I love when a horror movie pushes the so-called acceptable limits, and rather rips up the envelope of decent standards, horror is a harsh word, it doesn’t do well with niceties, rather horror fans and viewers shall encourage and applaud those who are faithful by delivering the goods, just like with The Evil Dead  or Dead Alive . Hence director and writer Stuart Gordon (RIP) originally intended to be fully dedicated to the serious telling and adapting of the beloved H.P. Lovecraft’s serial novelette of 1922 entitled, “Herbert West–Reanimator”; however, somehow it was turned on its head, and made into a slick horror film with some comedic lines, but definitely not slapstick shenanigans with undertones to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein story as well as the 1931 film. Lovecraft’s work has constantly been a source of material for the genre to explore even prior to this flick and well after. Screenwriter Dennis Paoli (The Pit and the Pendulum ) joined in on the mayhem, and so did William Norris (Restoration ). Gordon showed his inspirations of Lovecraft’s work throughout his career directing such films From Beyond , Castle Freak , and Dagon , all in thanks due to instant success with Re-Animator that earned cult status long ago and was championed by the audience for years to the present day. The movie was originally released by Empire Pictures, and since has had numerous companies earn distribution rights, and released the film on every format possible, each country and time the fans thoroughly enjoyed its age now in 2020, as 35-years-old still holds surprisingly well. I should note this review is solely about the original release, in time I’ll do another review that will focus on the Arrow Video Release featuring the limited edition with nearly 24-hours of features.
I’m going to attempt to avoid some of the spoilers in the review, simply knowing most have seen it, there’s still others that overlooked this gory movie of the 80s that beautifully bloomed thanks to the VHS market. So many of the films of then with a daily supplement of gore, blood, splatter, nudity and a series of laughable moments, this movie incorporated all those pieces. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs (Dark House )), is a medical student, who’s attitude and mentality mirrors that of Victor Frankenstein, as he transfers to the Miskatonic University with special secretive green glowing serum to resurrect the dead, he’s there to advance his knowledge and experiments. He takes up resident as roommate with Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott (Bad Dreams )) however his girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton (Reborn )) is very leerily of his new housemate. West doesn’t stall too long before experimenting on lovely cat Rufus and coerces Dan to join him in his twisted experiments. Dan and Megan’s chemistry are slightly disjointed, as if unsure how to handle the script and their relationship, it doesn’t affect too much as Combs grabs hold of every scene he’s in to the fullest. Rufus also does a performance audition for a future Pet Sematary  but sadly he doesn’t get that but does a fair amount of prowling about in few scenes. It might confuse a few of whom the true villain is in the movie West or a medical rival name Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale (Savage Weekend )) who has his own thoughts both on the serum and sexual desires on Megan. This next part is a bit of a spoiler will remind some viewers of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die ; but really it must be noted for its true originality, Hill loses his head, yet still has feverish lip-smacking desire for Megan who was captured, stripped bare on the medical table and his hands hold his disembodied head so he can yodel in the valley. That scene alone generates cult-movie status! As the insanity continued, so much lunacy occurs, exploding body parts, homicidal maniacs, a crazed father Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson (City of the Living Dead )), undead limbs moving on their own, blood, guts, and gore galore.
Let’s start with opening score, which is heard from Richard Band, that clearly borrows from Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho  perhaps even serving as a remix version, and secondly the opening credits titles done with a homage to Saul Bass’ work on Vertigo  both films are from director Alfred Hitchcock. Aside from that, what occurs in the movie, namely the gratifying special effects, and with all the principal pieces for under a million is an incredible feat alone. Their solutions sometimes were either simple or relied on actors’ assistance to pull off the illusion, for example, the “re-agent” was merely a glowstick liquid and then Combs’ physical performance with the cat was marvelous. The makeup effects had a dynamic team involved in making sure to spread the blood (24-gallons) and gore all about the sets in sickening style possible, two of the key personnel were John Naulin (Jack’s Back  and (Critters ) and John Carl Buechler (Mausoleum ). This film and great talents behind the camera, thanks to first cinematography from Mac Ahlberg (DeepStar Six ) that works very well with Gordon’s director, and even after the movie wrapped, editing came the skillful hands of Lee Percy (Dolls  another film by Stuart made sure to eliminate anything that hinder the swiftness of story.
Gordon, who passed on in March 2020, left a wonderful resume of horror films for the fans to watch repeatedly, thrilling, and insane moments, sometimes perhaps overacting, nonetheless, it all makes you check the logic at the door, encourages one to sit and feed on the frenzied scenes. The filmmakers repeat two rules keep it simple and tell the story in the straightest line possible, drop comedic line sometimes, understand that its not required to be so serious, just let the heads rolls, pour on thew gore, and splash everything in blood.
- P. Lovecraft’s classic tale of horror
- Death Is Just The Beginning…
- Herbert West Has A Very Good Head On His Shoulders… And Another One In A Dish On His Desk
- It will scare you to pieces.
IMDb Rating: 7.2/10
Baron’s Rating: 7.5/10
Bride of Re-Animator (1990)
Beyond Re-Animator (2003)
Corpse-O-Rama (2001) (Video) adapts same story