30 Day Horror Review – ZOMBIE FILM – Re-Animator (1985)

A dedicated student at a medical college and his girlfriend become involved in bizarre experiments centering around the re-animation of dead tissue when an odd new student arrives on campus. (IMDB synopsis)

I don’t have much to say about this one, except that it has a title which I vaguely recognise. The trouble I came across with this category is that there are hundreds of zombie movies, and it’s very difficult to tell which are good and which are bad just reading their titles, especially as I’m not a huge fan myself. How do you know where to start with these things?! Anyway, this one I’ve picked has a rather infamous scene with a severed head, so that makes it worth watching.

Review:

So, in a Swiss hospital, screaming is heard behind a locked door, and police force their way in. They see a certain Dr. Gruber is having trouble, as his eyes pop out of his face, and he drops dead. His assistant, Mr. West, is accused of killing him, and West insists that no, he gave him life! All that’s missing is a sudden burst of lightning, I think.
Ooh, this is H. P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator! This is the second time this week I’ve stumbled across a Lovecraft adaptation (see also Yeerie YouTube for the video ‘From Beyond’).
We then see a Dr. Cain performing chest compressions WAY TOO SLOWLY on a dying patient – hasn’t he ever heard of Nellie the Elephant? – before the other nurses have to declare the patient dead. He takes the woman to the morgue, I believe, before getting to meet a new medical student, the aforementioned Herbert West. West ends up being Cain’s creepy roommate, which is going to turn out to be a really bad development for Cain, his fiancée Megan and their cat. Poor Rufus is first discovered dead, and then brought back to life using a re-animating agent invented by West. Yay, zombie cat! He manages to blackmail Cain into helping him with the research, since Megan’s father is the medical school dean, Dr. Halsey, and would not approve of Cain dating his daughter. What happens next is a whole load of crazy zombification, blood and guts, unnecessary surgery aaaaaaand one instance of sexual assault. (We’ll get to that later.)
Now, what we have here is yet another horror film with with some comedy thrown in. It certainly comes across as a Frankenstein parody – also, the name of the sequel is Bride of Re-Animator, so there’s that – but it does a few things differently, just to keep it interesting. For instance, after decapitating the suspicious and all-round dodgy character of Dr. Hill, West manages to reanimate his head and body separately. It has a lot of comic potential, that, and it’s not something that could have worked or fitted in with the original Frankenstein story. I also love how this so-called re-animating agent is a luminous green liquid that has to be jabbed into the deceased subject’s brain. YEEEEEAH, SCIENCE IS AWESOME!
Now, Dan Cain and Meg are a very nice, wholesome couple, so not much to say about them. Herbert West is enjoyably insufferable, and he will do anything and everything for science, but he never goes over-the-top hammy like Renfield in Dracula, or Frankenstein in Frankenstein, which is something I’d like to have seen.
The one who really goes over-the-top is Dr. Hill. He’s unpleasant and creepy even when he’s alive, attempting to console and make a move on the young Meg while her zombie father is storming around in a straight-jacket in the next room. Just a tip – that usually doesn’t work. After Hill’s head is lopped off and re-animated, Hill dials it all the way up to eleven. He takes on the strangled voice of an asthmatic cobra; he uses his new-found mind-control capabilities to get the newly lobotomised Halsey to do his bidding; and he has his evil way with Meg on a metal table. That scene’s played for laughs, I think, but is also made uncomfortable by the long static shots and the bloody tongue trails all over Meg’s torso. Yeugh. Fortunately, the film stops short of making us watch a head giving… an obvious pun.
By the end of the film, everything goes mad. Exploding bodies, flailing tentacles… yup, this is Lovecraft all right. It’s very, very silly indeed, but after a certain point, I just began to wonder why they were still using the re-animating agent. West is very clear about the fact that his current formulation doesn’t do so well on complicated life-forms like human beings, and yet he’s still so willing to stick it in the brain of any dead person he comes across. For science!
Which leads me to one final remark – to what extent are these things actually zombies? Well, they’re undead, which is one of the most important requisites. They’re mindlessly violent, which is understandable – we’re all a little grouchy when someone wakes us up for no good reason. But they can be killed pretty easily, or at least as easily as any other human person, and they don’t do the whole converting others to zombies thing. Maybe I’m overthinking it… but I dunno. Frankenstein wasn’t a zombie. Oh wait. I guess he… could have been… ARGH, my brain hurts!

Final Verdict:

I have a feeling this is one of those films I’ll come to appreciate more the second time I watch it. There’s gore a-plenty – 25 gallons of fake blood, I believe – and a whole lot of ridiculousness. I just wish the characters had been a tad more developed. Maybe the sequels are worth a watch.

Rating:

7 jam sandwiches.

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