Re-Animator is 1985's cult classic rendition of HP Lovecraft's Herbert West: Re-Animator. The movie is pretty true to Lovecraft's classic tale. If you don't want either spoiled for you, then probably don't read this. But come on, both are like . . . so old. Check out the trailer below and then our review even further below. But not if you're worried about spoilers. We talked about that. Try to keep up.
Jack: Re-Animator. Yeah, I’m starting another review with the title. It’s my thing I guess. In any case, it’s be en a little while since I’ve seen this movie, and Lovecraft is one of my favorite authors, and my absolute favorite horror author. I was excited to see it.
Jake: You son of a bitch. Every week. Every week you do this. And every week I comment on how stupid it is. And just now it becomes your thing...
Jack: Much like myself, this movie jumps right the fuck in. The movie has a cold-open that shows the main character, Herbert West, bringing his mentor and professor back to life. That guy’s name, by the way? Hans Gruber. Now this is pre Die Hard, so they certainly weren’t trying to reference that, but it’s still distracting. But that’s my problem, not the movie’s problem. The re-animation (hey, I see what they did there) goes awry, and there are horrific side effects. Everyone else present accuses West of murdering Gruber.
Jake: But he didn’t kill him. HE GAVE HIM LIFE, Jack. Life. It’s the greatest gift imaginable. After he explains himself via dramatic and over-delivered 80’s style one-liner, we jump right into a very over-cooked 80’s style title sequence. We’re talking a full song, neon lit name-cards, the works. They really put on the ritz, and it fit right in somehow.
Jack: Yeah, they are aggressively 80’s. Jeffrey Combs, the guy who plays West, deserves so much credit for his performance in this movie. It’s incredible. It’s so over the top, but in the best way. You hate him so much at the beginning of the movie.
Jake: He does an absurdly good job of being a pompous dicknose right out of the gate. They sell you on how unlikeable he is so early that I actually found it to be a pretty effective vehicle for pulling me into a movie that doesn’t really have a ton going for it from an acting standpoint. There’s actually some performances in here that, sans Combs, might have torn me right the fuck out of the whole thing. But he is simply so good that he hides many of its shortcomings just enough to keep you on board.
Jack: West has come to America to finish his studies, presumably because they drummed him out of medicine over in Germany for ‘killing’ Gruber. He is now studying under Dr. Hill, who is portrayed in a similarly over the top manner. The movie instantly establishes Hill as the main villain. He’s just such a god damned creep. He and West immediately get into it with each other. West gets 31 different flavors of uppity and tells Hill that he’ll never be as smart as Gruber was.
Jake: That’s interesting. I actually didn’t really get that feeling from Hill early on. In fact, during their first interaction, West comes in running & gunning and just plasters the guy with the most pretentious insults you could imagine. At first, I actually thought Hill would be the one to eventually take West down. Until the first time he eye-fucks Barbara Crampton’s character, the hero’s girlfriend, and has zero issue with layering on the creepy compliments. Then I knew he was gonna get it. Spoiler alert. Well, not really. We spoil the shit out of movies. It’s what we do. That and this shit came out in ‘85 so fuck you.
Jack: Plus, the characters are so over the top in their archetypes that anyone who didn’t see that shit coming anyway is likely too illiterate to be reading this. Although we do advocate and are selling this blog as a replacement for those how to read BOB Books.
Jake: West moves in with Dan Cain, another grad student at the prestigious and fake Miskatonic University (where Lovecraft seems to set all his shit) who has a ‘roommate-wanted’ poster up because that’s how the youths did it pre-Craigslist. There’s a brilliant scene that again pins West down as dickhead with zero social grace but who simply doesn’t give a damn. He beelines for the basement, deems it worthy of being his creepy mad-scientist lab, and immediately pulls out a wad of cash for Cain to seal the deal.
Jack: Immediately nailing West down as a top-notch weirdo, Cain’s girlfriend (played by Barbara Crampton), who also happens to be the dean of the med school’s daughter, goes snooping around West’s bedroom looking for her cat, and is horrified to find the dead cat jammed in the freezer compartment of West’s mini-fridge. She screams which summons the whole gang (Cain and West), and West explains that he didn’t kill the cat (seems dubious) and that he needs it for his research.
