Director Stuart Gordon reached new heights of inspired gore with his debut – a witty and well-paced tale of an unstable researcher who has discovered a way of reanimating dead tissue.
Based on the H P Lovecraft short story collection Herbert West: Re-Animator, the film combines all of the stories into one film.
Jeffrey Combs as the title character is a creepy yet strangely likeable medical student who has invented a serum that brings the dead back to life . . . sort of.
Herbert transfers from a medical school ‘somewhere in Switzerland’ (when one of his experiments goes awkwardly awry) to the fictitious Miskatonic University in Massachusetts.
Unfortunately, his headstrong opinions clash with those of eminent medical school professor Dr Carl Hill (David Gale), another mad scientist who wants to steal Herbert’s ideas.
Herbert is expelled and forced to continue his experiments in his basement.
His clean-cut fellow med student housemate Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) is shocked by the experiments at first, but his curiosity slowly compels him to cooperate.
Dan’s fiancée Megan (Barbara Crampton) is beautiful and – for convenience of plot – she is also the Dean’s daughter.
As West’s behaviour becomes more irresponsible his experiments veer out of control. The re-animations escalate into chaos and Dan realises he’s in over his head. Soon, erstwhile corpses develop minds of their own, leading to a head-on clash between re-animators and re-animated.
When attempting a horror-comedy hybrid it is very easy to slip too far in either direction, but this movie mixes the grotesque with humour perfectly. The two genres intersect most blatantly when both the slang term and a literal interpretation of ‘giving head’ fuse in a now-legendary scene.
Every bit of gore was conceived, engineered and executed through the craftsmanship of makeup artist Anthony Doublin and FX creator John Naulin. Their special effects are even more impressively macabre considering the low budget (less than $1 million) and the fact that the film was made in the pre-CGI era.
They managed to create severed heads, flying intestines and other body parts, murderous naked cadavers and some interesting dissection scenes.
There are some rather memorable snippets of dialogue, including “Cat dead – details later” and “I had to kill him.” “You mean he’s dead?” “Not any more!”
The film won a critics’ prize for science fiction at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.
Dr Carl Hill