Saturday, October 8, 2016

Stubs – Re-Animator

Re-Animator (1985) Starring Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson, Jeffrey Combs. Director: Stuart Gordon Written by Stuart Gordon, William J. Norris, Dennis Paoli. Based on the short story "Herbert West--The Re-Animator" by H. P. Lovecraft in Home Brew (Feb--Jul 1922) Produced by Brian Yuzna. Color. Run Time: 86 minutes. USA. Horror, Science Fiction

In the world of horror, it is sometimes easy to go over-the-top, whether planned or unintentional. In the case of Re-Animator, it appears it was planned.

The film is not for everyone with its ample amounts of blood and nudity, sometimes even mixing the two.

If you ever felt there were too many vampire movies, you were not alone. The idea to make Re-Animator came from the director wanting to make a Frankenstein film rather than a Dracula one. Gordon's horror film credits included a TV movie version of the popular Bleacher Bums, a play he had directed.

Originally Re-Animator was going to written for the stage, then as a half-hour TV pilot before being considered for a TV series. But writing 13 episodes gave way to Gordon, along with William J. Norris and Dennis Paoli, adapting H.P. Lovecraft’s serialized novella “Herbert West--Re-Animator" for the big screen with Brian Yuzna producing.

The production, which had a budget of $2 million, began production in Los Angeles on November 28, 1984, for a six-week shoot. This would be the bloodiest film makeup artist John Naulin had ever worked on. Rather than 2 gallons of blood, which he normally used in horror films, they used 24 gallons on Re-Animator.

So gruesome was the film that the producers feared they would receive an “X” rating if it was rated by the MPAA. But a film with an “Unrated” status has certain restrictions going against it. Television spots were denied in Chicago and the Los Angeles Times refused ads, to name a few. The film would eventually receive an “R” rating in 1986 about nine months after it was released. That version would originally be released on home video by Vestron Video.

The film opens at the Universität Zürich Institut Für Medizin in Sweden, though it sounds like people are actually speaking German. Police have been called to the school and, with encouragement from colleagues, end up breaking down the door to Dr. Hans Gruber’s laboratory. There they find his student, Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), standing over Gruber’s (Al Berry)_shaking body. The syringe in his hand is filled with a glowing green substance. While they watch, Gruber’s head explodes and Herbert is initially accused of killing him, but the student claims to have given him life.

Herbert West's (Jeffrey Combs) actions are misconstrued when he tries and
 fails to reanimate his mentor, Dr. Hans Gruber (Al Berry).

While you’re still thinking that over, the film moves to the Miskatonic Medical School in Arkham, Massachusetts, where medical student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) attempts to revive a patient with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). But try as he might he can’t bring her back and his colleagues insist the woman is dead and make him give up.

Dan takes the body to the hospital morgue and is introduced by Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson) to new transfer student, Herbert West. When Herbert meets Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), he accuses the professor of plagiarizing Dr. Gruber’s work and calls Dr. Hill’s theory about the brainstem remaining alive for six minutes after death “outdated.”

Everything seems to going well for med students Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott)
and his fiancee Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton).

Meanwhile, Dan posts a notice seeking a roommate and returns home and has sex with his fiancée, Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), the dean’s daughter. She worries about what will happen if her old-fashioned father finds out about her sex life with Dan and promises to marry him as soon as he graduates.

After she dresses and is on the way out, who should be at the door but Herbert with Dan’s ad for a roommate. After a quick tour of the house, which to Herbert’s liking includes a basement, Herbert offers Dan cash so that he can move in immediately. Megan finds Herbert rather creepy, but money talks and Dan lets Herbert move in.
The next day, in a rather small medical school class, the students watch Dr. Hill rather matter-of-factly remove a brain from a corpse. Everything he says is met with Herbert breaking his pencil, which irritates Hill to the point that he ends the class, but on the way out Herbert once again insults the professor, who admits to looking forward to failing him.

That evening, Dean Helsey has Dr. Hill over to his house to toast him for receiving a grant regarding a new medical invention, a surgical laser. While Megan had made the meal, she is about to leave with Dan for a study date. But Dr. Hill makes a suggestive toast about Megan, making his interest in her quite clear. After they leave, he warns the Dean about letting her date a student.

Back at his place, Megan resists Dan’s advances, instead expressing her dislike of Herbert. When Dan’s cat, Rufus, isn’t around, they search for him, but Megan goes into Herbert’s bedroom. In his mini-refrigerator, she discovers Rufus’s dead body. Herbert catches her, but Megan accuses him of killing Rufus. She calls in Dan, but Herbert claims to have found the animal dead. When Dan inquiries about the strange, glowing liquid in Herbert’s fridge, he’s told to mind his own business.

