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I Bet You Didn't See... Re-Animator

Updated: Jan 12


Part one of my "Lovecraft" Series

I am a massive fan of the American horror/thriller writer H.P. Lovecraft, Unfortunately, his stories don't come up in film very often, although his ideography has influenced countless films and TV series.

It has taken me a long time to find any films based on his stories and this one, Re-Animator (1985), has been on my radar for a few years and I've finally watched it. It is a modern retelling of Herbert West - Reanimator, written in 1922. It's classed as a "comedy-horror" but I don't see how. My overall opinion? Well...

This is a good, albeit over-the-top, interpretation of the original story. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) moves to Miskatonic University Medical School and rooms with Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). West has moved from Switzerland where he was working with another doctor towards reanimating dead tissue. Cain discovers what West is doing and agrees to help him, despite West's morbid obsession with the research.

Megan (Crampton) and Dr. Hill (Gale)

Cain goes to tell the Dean of the School, Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson), who isn't interested and in the confrontation Halsey threatens both Cain and West with expulsion and restrictions. Meanwhile, West challenges his teacher, neurosurgeon Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), over Hill's theories being stolen and plagerised from West's former mentor in Switzerland.

Having already learned Cain is dating Halsey's daughter Megan (Barbara Crampton), we come across another interaction between Dean Halsey and Cain, with Dr. Hill present. He makes a passing comment about how Halsey shouldn't let his daughter spend time with Cain. Nothing is made of that comment until later.

West (Combs) and Dr. Hill's reanimated head

Soon, Hill finds out West's discovery and the reagent he uses and tries to blackmail him. West agrees to it just to distract Hill, only to decapitate him to make him an experiment. He successfully reanimates Hill's head and body, only to discover that Hill can control his body still. Knocking West out, his body steals all the reagent and equipment, taking it to the hospital morgue where he injects all the dead bodies and, using a new piece of equipment from earlier in the film, lobotomises them all. This allows him to mentally control them.

Megan is then kidnapped by her now reanimated father for the decapitated Hill who starts to confess his fantasies for her, before West and Cain interrupt and the final confrontation and fight occurs. Is West killed? It isn't exactly clear. However, in true Lovecraftian spirit, Cain makes the ultimate mistake at the end, but I'll let you find that one out for yourselves.

West tries to bring Cain (Abbott) to his senses

I'll be honest, this film is a 'B-Movie' Roger Corman would be proud of. Combs and Gale in their respective roles as West and Hill, throw themselves into their parts with vigor and you can see they are relishing the clash their characters have. Everyone else is poor, as they should be in a B-Movie. It has the vibes of the 1960's, the look and some elements of the 1970's and the prostheses of the 1980's.

The main thing about this movie I didn't like wasn't the over-the-top goriness, but the unnecessary sex and nudity. Megan and Dan Cain are dating, and it is obvious from the beginning so the sex scene wasn't needed. But in true 1970's B-Movie sexual liberation style, Megan is fully on show, while Cain hides under blankets. Near the end of the film, after being kidnapped, Megan is tied to the morgue table and is stripped naked. A random camera angle is put in to confirm she is completely naked as Hill's head confesses his desires for her, before he is interrupted by West and Cain. We also have a team of doctors and nurses (including Cain) trying to revive a woman in cardiac arrest, which is done to set Cain's desire to beat death but I felt this was done in the same 1970's style of sexual liberation. It is definitely a film of an era.

Combs heard about the 2017 version...

If you know the original story by Lovecraft, you will see all the related elements. I was impressed that they kept so many of the important parts of the original in there, especially with the direction they took it in. The decapitated head controlling its body, West's friend being intrigued in his research, Halsey's involvement and the vagueness of West's ending were all slipped in well.

This is the first of a trilogy that I dread to say I may have to watch the entirety of, although as a purist for Lovecraft it is not one I will leap through fire to re-watch. It's a bit campy, excessive and not at all subtle - it was criticised for "stealing" the Psycho music and they did NOT try to hide that! Yet, the film kept the vital elements of the original story and that was great to see. A lot of film makers would have subdued these too much. If there wasn't the romance in it, it might have scored higher. I'm glad I watched it though.

But I will NOT be seeing the musical stage production. I'd rather be a reanimated corpse.

Directed by: Stuart Gordon

Screenplay by: Dennis Poll, William J. Norris, Stuart Gordon

Based on: "Herbert West - Reanimator" by H. P. Lovecraft

Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson

Released: October 18, 1985

My Rating: 4/10

The artwork for the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre's dramatised radio production for the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society

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