Horror Movie Review: Re-Animator (1985)


I like to think I’ve seen my fair share of 80s horror movies but would you believe that until recently, I had never seen one of the most famously known 80s horrors of them all? That film of course being none other than Re-Animator. I mean obviously I’d heard of it but for whatever reason I’d just never gotten around to viewing it. Re-Animator has a cult following for its characters, extreme gore and successful combination of horror and comedy; these are things that I was fully aware of going in. Regardless of this I didn’t really have any expectations, so let’s take a look at Re-Animator and find out what I thought.

At University of Zurich Institute of Medicine in Switzerland, Herbert West brings his dead professor, Dr. Hans Gruber, back to life. However, there are horrific side-effects; as West explains, the dosage was too large. When accused of killing Gruber, West counters: “I gave him life!”

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West arrives at Miskatonic University in New England in order to further his studies as a medical student. He rents a room from fellow medical student Dan Cain and converts the building’s basement into his own personal laboratory. West demonstrates his reanimating reagent to Dan by reanimating Dan’s dead cat Rufus. Dan’s fiancée Megan, who already thinks West is creepy, walks in on this experiment and is horrified.

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At this point one of my favourite lines in the film has to be just after Megan discovers Rufus inside Herbert West’s refrigerator. When questioned on how the cat had died, West explains that it had suffocated and as he was going out he felt it was best to tell Megan and Dan later rather than writing them a note saying “Cat dead. Details later.” The line is delivered brilliantly and it’s hilarious.

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Dan tries to tell Dr. Alan Halsey, who is Megan’s father and dean of the medical school, about West’s success in reanimating the dead cat, but the dean does not believe him. When Dan insists, the dean infers that Dan and West have gone mad. Barred from the school, West and Dan sneak into the morgue to test the reagent on a human subject in an attempt to prove that the reagent works, and thereby salvage their medical careers. The corpse they inject comes back to life, but in a frenzied, violent, zombie-like state.

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Dr. Halsey stumbles upon the scene and, despite attempts by both West and Dan to save him; he gets killed by the reanimated corpse, which West then kills with a bone-saw. Unfazed by the violence and excited at the prospect of working with a freshly dead specimen, West injects Dr. Halsey’s body with his reanimating reagent. Dr. Halsey returns to life, but in a zombie-like state.

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Dr. Halsey’s colleague Dr. Carl Hill, a research-oriented brain surgeon, takes charge of Dr. Halsey, whom he puts in a padded observation cell adjacent to his office. He carries out a surgical operation on him, lobotomizing him. During the course of this operation, he discovers that Dr. Halsey is not sick, but dead and reanimated!

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Dr. Hill goes to West’s basement lab and tries to blackmail him into turning his reagent and notes over to Dr. Hill so he (Dr. Hill) can take credit for West’s discovery. West offers to demonstrate the reagent, and puts a few drops of it onto a microscope slide with some dead cat tissue on it. While Dr. Hill is peering through the microscope at this slide, West decapitates him with a shovel.

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West then reanimates Dr. Hill’s head and body separately. While West is questioning Dr. Hill’s head and taking notes, Dr. Hill’s body sneaks up behind him and knocks him unconscious. The body carries the head back to Dr. Hill’s office, with West’s reagent and notes.

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Exercising mind control over Halsey, Dr. Hill sends him out to kidnap Megan from Dan. While being carried to the morgue by her reanimated father, Megan faints. When she arrives, Dr. Hill straps her unconscious body to a table, strips her naked, and sexually abuses her, shoving his bloody, severed head between her legs. She wakes up in the middle of this experience.

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West and Dan track Halsey to the morgue. West distracts Dr. Hill while Dan frees Megan. Dr. Hill reveals that he has reanimated and lobotomized several corpses from the morgue, rendering them susceptible to mind control. However, Megan manages to get through to her father, who fights off the other corpses long enough for Dan and Megan to escape.

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In the ensuing chaos, West injects Dr. Hill’s body with a lethal overdose of the reagent. Dr. Hill’s body mutates rapidly and kills West, who screams out to Dan to save his work.

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Dan retrieves the satchel containing West’s reagent and notes. As Dan and Megan flee the morgue, one of the reanimated corpses attacks and kills Megan. Dan takes her to the hospital emergency room and tries to revive her, but she is quite dead. In despair, he injects her with West’s reagent. As the scene fades to black, Megan returns to life and screams.

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So that’s Re-Animator and if you were to ask me what I thought I’d tell you that I absolutely loved it! There are so many things to praise about the film so I’ll just start with the most obvious and that’s Jeffery Combs as Herbert West. His deadpan delivery, demeanor and determination to obtain any corpse to test his discovery is highly and I mean highly entertaining.

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There’s something off-kilter about this flick, something very, very funny, and also something quite disturbing but it blends it all together perfectly in ways that I would similarly describe the films Braindead and Evil Dead.

Other than being funny, Re-Animator has a whole lot going for it in terms of blood and gore. The effects used are to a very high standard and anyone that enjoys classic 80s horror will love and appreciate it.

What I really enjoy about Re-Animator and movies from that era is that they just don’t hold back. Whether it’s blood, gore, zombies, mad scientists or severed heads sexually assaulting a nude woman they just go for it. Re-Animator is fully aware of how ridiculous it is but it just plows on through anyway.

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The story is interesting and creates an interesting dynamic in that you sympathize with West because he truly has created something amazing that could revolutionize medicine but also dislike him for his carelessness. It’s well acted; the soundtrack is seemingly ripped straight from Psycho but does well at adding tension to some of the crazier moments.

I liked how the ending left it wide open for a sequel for which I am aware that there are two of them.

I’d like to note that I’m aware that the film is an adaption from the writings of H.P. Lovecraft and that some feel that the film strayed too far from the source material but I can’t really comment if that’s a valid point or not.

Re-Animator is 80s horror/black comedy at its best.

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