Being an impressionable teenager with a love of horror movies during the 80s was a glorious thing; VHS had revolutionized the consumption of and access to films, leading to an explosion of genre filmmaking that pushed the envelope in terms of graphic gore, nudity and outré laughs, which adolescents such as myself lapped up on a daily basis. While 70s horror had been brutish, nasty and, largely, grimly realistic, 80s horror, fittingly for a decade synonymous with gaudy excess, revelled in slapstick terror, outlandish amounts of adrenaline-fuelled, blood-splattered violence. The likes of The Evil Dead, The Return of the Living Dead, Basket Case, Bad Taste and Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator all injected an energy, dark wit and invention into the genre that the more conventional slashers of the era sorely lacked.
Gordon’s movie also breathed new life, excuse the pun, into the work of H. P. Lovecraft. The director’s loose, successful adaptation of Lovecraft’s serialized short story from 1922, ‘Herbert West–Reanimator’, led to a subsequent raft of generally forgettable movies based on the novels and short stories of the American author, who died in poverty before posthumously coming to be regarded as a seminal figure in the evolution of horror fiction. Since Re-Animator’s release almost 30 (!) years ago, Gordon himself went on to direct four more Lovecraft adaptations (with varying degrees of success): From Beyond, Castle Freak, Dagon and Dreams in the Witch-House, the latter as part of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series.
Having revisited Re-Animator for the first time in many years, I’m glad to say that it still pushes all the right buttons and remains a hugely entertaining, frequently outrageous riot, from its scene-setting pre-credit sequence to its final shot of the lurid, green reagent being injected into a lifeless corpse. The gorgeous opening credits (kaleidoscopic neon diagrams of the human body) and Richard Band’s upbeat soundtrack, variously described as ‘inspired by’ or ‘ripped off from’ Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho, aligned with the cast’s fully committed performances and Gordon’s evident who-gives-a-shit sense of fun, make Re-Animator an absolute blast to watch. In a performance that made him a cast-iron fan favourite, Jeffrey Coombs memorably stars as Herbert West, the gifted, arrogant and driven medical student who has discovered a potion that can restore life to the recently deceased. As West’s Frankenstein-like experiments spiral out of control in ever more outrageous ways, Coombs is ably supported by Bruce Abbott as Dan, West’s straight-laced student colleague at the medical school they both attend; Barbara Crampton as Dan’s girlfriend Megan, daughter of the school’s dean; and the late David Gale as West’s vain nemesis, Dr Carl Hill.
Gordon’s movie is a joyously anarchic experience, as funny as it is grisly. Dead cats, shotgun-blast victims, entrails, limbs with lives of their own and headless corpses wreak bloody havoc after being subjected to West’s reagent, the side effects of which make the reanimated dangerously violent. To say any more regarding the plot would spoil the fun for the uninitiated, but if decapitations, eviscerations and a censor-baiting sprinkling of reverse necrophilia are your thing, then Re-Animator is a film you really need to have in your collection. As with many other 80s horror movies, Re-Animator is also testament to the fact that CGI effects are a poor substitute for practical ones. The tangible, messy and ingenious effects on display here are far more entertaining to watch than any computer generated image ever could be.
Watch the original trailer: