Re-Animator (1985)

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“A dedicated student at a medical college and his girlfriend become involved in bizarre experiments centering around the re-animation of dead tissue when an odd new student arrives on campus.” — IMDb

It’s hard to find words to describe how much I love Re-Animator. It is just twisted and gory and deeply dark and hilarious. A masterpiece, really. Even with its main song sounding like a dead ringer for the Psycho theme (the composer, Richard Band, admitted to being heavily influenced by Bernard Herrmann’s famous score).

The story itself is not that complicated — it’s loosely inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West – Re-Animator”. It opens up with Herbert West (played with such perfect, calculated intensity by Jeffrey Combs) at the University of Zurich, re-animating his dead professor, Dr. Hans Gruber (yes, he shares a name with the villain in Die Hard, which was released a few years later). Accused of killing him (again), he exclaims “I gave him life!”.

He’s now back in America at the fictional Miskatonic University, located in Massachusetts. He immediately starts clashing with Dr. Carl Hill (played by David Gale) on the topic of brain death. But when he starts renting a room from fellow medical student Dan (played by Bruce Abbott), he can get back to work on his reanimating reagent, including trying to show its effectiveness by practicing on Dan’s fiancé Megan’s (played by Barbara Crampton) cat.

Dan: “Why does it make that noise?”
Herbert: “Birth is always painful.”

Dan tries to pitch this theory to Dean Halsey, who also happens to be Megan’s father, but him and West are quickly barred from school for their apparent madness. They can’t resist further experimentation, so naturally they break into the school’s morgue to try it out some more. The hilarious and oftentimes graphic chaos that ensues from here on out is just… unbelievable. Dean Halsey (played by Robert Sampson), lurching around in a straitjacket after his accidental killing and reanimation is unforgettable. Dr. Hill, who is just sketchy right from the get-go, naturally takes full advantage of the situation and attempts to blackmail West and take credit for his idea. West quickly kills him and then realizes his once-in-a-lifetime chance to reanimate such a freshly dead corpse.

West chopping off Dr. Hill’s head with a metal shovel and then immediately being annoyed when it won’t sit up in the metal dish is just morbid humor gold. When Hill’s head wakes up after being injected and hisses “Wessssssst, you bassssstard” as his body lumbers behind him… brilliant. Then we get to see Hill walking around carrying his own head with him, feeding himself pouches of blood, sneaking into the morgue in his ridiculous disguise… oh man, so good.

There is, of course, the one scene that almost everyone knows whether they’ve seen the movie or not — the severed head rape scene. It’s… shocking, to say the least, but honestly not as bad as I expected, if for no other reason than it is fairly quick. But the implications of the whole thing — Hill’s disturbing obsession with Megan, him employing Megan’s own father to procure her for his own sick fantasies (Dean Halsey is both re-animated and lobotomized at this point, but still) — are disgusting.

But the ending — which I, amazingly, won’t spoil for you — is one of my favorites of all time. Seriously, watch this movie NOW.

Rating: 10/10 | Director: Stuart Gordon | Writer: H.P. Lovecraft (story “Herbert West – Re-Animator”), Dennis Paoli, William Norris, Stuart Gordon | Music: Richard Band | Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson

 

 

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