The Summer of Lovecraft: Re-Animator (1985)

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“Herbert West has a good head on his shoulders… and another one on his desk.”

Directed by Stuart Gordon
Starring Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale and Jeffrey Combs

The Story

Herbert West – Reanimator is the account of an unnamed narrator and his friendship with the eponymous West, a fellow medical student and later physician who led the pair’s exploration of the mechanisms of the human body and how they might be reanimated after death. From medical school to practice to service in the Great War, a series of episodes describe the progress of West’s work on his reanimating serum, ending each time in a distinctly qualified success. Finally, the victims of his work come for him, or the narrator finally cracks. One of the two.

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The Film

Dan Cain (Abbott) is a struggling medical student, secretly engaged to the Dean’s daughter Megan Halsey (Crampton), who rents a room to West (Combs), a recent transfer from Zurich. West clashes with lecturer Dr Hill (Gale), who also has an unwholesome interest in Megan. This is already way more complicated than any relationship in the novella.

Cain is drawn into West’s experiments with a revivifying reagent, but when Dean Halsey is killed and they are forced to reanimate him to conceal the death, Hill tries to muscle in on the formula and the girl. West kills and revives (the now decapitated) Hill, who raises an army of zombies to defeat his enemies.

What’s wrong with it?

Re-Animator is a schlocky 80s horror-comedy, replete with popping eyeballs and foamy blood.

Abbott is supposed to be a stiff as Cain, but probably not that stiff.

The movie has more boobs than it really needs, by which I mean ‘some’. Also a scene in which a decapitated man attempts to position his head to perform unwanted cunnilingus on our heroine, which is pretty damned nasty.

What’s right with it?

Created by Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon, this is basically the acme of Lovecraft adaptations, in part because it doesn’t need as much done to it to make it into a filmable work. Herbert West – Reanimator has a much more conventional structure than most, and a clear ending with the army of zombies which is played out in a morgue in this version. All they really did was tack on a love interest and make the decapitated zombie a vainglorious sociopath instead of a heroic army medic.

How bad is it really?

It fun, in a gruesome way, apart from the torture porn bit with Megan strapped to a gurney being fondled by the decapitated Hill.

Best bit (if such there is)?

While there are no single standout scenes, Combs owns the film as the creepily plausible West, made rather more palatable by the grotesquerie of Hill.

What’s up with…?

  • Zombie rape? Like, ever. That’s fucked up.
  • The 80s?

Ratings

Production values – It’s an 80s horror comedy, with all the prosthetic heads and popping, pink-gored eyes that entails. 8
Dialogue and performances – Combs is the standout, the others are… adequate. The script has some humour, but lacks the gruesome laughs of a Waxwork12
Plot and execution – Pretty damned good; the pacing is tight and the story coherent. 3
Randomness – Again, pretty tight. 4
Waste of potential – Top drawer Lovecraft adaptation, if in part because it’s an oddly non-Lovecraftian Lovecraft. 5

Overall 32%

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