104 min., 1985
Written by Dennis Paoli/William J. Norris/Stuart Gordon
Directed by Stuart Gordon
My rating: ★★★★
The Evil Dead of HP Lovecraft.
* * *
Ah, the 80s. Home of Marty McFly, S-Mart, and Omni Consumer Products. Over-the-top movie making had come of age. And so has medical student Herbert West. Jeffrey Combs, later to become a staple of horror-comedy, plays Dr. West, a medical student who swoops into Miskatonic Medical school from Switzerland after his involvement in the ultimately demise of his former mentor.
There, he meets the earnest medical student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), a doctor who does not “know when to stop” and believes that he can save anyone given enough time and the right treatments. West tries to hide his work from Cain (“You’ll never even know that I’m here,” he tells Cain as he arranges to rent the spare bedroom), but does not bother to hide his contempt for Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), the senior brain surgeon (and “grant machine”) of Miskatonic.
When west and his girlfriend (Barbara Crampton) discover Cain’s cat in West’s refrigerator, dead, along with a vial of liquid glowing like the radioactive bar in The Simpsons intro, West blackmails Cain into silence. The cat, on the other hand, is not so lucky, and that night Cain wakes up to a ruckus. Reanimated by West’s mysterious reagent, the cat bites, claws, screams and runs around the basement, while Cain, West, and a baseball bat trash the place.
West makes an offer Cain cannot refuse: work with West, and “defeat death!” Not content with domestic animals. Cain and West break into the hospital morgue and to run additional experiments on the cadavers.
The experiments are successful. Unfortunately, West’s concoction is not fully baked: people and animal alike become violent once re-animated. The result is vast quantities of blood, guts, and gore, as half the cast of the movie meets is killed and reanimated. The violence and gore makes me think of the original (uncut) Robocop; shooting right past horrific to hilarious. The special effects, done on-camera and on the cheap, come off as campy rather than scary or horrific, more Evil Dead than Marytrs. The puppet dead cat looks more like a squirming bloody carpet than an animal, heads drip with fake blood, intestines pop out looking like rope, rubber hands wiggle, and the re-animated men evoke the behavior of horror zombies.
The acting, likewise, is over-the-top. Combs, wearing eyeglasses that make me think of Bill Gates, is a master of the deadpan; bloody, standing in the middle of a morgue, having just killed the dean of his school, Combs extolls the virtues of “unbreakable plastic.” Later, he maintains straight face as he shimmies backward, grabs a spade, and beats the distracted Carl Hill over the head. Gale, likewise, plays Carl Hill like a cartoon villain even before he loses his head, with everything but the cackle; after, he takes adds a fantastic wheezy voice and facial gymnastics as well. Abbott, on the other hand, is a weak link; Cain serves adequately as a foil for the slightly deranged Dr. West, but despite some emotional outbursts toward the end of the film he comes off as a little bit to earnest to take seriously in this show of fools.
Although the story of Re-Animator is based on the story “Herbert West: Reanimator” by H. P. Lovecraft, the horror-comedy production design, effects, and acting result in a movie with a very different tone than one would normally think of when I think of Lovecraft. This movie is more Army of Darkness than Alien. Yet it works, and what the movie lacks in faithfulness to the source it more than makes up for in its (lack of) style.Have You Read...?