Released in 1985, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short and strange tale, ‘Herbert West – Re-Animator’. A science-fiction horror imbued with comedy, the film stars Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton and Bruce Abbot. Currently maintaining an impressive score of 95% on reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film was loved by critics and soon after its release, it received a strong cult following. A fan-favourite amongst many cultists, Re-Animator received two sequels, Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and the Spanish film Beyond Re-Animator (2003).
Re-Animator follows the story of one genius scientist, Herbert West (Combs), who believes he has the correct formula to bring people back from the dead. He meets the young, impressionable Dan Cain, a colleague at medical school who is currently living with fiancée Megan Halsey (Crampton). Together, the two med-students put West’s strange practices to the test. Of course, bringing people back from the dead comes with a few surprises; animalistic, violent re-animated corpses. Much to the dismay of Megan Halsey, Cain and West give birth to a terrifying set of events.
It’s essentially a modern day Frankenstein story, within the same vein of Sam Raimi’s acclaimed Evil Dead series. It’s brought to life with some great lead performances, who perfectly work their way around some strikingly bloody scenes. There’s a moment in the film when you realise Re-Animator isn’t your run-of-the-mill horror, and that’s clear when West and Cain are fighting off a frenzied, zombified cat in a basement. It’s a ridiculous scene, but Combs and Abbot sell it perfectly.
Of course, one of the main reasons Re-Animator has been such a hit with cultists is thanks to Jeffrey Combs. Whilst Bruce Abbot and Barbara Crampton – amongst others – bring to the operating table some great acting, it’s down to Combs who leads with a truly memorable character. He’s a crazed scientist, trying to bring people back from the dead. He’s attempting to defy the laws of nature, trying to save mankind – but his methods to accomplish this are questionable and unorthodox, to say the least.
Combs is a well-known figure with cultists – partly due to his appearances in the Star Trek series – and fans have driven Re-Animator into its current status within cinema. No stranger to horror and sci-fi conventions, Combs has attended many around the world for his fans. Of course, the sheer level of gore and ridiculousness that the film contains is also a main reason for its cult, but without Combs, Re-Animator would not be the same film.
Re-Animator is almost unrivalled with its slapstick horror, later providing audiences with one visual gag that is creepy, funny and downright disgusting all at the same time. John Naulin, the make-up artist for Re-Animator, reportedly stated that 24 gallons of fake blood were used for the movie, and he faced his biggest challenges with some of the creative designs later used on the film. That can clearly be noticed, especially towards the last 15 minutes of the movie. An insane set of events lead to a superb ending, throwing shocks and surprises left, right and centre.
There is no doubt that Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator belongs with some of the greats in cult cinema. It shook the genre up and injected it with some great displays of practical special effects, horror and humour. It later spawned two sequels, a strong following and even a musical. This was Stuart Gordon’s first feature film, and it can be argued that the director hasn’t matched this remarkable piece of work yet. If you’re looking to grab Re-Animator, track down a copy that the BBFC haven’t got their dirty hands all over. They’ve cut out just under two minutes, which undermines the horrors of one particular character.
“Who’s gonna believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow.”