Straight out of the 1980s came ‘Re-Animator,’ an amazing film that somehow took zombies, gore, comedy, and an unknown cast, threw it all together, and created a one-of-a-kind experience for zombie and horror lovers everywhere.
H.P. Lovecraft wrote the serialized story ‘Herbert West: Re-Animator’ back in the early 1920s, proving to be stunningly ahead of his time in his descriptions and depictions of re-animating the dead. Even though the 1985 movie we’re talking about here shares the same name and a few characters and locations, make no mistake: this movie is its own entity, brought to life by the writing team and the performances of its cast, most notably the over-the-top personification of the titular Dr. West played to perfection by Jeffrey Combs. ‘Re-Animator’ is, quite simply, a unique movie-watching experience, not likely to be reproduced any time soon, if ever.
‘Re-Animator’ is old-school fun. From the opening scene with it’s one random zombie through the “it’s over…or is it?” ending, the movie keeps the viewer engaged and wanting more. Sure, the look of the film has gotten a little dated, but that’s part of what makes it grand. ‘Re-Animator’ is a great example of a “splatter film” made in the prime of splatter films, the ‘80s.
As mentioned above: even though this film is based on the Lovecraft story of the same name, the movie is a loose adaptation at best; much of the story, including many locations, plot points, and the “modernization,” belong solely to the creators of the film (writers William Norris, Dennis Paoli, and writer/director Stuart Gordon). The movie scores bonus points for details that are pretty unique to zombie cinema, including a severed zombie head that can still control it’s body, varying levels of the zombies’ abilities based on the “freshness” of the body, a reanimated “zombie kitty,” and who can forget the synthesized, glowing “re-agent” that must be injected directly into the body’s pituitary gland. The true “high mark” of the film is that so many of its ideas and concepts are so unique and specific to the story of this film that they haven’t been replicated by other zombie movies.
Every film has it’s “Achilles heel,” and in my opinion, ‘Re-Animator’’s biggest problem lies in some of the “practical” questions. It feels weird criticizing the “realism” of a movie whose premise in based on a magical serum that can bring dead bodies back into various stages of animation, but stay with me here…most of my qualms refer to the plot ignoring the laws of physics as they would relate to what’s going on in the movie. For example, when Dr. Hill’s head is decapitated but then re-animated, how can he still speak when his mouth has been detached from his windpipe and vocal chords? Why does his severed head seem to be struggling to breathe until he is placed in a pool of blood—he shouldn’t struggle to breathe without lungs, and shouldn’t the blood go through what’s left of his trachea and come out of his mouth? There’s more, but I feel silly getting this detailed on a zombie movie.
The movie is well-paced, with the Unrated version of the film actually clocking in at nine minutes shorter than the theatrical cut (95 mins theatrical, 86 mins unrated). The gore is astounding, plentiful, and looks great for an ‘80s film – according to the DVD commentary, the special effects supervisor used 24 gallons of fake blood throughout shooting. Awesome!
I would put this in the “must-see” category for any true horror fan, particularly if you’re into zombies. It’s a unique spin on a fairly standard tale, and the performances of the cast coupled with the great effects really put this movie over the top. See this movie first if you haven’t already – and then go see the two sequels, ‘Bride of Re-Animator’ and ‘Beyond Re-Animator,’ soon after!