Jake: She doesn’t believe him for a second, and I don’t know if Cain does either but it's hard to tell because of his character. I’m not sure if it was inferior acting or if he was written as such, but the juxtaposition of him with West was pretty comical. You can go ahead and immediately slot him in as the Igor to West’s Frankenstein. Either way, this relationship is consecrated in one of the best sequences ever committed to film. Cain awakes to hear some shit going down. He grabs a baseball bat and finds the noises coming from West’s lab in the basement. He falls down the stairs and what do we get? We get a sequence of pure slapstick mayhem as the two try to dislodge the previously departed feline from West’s back. They finally get it off and it scurries around the room through the vents and cupboards. They finally lure it out and throw that fucker against the wall. It’s head explodes and it dies. Again.
Jack: It is so good. Although I actually think that it’s a little scarier than you’re giving it credit for. The way the stark overhead light starts swinging and illuminating only chunks of the room at a time in the cone of light is scary. Sure, there are comedic elements to that scene too, but I actually think it’s frightening as well.
Jake: Fair enough. It was too over the top for me to classify it as scary, but the movie does a damn fine job of building tension and using it to its advantage. Some of the shots in this scene definitely help with that too, as you mentioned.
Jack: Cain, now a believer in West’s serum, goes to the dean of the med school to tell him all about it. It’s a weird dynamic because it’s a dean/student vibe with a lot of father of the girl he’s dating vibe tossed in for good measure. And that leads to a complete tonal shift during this scene. What once was a creepy sci-fi movie with some comedic elements, now wholly becomes an Animal House-style college romp. The dean berates Cain for jumping into West’s lunacy with both feet, and I fully expected him to put Cain on double-secret-probation as well.
Jack: Never ones to be deterred by words like ‘no,’ or ‘don’t,’ or ‘STOP!,’ Cain and West decide to test West’s serum on the corpses in the hospital’s morgue. They have no trouble bypassing the clueless security guard, and then West starts rejecting the bodies for one reason or another like the fucking Goldilocks of corpses. Incidentally, “Goldilocks of corpses” was by far GWAR’s best album.
Jake: Cain follows West around, totally subservient to him at this point. I guess seeing your cat die, come back to life, die again, come back to life again and die again will make you reassess some things. And it is full-on college caper at this point in the film. The morgue’s aloof security guard alone would provide a tonal shift for the movie, but it’s layered with West being insanely picky in corpse selection and the dean losing his shit upstairs and putting his daughter in timeout like she’s a goddamn preschooler while he goes to take care of it like a man.
Jack: West eventually decides upon the corpse of a hulking strongman to test his serum. The reanimation scene is great. It’s genuinely creepy and unsettling. It’s tense too. Impressive, given that the serum is just the inside of a few glow-sticks. Plus the guy totally hangs dong too. It did not look like a button in a fur coat.
Jake: Don’t ‘inside of a few glow-sticks’ me like that. That green glow is the essence of life, man. There’s other instances of the same phenomenon, as well. Think about it. The Aggro Crag in Nickelodeon’s Guts gifted the winner a glowing piece of the mountain. It’s like the fountain of youth. Maybe West was the first one to find and harness the powers of the Aggro Crag, Jack, did you ever once consider that?
Jack: You know what Jake? I owe you an apology. I deservedly give you a lot of shit on this blog, but I’ll be damned if that wasn’t apt. West harnessing the power of the Aggro Crag is literally the only thing that makes sense.
Jake: Anyway, they reanimate the giant of a man they identify as their prime subject for the experiment and he goes postal. His brain was without oxygen for too long or some sciency bullshit explanation. I honestly wasn’t paying enough attention at that particular point because I was too busy wishing they would have cast Dolph Lundgren in the role.
Jack: The dean of the med school is unsuccessful in his attempts to dissuade Cain (double-secret probation never works, didn’t Bluto teach him anything?), and stumbles upon the poor man’s Dolph Lundgren zombie and freaks right the fuck out. Despite West’s and Cain’s best efforts, the Mr. Universe corpse kills the dean. Excited by the prospect of a fresher corpse, West plows forward and injects his serum into the dean’s still-fresh meat. The dean goes full-zombie, but the sight of his daughter triggers something in him, and he mellows just enough for the rest of the world to think he’s insane rather than reanimated. He gets committed to a padded room. The scene of him squirming around in that room is genuinely unsettling. It’s a great scene.