Dan's cat, Rufus, is found in a mini-fridge in Herbert's room.

Later, Dan is awakened by strange sounds, which lead him down to the basement. There he finds Herbert being attacked by Rufus, who has come back to life. Rufus attacks both men and Dan kills the creature by throwing it against the wall.

Even mangled, the dead cat is brought back to life.

Afterward, Herbert shares his re-animation theory and reveals his “re-agent” serum to Dan. He claims that life is really a chemical balance which his serum corrects. He asks Dan for his help, and to prove that it works, injects the mutilated cat, which twitches back to life. Megan arrives un-expectantly and is shocked to see what they have done.

Later, Dan explains Herbert’s discovery to Dean Halsey, but Halsey won’t listen. Instead, he threatens to take Dan’s student loans away and has Herbert expelled. But Dan sneaks Herbert into the morgue by pretending he’s a corpse. Once there in there, they search for a suitable corpse and inject it with the serum.

Megan follows her father when he comes looking for Herbert and Dan to the school. When he finds they’re in the morgue, he has someone watch Megan and goes down to take care of them.

Dan sneaks Herbert into the morgue to look for fresh prospects for his experiments.

Meanwhile, Dan and Herbert believe the serum has failed, but just then the corpse returns to zombie-like life and attacks them, you know the way the undead would do. The serum gives the corpse super strength (why wouldn’t it) and when the Dean arrives, the corpse breaks down the door and attacks him.

A reanimated corpse attacks and kills Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson).

Herbert uses a bone saw to kill the corpse, but they discover the dean has died. Herbert convinces Dan that the dean is now a “fresh” corpse and he injects the dean with the serum. Megan sneaks away and walks into the morgue as her father, again pleased with super strength, is choking both Dan and Herbert. Frothing at the mouth with blood, his colleagues assume the dean has gone insane and lock him up in a straitjacket. Dr. Hill asks Megan to sign a release allowing him to experiment on her father, which she reluctantly agrees to sign. Dr. Hill also makes a bit of a play for Megan, saying he’ll be there for her.

Later, Dan confesses to Megan that her father is actually dead and has been reanimated.

Meantime, Dr. Hill visits Herbert in his basement laboratory and reveals he knows the dean is dead. Dr. Hill bullies Herbert into sharing his research with him, even bragging what fame it will bring to himself. While Dr. Hill is looking through a microscope, Herbert attacks him with a shovel, knocking him to the ground and then beheading him. For unknown reasons, Herbert then injects Dr. Hill’s severed head and body with the serum. He places the doctor’s head on a tray and takes notes on the experiment. Dr. Hill’s head is alive and is somehow still controlling his headless body, which he wills to attack Herbert, slamming his head on the table and knocking him out.

Herbert is about to be attacked by the decapitated body of Dr. Hill (David Gale).

Dan and Megan visit her father and discover that Dr. Hill has lobotomized him with his laser beam. The subdued dean cowers in the corner. Meanwhile, Dan finds a file that Dr. Hill kept on Megan, containing pieces of her hair and indicating his obsession with her.

When Herbert regains consciousness, he discovers that not only are Dr. Hill’s head and body gone, but so is his serum and notes. When Dan returns home, Herbert confesses to Dr. Hill’s murder and re-animation.

Meanwhile, the two parts of Dr. Hill returns to his office and he has his body inject him with more serum, increasing his cognitive ability and to feed him fresh blood from his fridge. He then releases Dean Halsey and sends him to kidnap Megan.

Worried about Megan, Dan checks on her. After they share a tearful reconciliation, they are attacked by Dean Halsey, who beats up Dan and takes his daughter. Later, Herbert finds Dan and they go back to the morgue.

The zombie-like Halsey kidnaps Megan and strips her for the pleasure of  Dr. Hill's head.

Halsey takes his unconscious daughter to the morgue and lays her down next to Dr. Hill’s head. Halsey then strips off her clothes and she is strapped down by Dr. Hill’s body. His hands begin to molest her breasts. She regains consciousness and screams as Dr. Hill’s body picks up his head and holds it to her ear. He licks her face and, with the help of his hands, moves down her body with the intent on orally raping her.

Dr. Hill is abusing Megan when Dan and Herbert arrive to stop him.

