It’s 1985, and the time travelling masterpiece Back to the Future has been a huge critical and commercial success in ‘The States’. But who would guess that before the year was out, another masterpiece would be released: in the form of the ultra-violent, macabre shocker, Re-Animator. It’s been almost 30 years since the release of Stuart Gordon’s madcap gorefest that turned stomachs of even the most hardcore horror fans, so now seems as good a time as any to revisit our favourite mad scientist of the modern age: Dr Herbert West!
Re-Animator stars Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West, a mad scientist who invents a glowing fluorescent green serum, that in his own words “conquers brain death”. The only problem is any deceased body injected with the stuff re-animates with one goal: to Kill! Kill! Kill! Medical student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) and his girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton) get sucked into the ensuing madness when they rent out a room to Dr West. After the eye-popping (literally) opening, things start out slow, building in tension until the family cat becomes the first victim of Herbert’s experiments, turning it into a rage fuelled, psycho kitty that attacks anyone it sees (not too far from some cats I’ve known). Dan witnesses all of this, and is both terrified and amazed at the prospect of bringing dead things back to life. Before you know it, Dan and Herbert are both sneaking off to the hospital morgue (not unlike Dr Frankenstein and Fritz in Universals 1931 classic) to test the luminous serum on a human subject. As you might expect, things go horribly wrong when the awakened body overpowers the morbid duo and goes on a rampage, killing the medical schools dean (Robert Sampson), who also happens to be Megan’s father, leaving Dan in deep, deep trouble. Meanwhile, a professor at the school (David Gale) becomes aware of Herbert’s experiments and wants to steal his invention to use himself, creating a great rivalry between him and Herbert, ironically for a serum that doesn’t even work right.
The film is full of great, practical special effects and will completely satisfy any gorehound, and probably shock a fair few more too. But the real reason to see the movie is for Jeffrey Combs as Dr Herbert West. It’s a great performance that mixes creepiness with comedy. West cares for nothing but his work and will do anything and kill anybody to preserve it, just like a more extreme version of Dr Frankenstein. Herbert’s lack of respect is where a lot of the comedy in the film comes from: He’s always arguing with his teacher, stating his theory’s are outdated, and the house where his experiments are conducted, doesn’t even belong to him. It’s safe to say he’s a real arsehole, but a very entertaining one at that. The rest of the cast do a fine job too. Bruce Abbott is very likeable as Dan, the poor soul who becomes Herbert’s sidekick for the majority of the film. As is Barbara Crampton, who plays Dan’s girlfriend Megan. Her sweet natured and cheerful vulnerability is what sets her apart from the usual female slasher movie victims. In the end however, she does become somewhat of a damsel in distress, creating the most off the wall and rudely hilarious scene in the film, when Dr Hill’s decapitated head… gives head (or attempts to) to the helpless Megan.
Overall, Re-Animator is a shining example of an 80’s horror-comedy. Its scary and silly, borrowing from a lot of horror films like Frankenstein and Evil Dead, as well as the zombie genre, but gives it’s own funky twist (much like the score, which more than pays homage to Hitchcock’s Psycho). But it’s that funky 80s twist that makes the film feel so fresh and special. Believe me, nothing like this is made today. So check it out, it’s a hell of a good time.