Immortal Greed - "Re-Animator" Review

Updated on May 3, 2019
Sam Shepards profile image

Hi, I'm Sam, I love movies. My main interest is science fiction and zombie movies. Pessimistic and survival films I also enjoy a lot.

First things first, the H.P. Lovecraft namedropping can be somehow misleading. Yes, Re-Animator is an adaptation of a Lovecraft short story called Herbert West-Reanimator, but the adaptation is really loose and full of creative liberties. Also, Lovecraft himself publicly neglected that story, arguing that he had been forced to, among other things, write cliffhangers, which he really hated.

The bottomline is that if you expect a deep Lovecraftian tone, you will most likely come out slightly disappointed with Re-Animator.

The first time we see Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), he's at the University of Zurich, in an environment that looks too post-Nazi-y despite the fact that the story occurs in the mid-80s. His mentor, Dr. Hans Gruber (one of the most antagonistic German names of all time) has passed away and West has managed to revive it with a mysterious radioactive-green serum.

However, the reanimation doesn't go according to plan. Agonizing and with a constant scream of pain, the doctor ends up "re-dying" after suffering a frightful torture, like the explosion of his eyes, for example.

West admits that the dose was incorrect. But when he is accused of having killed Gruber, the doctor responds with the chilling assurance of a psychopath: "I gave him life!"

This is how Re-Animator shows its main character while generating an intro that looks like a tribute to Saul Bass, with an eighties-dated version of Bernard Herrmann's Psycho theme.

At the Miskatonic University in New England, a more ethical and accepted type of medicine is practiced. Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) is one of the apprentices of Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale). Dan has a love affair with Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), the daughter of medical school's dean Alan Halsey (Robert Sampson). Life is, without a doubt, much more standard.

That is why the arrival of the stoic, arrogant and disturbing Herbert West to this new place feels even more disruptive and threatening. Because, in addition to being part of the medical team and publicly labeling Dr. Hill's work as "outdated," West has also managed to rent the room available at Dan's home. The professional and personal worlds of these characters will undoubtedly be shaken.

The interesting thing about Re-Animator is that it doesn't follow the easy trope of the intruder who slowly and progressively destroys other innocent lives. Yes, West does terrible things such as experimenting with Dan's cat (which he says he found already dead), but the moment he shows that he has a serum that really revives dead organisms, curiosity and greed take possession of the other characters that were supposed to fulfill the simple role of victims.

And that is the great motif of Re-Animator, one also quite peculiar for a film that borders on splatter and exploitative cinema: The destructive power of greed over ethics.

Dan, for example, becomes West's number one collaborator, to the point of seeing how the reanimated corpse of a bodybuilder murders Dr. Halsey and ending up assisting West to revive his father-in-law, all in the name of science.

Dr. Hill is also seduced by West's unethical but undoubtedly revolutionary discovery, to the point of blackmailing West to give up his findings. Of course, he will end up beheaded. But the destructive force of the ambition will continue. West's obsessive desire to continue experimenting with his out-of-the-law resuscitative serum will lead him to revive Dr. Hill ... separately.

This is how Hill becomes the biggest villain: a creature with a separate head that somehow manages to mentally control other reanimated corpses.

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Re-Animator steps on the madness accelerator in its last minutes, completely abandoning all logic. Hill's intentions don't make much sense, considering that they are rational enough to have some level of planning.

In the end, everything seems a mere excuse to successfully cross the exploitation boundaries: there is a scene in which Megan, tied and naked, has to suffer an oral rape courtesy of Dr. Hill's severed head.

And honestly, it works. The beautiful craftsmanship of the practical effects offers irresistible dark humor vibes.

The cult around Re-Animator is understandable. This is an odd movie, with a definitely campy tone that, contrary to expectations, grows gradually instead of being a festival of madness and blood from the beginning. Its dry humor tone, with openly deadpan deliveries, gives an extra touch to this constant descent into madness.

And above all, Jeffrey Combs gives a classic performance in the horror genre. West is an enigmatic, disturbing and theatrical character who at times works as a protagonist, antagonist and even an antihero.

West is a mistrustful human being, to say the least, but the relativity of his moral compass is the perfect guide for the intentionality of this story.

Title: Re-Animator

Release Year: 1985

Director(s): Stuart Gordon

Writer(s): H.P. Lovecraft, Dennis Paoli

Actors: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, a.o.

5 stars for Re-Animator

© 2019 Sam Shepards

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