Jake: Yeah, aside from the walls of the room literally moving around when touched because of what I can only imagine were some budget limitations. It’s here that Hill really cements his creep-that-you-don’t-like status. He pretty much just saunters right up to Megan and says “Sorry about your dad. Want to plow?”
Jack: Combs continues to just kill it as West. He delivers what is unquestionably my favorite line of the whole dang movie at this point. West, when confronting questions about his methodology get’s real quiet and then says “Iiiiiii . . . am a scienTIST!” With upwards inflection on the last part of ‘scientist.’ It’s so weird, and unexpected, but great. Unfortunately, it’s only the second-best instance of a character telling someone that they’re a scientist:
Jake: It’s true. And if it wasn’t already clear enough at this point that Hill has no dick, he sneaks right into the padded room and lobotomizes the dean to prove that he isn’t insane but is in fact dead and has been reanimated by West. He takes that little nugget to West’s lab to crack some eggs and boy oh boy, do things take a turn.
Jack: Seems like a solid plan. Lunatics with ‘basement labs” who are unstable and unshackled by any sort of morality are best confronted on their home turf. West convinces Hill to look under a microscope, and while that’s going on, he decapitates him with a shovel. Props again go to Combs. The strange way he holds the shovel and then slinks off back into the darkness are terrifying.
Jake: Agreed. He plays the mad scientist so goddamn well that by this point in the film I was actually beginning to sympathize with and root for him a bit. Rather than be horrified at his decapitation of Hill, I was sort of locked in on his singular commitment to his studies. Either that or I was rooting for Hill to die because of what a fucking pervert he was. Probably both. Things don’t have to be black and white all the time. And speaking of committed to his craft, what does West do? He immediately injects Hill’s dead cranium with his serum, and in the process, discovers that he actually needs to give some of the Aggro Crag juice to the heart, as well as the brain, for it to work. And work it does despite... you know... the decapitation aspect. Hill comes back to life and knocks him out in another comedic scene. Hill’s retaliation for being decapitated with a shovel was basically to punch West out… Eye for an eye, as they say.
Jack: Hill’s body then grabs his head (these pronouns are getting difficult) as well as West’s work and notes, and makes his (its?) way back to the hospital. In a hilarious scene straight out of the Little Rascals, the corpse puts on a trench coat, and sticks a head on top of its neck in order to fool the hapless security guard.
Jake: Totally. It’s unbelievable how this movie meshes tension, gore and ludicrous, over-the-top humor so seamlessly. Even describing it right now makes me think there’s just no way someone could possibly envision what we are discussing as being part of a watchable movie. But it’s just so entertaining. As it builds towards the climax, every shot starts to become more and more full of comment-worthy material.
Jack: The corpse of Hill is able to make it past the crack security team because he’s pre-occupied. What is he pre-occupied with that would let him overlook a corpse with a cpr-dummy head trundling past? Oh, you know, that usual workplace activity of reading a Boudoir porno and chomping down on a cee-gar. Sure, maybe it’s spelled ‘cigar,’ but when you’re chomping on it like this mofo, it’s pronounced ‘cee-gar.’
Jake: After he died I kind of thought we would get a reprieve from Hill’s perversion. Nope. Turns out it just gets worse! In a bit of a confusing jump, Hill sends the dean to kidnap Megan. It’s an odd part of the film lacking explanation that seems to serve only to set up the climax - which involves his decapitated corpse holding his head while he sexually assaults Megan. It was hard to watch.
Jack: Yeah man, it fucking made me squirm. It’s so fucking creepy. In any case, at some point in there, the filmmakers deleted a scene explaining that Hill had begun to develop psychic powers, and that they had begun to intensify after he was reanimated. And that scene would have been really fucking helpful, because Hill starts going nuts mind-controlling all sorts of reanimated corpses. All hell breaks loose.