That’s when Dan and Herbert arrive. While Herbert confronts Dr. Hill, Dan frees Megan and puts his shirt on her to cover her. But Dr. Hill isn’t finished; he has apparently injected the serum into the other corpses in the lab and performed lobotomies on them. On his command, they spring to life and attack the boys.

Dr. Hill has Herbert captured and begins to perform a laser lobotomy on him as well. Megan tries to reason with her father, and after he seems to recognize her, he turns his attack on Dr. Hill, crushing his detached head.

Dean Halsey kills Dr. Hill by crushing his head.

Meanwhile, Herbert injects Dr. Hill’s headless body with more serum, but instead of getting some sort of warped revenge, the corpse’s intestines spring from his body and wrap themselves around Herbert. Elsewhere, the corpses make a mess of the morgue and one ends up releasing a gas that everyone succumbs to.

Dan tries to save Megan in the ER but fails.

Before the couple can flee in the elevator, they are attacked by one of the reanimated corpses and Megan is choked. Dan runs to get a hatchet and chops off the creature’s hand, but the damage has already been done to Megan. Up in the ER, Dan tries to resuscitate her and performs CPR, but to no avail. Once again, his colleagues have to get him to stop. They leave him alone in the room. Dan leans over to kiss Megan goodbye before he remembers Herbert’s serum. As the lights go out, Dan professes his love for her before he injects the glowing liquid into her brainstem.

Desperate times call for desperate measures as Dan decides
to inject Megan with the re-animating serum.

Megan lets out a scream in the darkness.

I will be the first to admit that Re-Animator is not my kind of movie. There were several can’t-look sequences, most of them having to do with blood and brains. At times the movie was very predictable, as if I could tell what was going to happen before it did. But knowing what might not happen does not mean you’re always prepared for what does come.

Of course, most of the film is beyond unbelievable, but once you start down that slippery slope it is apparently hard to stop. There is no explanation for how a head cannot only live without a body but order that body to function independently.

I was not really familiar with any of the actors before I saw the film, but I can say Jeffrey Combs was nearly perfectly cast as the sleazy and creepy Herbert West. While you don’t like his character, he is hard not to look at.

Bruce Abbott is sort of like the straight man in a comedy duo; he doesn’t have as much to work with as the partner, but he still has to do his job so the other can do his. Dan Cain is strictly a good man led astray by a more cunning foe. Intrigued by Herbert’s discovery, he lets himself be dragged into situations he would normally have avoided.

While Barbara Crampton may have started acting in soaps, she apparently has no qualms about working in the nude. In her first film, Body Double (1984), her one big scene is her having sex. In this film, she appears completely naked several times and is the object of a rather sick sequence. Not only does her father strip her as a present for Dr. Hill, the late doctor’s decapitated head molests her. Besides the gallons of blood used, this is one of the film’s more over-the-top moments.

A film score is an important element to the experience and knowing that, Richard Band, the film’s composer, borrowed quite heavily from Bernard Herrmann’s score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), which he considers one of the best written for a horror film. While he wanted to give Herrmann an acknowledgment in the credits, it wasn’t there when he saw the credits and he didn’t have the money to have them redone. So don’t be surprised if it sounds like you’ve heard it before, even though it does seem to work here as well.

Composer Richard Band purposefully stole Bernard
Herrmann's score for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960).

While the film was only a mild success at the box-office, Re-Animator has become a cult classic.

Entertainment Weekly, according to the blurb on the Blu-Ray box, considers it “one of the greatest horror movies ever made.” While I hate to disagree with the EW, I can’t say that’s my opinion.

The film would spawn two movie sequels: Bride of the Re-Animator (1990) directed by Brian Yuzna and starring Combs and Abbott, and Beyond Re-Animator (2003) directed by Yuzna and starring Combs. There is also another H.P. Lovecraft-based film, From Beyond (1986) directed by Gordon and starring Combs and Crampton. There is always the threat of a fourth Re-Animator, but Yuzna has not yet made good. Believe it or not, a musical adaptation of Re-Animator was made and opened on Broadway in 2011.

There are certain people who will definitely like this movie, but they probably would have already seen it by now. If you like your blood and brains served with an ample side of breasts, then this is the film for you to watch this Halloween or anytime you want to subject yourself.

While I’m happy that I’ve seen the film, I don’t think I’ll be re-watching it again anytime soon. Sometimes your curiosity can be resolved without wanting to go through it again.

Be sure to check out other Horror films in our Horror Films Review Hub.

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