Reviewing All 'Re-Animator' Movies in Order of Release
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.
It's Brian Yuzna making a film adaptation of a TV idea by director Stuart Gordon, who wanted to adapt this story after realizing on a conversation among friends that there were too many Dracula films and few Frankenstein ones.
1) Re-Animator (1985)
The first time we see the now-iconic 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, 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. 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 eighty-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’s why the arrival of the stoic, arrogant and disturbing Herbert West to this new place feels even more disruptive and threatening.
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, 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’s 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.
Re-Animator started an understandable cult phenomenon. This is an odd movie, with a definitely campy tone that, contrary to expectations, it 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.
Bride of the Re-Animator (1989)
Five years later, the inevitable sequel appeared. Bride of the Re-Animator, with Brian Yuzna doing everything this time (he produces, co-writes and directs), takes up the story eight months after the events of the first film.
The plot of Bride of the Re-Animator was a complete senseless insane mess where too many things happen at once. It is, without a doubt, a very inferior film compared to the original. But thanks to the logic being completely ignored, the bonker imagery offered in this movie are, in fact, very entertaining.
For instance, the main villain is a severed human head with bat wings for ears. There’s also a dog with a human arm. And a mustachioed, silent man with legs instead of arms.
With this second installment, the Re-Animator saga lost all its dignity, but it also won the free pass of experimenting with the most random, grotesque and over-the-top creatures. Claymation, splatstick and a lot of great makeup make the last act a truly unique experience.
All that, topped again with the insane deadpan performance of Jeffrey Combs, leading with a baton all the madness around him.
However, and perhaps motivated by the critical failure of Bride of Re-Animator, Brian Yuzna had to wait 13 years before he managed to complete the Re-Animator trilogy.
The resurrection of the saga came thanks to an unexpected country: Spain. Not only the whole movie was filmed in that country, but the majority of the cast and crew is of Spanish origin.
The Spanish contribution—of great quality—undoubtedly reinvigorated Yuzna, whose direction in this film is far superior to the previous one.
Beyond Re-Animator (2003)
The first thing Beyond Re-Animator does is to tackle the passage of time issue. Well, with some characters, because there’s no mention of characters like Dr. Hill or Dan.
Dr. West has spent all that time serving his sentence in prison. Even with the obvious limitations, he has managed to continue working on his theories, thanks to the supply of rats and some smuggled drugs. So, prison provides a great context for a deranged third part, surrendered to cheap and wonderful humor.
Beyond Re-Animator is well placed between the nice craftsmanship of Re-Animator and the total insanity of Bride of the Re-Animator.
What is the 'best' Re-Animator movie?
It offers exactly what a fan is looking for if he/she is still interested after watching the two previous films. Combs is still wonderful and this time he has some supporting characters equally grotesque and cartoonish that also offer moments equally shocking and fun. Above all, Simon Andreu steals some thunder.
Of course, there are dozens of absurd and glorious details. I will only mention one that should be the lock (or the dealbreaker) to watch this movie: There is a severed penis — from a bite, of course — that ends up reanimated and becoming the rival of a rat called Ratty.
The Re-Animator saga came, loudly exploded and gave everything it had. In our memory will forever be its over-the-top antics and above all, a memorable Jeffrey Combs, who since his debut in this saga became something like a cult, b-movie star par excellence. I hope you enjoyed the movie adaptations of Herbert West Reanimator.
© 2020 Sam Shepards