Jake: And it does so in glorious fashion. It’s an all-out practical effects extravaganza. There’s so much disgusting, blood & guts soaked mayhem as all the reanimated bodies from the morgue attack that it’s hard to tell where to look. West injects a shit load of his serum into Hill’s body and it implodes as its entrails mutate and shoot out, strangling West. He’s still focused solely on his work, though. He shouts to Cain to save his notes and serum even as he’s being murdered by a sentient colon.
Jack: Eventually, Cain’s girlfriend gets killed. The movie then has a pretty nice symmetry with Cain refusing to stop the CPR in the ER, just as he did in his very first scene. Unlike the very first scene though, this time Cain has grabbed West’s serum, and he looks at the camera knowingly right before it fades to black. Great ending. Could be setting up a sequel, could just be left vague. Awesome.
Jake: Unfortunately for us, we are talking about this shit in 2016, not 1985, and we know that there was a sequel, and another. And now even Kanye is involved because we can’t have nice things.
Jack: [Old-timey whistle music] ALL ABOARD!! Our 7:15 train is leaving and it’s the last car out this here station for nigh-on three days!
Jake: What in the fuck are you talking about?
Jack: [GAMESHOW MUSIC] THE TRAIN TO JACK’S INCOMPREHENSIBLE NOTE OF THE WEEK BUDDY! Hop on, because it’s chuggin right along! Ready? Found the following very early into my notes:
“Homeboy has 1 FUCKING ROOM! The fuck else is gonna happen?!?!”
Anybody? Bueller? Anyone? If anyone knows what this means, please let me know by Twitter.
Jake: No one will do that… Fuckin’ dink.
For 1, think of how Tommy Lee Jones would rate his level of interest in whether or not you killed your wife:
For 10, think of how good of a hockey coach Jules Winnfield would be:
Jack: 8 - I think this story is fucking cool. I really love the story of the unbound scientist and the dangers that can bring. It’s especially cool that that unbound scientist isn’t even the villain of the piece. I do have a hard time separating this movie’s story from just the Lovecraft story. Not sure how I’d rate it if I’d come in cold.
Jake: 7 - We needn’t forget the obvious and important influence of Mary Shelley but I agree, this is a pretty timeless story and a great take on the mad scientist.
WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 4 - It is staggering how much I can get into this movie given the glow-stick effects and sheer overall 80’s-ness of the whole thing, but those things do still exist, and do still pull me out.
Jake: 4 - Earlier in the review I commented on just how amazing it was that this movie can blend tension, violence and humor so well. It does a damn fine job of it. That being said, the sheer absurdity of everything happening ensures that you never forget you are watching a movie. One that reeks of 80’s. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it also doesn’t help to transport you into the story at all. It’s a very easy movie to have on and not feel like you need to see every second to get the full experience.
Jack: 4 - There were a few creepy scenes. The swinging light with the reanimated cat was pretty scary even though that scene was comedic. I thought the first reanimation scene was pretty frightening; it worked very well. The pervy-scenes with Hill literally made me cringe. And that final scene with the super frenetic chaos scene put me on edge. That said, not much tying those scenes together.
Jake: 5 - I can’t really use this category for sheer “scariness” for this movie, because it’s just not overtly scary. I’ll agree that there were a few creepy scenes, and the subject matter is unsettling due to being rooted in reality to some extent. This movie’s score comes instead from scenes that make you feel very uncomfortable, and for some intense violence.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Jack: 5 - This is a complicated one. The glowstick serum looked pretty good considering the era. The gore also did a pretty decent job. The thing that’s throwing me off is the decapitated head. Sometimes it looked great, but then other times it looked like play-doh. They clearly knew how to push the limitations with which they were working, but just weren’t able to do it all the time.
Jake: 6 (raised from a 5.5) (raised from a 4.5) - This hasn’t aged particularly well on all fronts, but I will sing the praises of practical effects over any sort of cgi till I go to my goddamned grave. Well used, and an A for effort.
Jack: 6 - I like this movie. I liked it the first time I saw it. I will definitely watch it again. It’s a fun flick that is certainly worth a watch.
Jake: 5.5 - It’s a beautiful mess, and one only the 80’s could get right. Watch it for entertainment, not for great cinema.