Back in the late 1980s, a string of movies started showing on our local channel—KBHK-TV, Channel 44—that featured some cool movies. One thing that stood out was that the movies played commercial-free and unedited, meaning they didn’t bleep out the bad language and showed everything, from nudity to some gory stuff. A few of them were teen comedies, some actioners and dramas, but the one I most remember was a relatively unknown film—by me anyway—called Re-Animator.
Now, looking back, I have no idea why that local channel decided to play these movies uncensored and without commercials. Nowadays, I know a lot of basic cable channels will play films, or even television shows, with adult content or some bad language, but it’s usually during late night and they still limit what can be shown and said in these broadcasts. But when I first saw Re-Animator, it was still the late 80s and we were still quite a few years away from all these hundreds of channels that are now available and have discretionary warnings before adult oriented films and shows.
However, when I saw Re-Animator on our local channel’s broadcast all those years ago, I was shocked. Not only because channel 44 was showing a film with such gore and violence, peppered with bad language and nudity, but because of how well the special effects were accomplished and why I was seeing this movie for the first time without ever hearing about it prior to that viewing.
--------Warning: Spoilers ahead--------
Directed by Stuart Gordon, the 1985 film is about a highly intelligent student, Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), who arrives at Miskatonic University in New England and rents a room from a fellow student, Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). He uses the basement of the house as a lab and conducts secret experiments that Dan is unaware of. Soon it’s revealed that West has created a serum that can bring the dead back to life…albeit, with deadly results.
Re-Animator is a brilliant film, from start to finish—and if you’re a horror aficionado like me, you’re really going to enjoy this motion picture. Although the story borrows heavily from Frankenstein and is loosely based on an H.G. Lovecraft story, the end result of Gordon’s direction and modern take is astounding. The film is shocking in what it shows and accomplishes throughout, never holding back and you even get the feeling this might’ve bypassed the MPAA when it was released. If it weren’t for some silly moments and other brazen sexual tones that seemed unnecessary, I would consider this a masterful classic.
Jeffrey Combs was magnificent as Herbert West, the way he played him so smug and full of himself—he was definitely a character you loved to hate. What stopped you—the audience—from rooting against him was the fact that the story placed the antagonism on the character of Dr. Hill. And it’s a complete turn-around, because at first we see that West is so arrogant and complacent when he first shows his hostility during Hill’s class, complete with breaking pencils (what’s up with that?), but then Hill puts him in his place. When Hill becomes interested in West’s background and starts snooping around, threatening the student with exposure to what he’s been doing, then we cheer for West—even when he kills Hill in such a gruesome manner.
For a pre-CGI film, there are some great special effects used here, particularly, the headless corpse of Dr. Hill. Although you can probably decipher how they performed these gags, the scenes are still effective and can probably spoil ones lunch or dinner if they view this film during those times. A lot of scenes in this flick show some really horrific and visceral imagery, one will need quite an ironclad stomach to get through them.
I’d mentioned earlier, there is some sexual content that really didn’t serve too much purpose in this film other than to shock the audience and give it a gross-out scene. The part I’m referring to is Hill’s headless corpse, holding onto its (Hill’s) head and giving…uh…head…to Dan Cain’s girlfriend, Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton). I still can’t believe she agreed to do this scene, as it’s degrading and vulgar. It’s such a sadistic and revolting part of the film that I really feel it had no reason to be in there. I get that Dr. Hill had a thing for Megan, but they could’ve easily showed the same scene with her clothed and maybe had the corpse’s head kissing her face instead of forcibly performing cunnilingus on the girl.
The music featured in Re-Animator is very interesting as the composer, Richard Band, blatantly ripped off the opening theme from the Bernard Herrmann-composed Psycho. But it’s effective and fits the tone of the movie nicely, so no complaints here.
I don’t know why, but I think the coolest thing about this film is the serum used throughout the film as the resurrecting agent that Herbert West created. I think it’s because of the fluorescent green color that stands out against everything else you see in the scene when it’s being used. Perhaps we, the audience, are so used to fictitious chemicals utilized in other films to be the color of water or other matter that don’t stand out. But with the glowing green we see with this one, it almost seems like it’s a real working compound. The short of it—it just looks stylish.
I’d mentioned some silly moments, but there’s really only one I can remember. It happens early on in the film when Megan discovers Dan’s cat, dead, in the fridge of West’s basement lab. After some arguing and as a way to prove that he didn’t kill the cat on purpose (although, it’s debatable after we see some of the other things he does throughout the film), West reveals what he has been working on. He injects the dead cat’s spine with the bright green liquid, showing that it brings the feline back to life. The cat goes nuts and they try to catch it as it runs around the dark in the basement lab. At one point, the cat attacks West, but it’s such a cheesy Ed Wood-esque scene as we see that Jeffrey Combs is basically holding the fake stuffed cat to himself as he thrashes around. It’s kind of funny, but it’s still effective for some jump scares. Overall, I think they could’ve done a little better with the special effects in that scene.
So, my final “bit” on Re-Animator?
The film, as a whole, is a shocking and scary film, filled with a lot of gross-out special effects. It’s definitely a little known gem from the 80s horror era that doesn’t get its fair shake when the subject of 1980s horror comes up. The film, however, garnered a worthy sequel, Bride of Re-Animator, and a pretty decent one in 2003 with Beyond Re-Animator. I wish they’d make an additional sequel, as talks and rumors have been going around of a further chapter taking place in the White House. Besides all that, the original one should not be missed. Just don’t watch it any time around a meal.
Thanks for reading and enjoy the movies!