexual assault was really messed up and I wish it hadn’t been there but other than that it was such a fun horror-comedy. The movie was made for 1 million dollars (equivalent to a little over 3 million dollars today) but they managed to stretch every dollar. the gore and special effects are kind of goofy but they go so balls-to-the-wall with everything that the effects work for the narrative. My favorite part is the cat attack, it’s a really funny scene because of how obviously fake it is. All West had to do was drop the cat puppet and he’d be fine. The lead actor Jeffrey Combs is very intense and easily one of my favorite actors. The animated intro made me think of the sort of odd 1990s kid shows that used to play on Nickelodeon. The theme song is basically a rip-off of the theme from the movie “Psycho” but they remix it with a synthesizer in a way where it’s just different enough. If you’re a big fan of 1980s horror movies and you somehow haven’t watched this one yet do so, just be warned of that one scene at the end of the film.- Zwahk (Image from Movieposters2.com)