Re-Animator is based on the short story "Herbert West - Reanimator" written by horror author H.P. Lovecraft and first published in 1922. The story was written as a parody to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It was serialized in six parts in the publication "Home Brew." The film version of Re-Animator is based on the first two installments of the serial. The film's first sequel, Bride of Re-Animator, is based on the serial's final two episodes.
Lovecraft actually expressed disappointment with his story and it is not considered one of the authors greater works. However the story is memorable for being the first of Lovecraft's tales to mention Miskatonic University--a recurring element in later stories.
About the Film
Stuart Gordon on set
Re-Animator director Stuart Gordon originally wanted to film a Frankenstein movie, however a friend suggested he consider adapting Lovecraft's tale, as Gordon was already a fan of Lovecraft's writing. Gordon and his writing partners Dennis Paoli and William Norris wrote a half-hour television pilot and planned for twelve more episodes. After being introduced to producer Brian Yuzna, Gordon and his partners changed the pilot to a full-length feature film. Although Gordon and his friends ran the Organic Theater company in Chicago, Yuzna convinced Gordon to shoot the film in Hollywood while still using members of the Organic Theater for the film.
"I gave him life!"
At the beginning of the film, Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is medical student at the Zurich University Institute of Medicine. In the opening scene West has brought his dead professor back to life, however it is not without side-effects.
Later, in American at the Miskatonic University in New England, another medical student, Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), fails to save a dying patient. It is also revealed that Dan is secretly in a romantic relationship with Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), the daughter of the school's dean. West appears on the scene and offers to rent a room from Dan and he turns the basement of Dan's house into a laboratory.
Dr. Hill teaching.
In a medical classroom West meets instructor Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale). The two have an instant dislike for one another as they discuss the theory of "brain death." Later, Dan finds that West has used his glowing "re-agent" to bring Dan's cat back to life. Unfortunately the cat seems to be in horrible pain due to being brought back from the dead. Despite this, West convinces Dan to help him with his research in defeating death.
West & Dan with the re-agent.
West and Dan sneak into the school's morgue to test the re-agent on a corpse. Much like how the cat reacted violently when re-animated, the revived corpse attacks Dan and West. Unfortunately Megan's father shows up and is killed by the living corpse. In an attempt to save the dean, West injects him with the re-agent. Megan's father is revived, but no longer himself and unable to communicate coherently.
Dr. Hill discovers the dean, puts him in a padded observation room, and lobotomizes him. Hill then attempts to blackmail West and steal his research but West decapitates Dr. Hill with a shovel. West then uses the re-agent on Hill's head and body. Both pieces of Hill are returned to life, but Hill's body attacks West, knocking him unconscious. Hill then steals the re-agent and has the dean kidnap Megan.
The famous head giving head.
In the morgue, Hill has tied Megan, naked, to a table. While his body holds his disembodied head, Hill performs oral sex on Megan. This is the famous "head giving head" scene. West and Dan then return to the morgue to stop Hill and save Megan. Unfortunately Hill has re-animated more corpses and now controls them.
Megan's father comes to their rescue and with his help Megan and Dan make their escape. While they escape West fights Hill and tells Dan to save his work. Although Dan retrieves the re-agent Megan is killed by a living corpse. Unable to save Megan through conventional means, Dan injects Megan with the re-agent....
I can bring her back!
The film's score was composed by Richard Band. This was Band's first of seven times working with Stuart Gordon. There was a minor controversy over the film's soundtrack because Re-Animator's theme specifically referenced (or parodied) Bernard Herrmann's score for Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. However, despite the controversy, the score stands on its own and is still considered a great piece of film music.
Look out, Dr. Hill!
Re-Animator was released by Charles Band's Empire Pictures. The film received positive reviews on its release in 1985. Reviewers often cited the film's wild nature and sense of humor as reasons for its enjoyability. The film also performed well at the American box office, earning over $2 million. Not bad for a movie budgeted at $900,000.
The film was nominated for 1986 Saturn Awards for Best Horror Film and Best Makeup.
In 2008 Re-Animator was listed in Entertainment Weekly's "Top 25 cult films since 1983."
Bride of Re-Animator
Since its release, Re-Animator has gained a considerable cult following and is now known as a horror classic. A big part of that success is due to Jeffrey Combs' famous portrayal of Herbert West. Combs later went on to reprise his role as West two more times in Bride of Re-Animator (1991) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003).
In the past Stuart Gordon has spoken about making a fourth Re-Animator film called House of Re-Animator, but these plans have since been dropped. The film was to have been a politcal satire. Herbert West would have entered the White House during the years of the Bush Administration and re-animated the Vice President. The VP would have been played by George Wendt. The President would have been played by William H. Macy.
In 2009 there was talk of a 3D remake to be produced by Ray Haboush. However it was since discovered that this was only a rumor. As of this writing there are no plans for a 3D remake. However there have been reports of a Spanish-language remake to be shot in Spain. Supposedly this movie will star Ezra Godden and Elisha Cuthbert.
As DVD distributor Anchor Bay is known to do, over the years they have released several different versions of Re-Animator on DVD. Aside from the original 2001 version, there have been at least three other DVD releases. In 2002 Anchor Bay put out the Re-Animator Millennium Edition, which was a two-disc set in a neon green case.
Next there was the unrated, single-disc edition in 2007. It was accompanied by the two-disc 2007 edition which contained a 70-minute documentary called "Re-Animator Resurrectus." To further entice prospective buyers, this edition also included a syringe-shaped green highlighter pen. Talk about value!
Continuing the Legacy
Although Stuart Gordon did not direct either of the Re-Animator sequels, after Re-Animator Gordon has continued to make films based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft. He has also continued to work with the same people. Gordon's next film, From Beyond (1986) was also based on Lovecraft's work, was co-written by Gordon, Paoli and Brian Yuzna, was produced by Yuzna, starred Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, and was scored by Richard Band.
In 1995 Charles Band's Full Moon Pictures released another Lovecraft adaptation by Gordon, Castle Freak. Once again, it was written by Gordon and Paoli, starred Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, and was scored by Richard Band. Gordon has also made other films based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft, including Dagon (2001) and the "Masters of Horror" entry Dreams In The Witch-House (2005), but these films did not contain nearly as many Re-Animator collaborators.