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A 1985 film directed by Stuart Gordon, starring the inimitable Jeffrey Combs, and based on the short serial Herbert West - Reanimator by ~H.P. Lovecraft~.
The story involves an idealistic medical student named Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). Dan rents a room to Herbert West (Combs), who has discovered a way to revive the dead, and reluctantly becomes West's assistant. Soon their activities cause a rift between Dan and his girlfriend Meg (Barbara Crampton) and draw down the wrath of university higher-up Dr. Hill (David Gale). Then West decapitates Hill. Then he revives him. And then things get crazy.
Re-Animator is remembered for its dark humor, gruesome gore effects, transgressive sexuality, and violence against an undead cat. Less well-remembered, but more poignant, is the sweet, wholesome quality of the relationship between Dan and Meg. Fangirls gravitate to the perceived homoerotic subtext between Herbert and Dan. Basically, there's something for everyone.
Re-Animator was not the first film adaptation of Lovecraft; there were waves of them in the mid-1960s (The Haunted Palace by Roger Corman, and Die, Monster, Die! by frequent Corman collaborator Dan Haller) and the early 1970s (The Dunwich Horror — Haller again — and several episodes of Night Gallery). But Gordon's film is probably the most famous such adaptation. It spawned a wave of imitators and Spiritual Successors including From Beyond, Lurking Fear, and Castle Freak (all starring Combs, with From Beyond and Castle Freak also being directed by Gordon) and 2001's Dagon (directed by Gordon).
Naturally also spawned official sequels. The first was Bride of Re-Animator (1990). Dan, growing uncomfortable with Herbert's experiments, decides that he will move out of the house that he and Herbert share. To convince him to stay, Herbert takes the heart of Dan's deceased girlfriend Meg and offers to create a body for it. Subplots include the return of Dr. Hill and a detective investigating the massacre at the end of the first movie.
The second sequel was Beyond Re-Animator (2003). Herbert West has been in prison for thirteen years after one of his test subjects killed a teenaged girl and Dan Cain testified against him. The prison has a new doctor, Howard Peterson, who has West help him in the infirmary. Howard is revealed to be the younger brother of the girl who was killed by West's test subject. He helps West continue his experiments in the hope that what happened to his sister will never happen to anyone else again. West experiments with nanoplasmic energy, which can be taken from a living person and put into a reanimated person, restoring rational behavior. It works. Sort of.
There have also been rumors of the upcoming House of Re-Animator which has been denied by Jeffrey Combs on numerous occasions. The movie would involve Herbert West moving into the White House and reanimating the deceased vice president. Stuart Gordon has stated that while he did originally intend to create this film, he saw no need for a political satire after the end of the Bush administration.
Brian Yuzna has also planned two other sequels: Re-Animator Unbound! and Re-Animator Begins. The former involves West working in a war zone and coming across the Old Ones. The latter involves West losing his memory after his encounter with the Old Ones, reproducing his earliest experiments, and falling in love with a woman. We also see a flashback to West's childhood. But like House, these seem to be on the back-burner.
Besides the films, there are several other adaptations. Re-Animator has had crossover comic books with Hack Slash and Army of Darkness. A Younger and Hipper, Hotter and Sexier television series was proposed, but nothing came of it. There is also a musical.
The films provide examples of:
- Adaptation Distillation - The first two movies contain many parts of the book and remain faithful with the character portrayals in the book, while changing the tone a bit.
- The Original story was published in a comedy magazine. Lovecraft wrote a comedy. A really horrifying comedy.
- The Original was also set over several decades, with each short story portraying one or more notable events in Herbert West's attempt to bring the dead back. The first two movies play out over the span of days and are set only months apart.
- Adaptation Dye Job - In Lovecraft's original story, Herbert West was described as blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Every subsequent depiction of West anywhere else since the Re-Animator film has been closer to Jeffrey Combs' appearance.
- A God Am I / Rage Against the Heavens - "Blasphemy? Before what god? A god repulsed by the miserable humanity he created in his own image? I will not be shackled by the failures of your god. The only blasphemy is to wallow in insignificance. I have taken refuse of your god's failures and I have triumphed. There! THERE is my creation!"
- Ancient Tomb - The crypt Herbert and Dan's basement shares a wall with in Bride.
- ...And Show It to You - The Bride does this to herself.
- Dr. West's diagnosis: "Tissue rejection."
- Animals Hate Him - Dan's cat Rufus is said to have hated Herbert. It's unclear if Rufus sensed something unusual about Herbert or if he was just being an ordinary cat. It's also unclear whether or not Herbert killed Rufus to use in an experiment.
- Anti-Hero / Anti-Villain - West's either a Type V anti-hero or a a Type III anti-villain: he does really nasty, dreadful stuff, and the well being of his "friends" is an afterthought for him, but all in the name of science, and he never kills anyone unless it's in self-defense or the person deserved it. He also seems to genuinely have a fondness for Dan, even calling the Re-Agent in Bride "our Re-Agent", feeding heavily into the Ho Yay between the two.
- Applied Phlebotinum- The Re-Agent.
- Arch Enemy - Dr. Hill to West.
- Bat Out of Hell
- Beat Still My Heart
- Black Comedy Rape: A severed head attempts oral sex on a captured girl in one of the most outrageous scenes in the first film.
- Black Dude Dies First - Surprisingly averted, despite teasing at this outcome several times.
- Boob Bite - In Beyond.
- Bloody Handprint
- Body Horror - Lots of creative examples.
- Byronic Hero - Herbert West genuinely doesn't want to hurt anyone, but his blind pursuit of science leads to him doing some REALLY dreadful stuff in its name. He also has many flaws, including bluntness and lack of social skills.
- Came Back Wrong - Dan Cain's "Bride."
- EVERYBODY who comes back comes back wrong in at least some way.
- Canon Dis Continuity: In the first film, Dr. Hill's head is crushed by Dean Halsey. However, in the second film, it shows up intact and gets reanimated again.
- Cartwright Curse - Being Dan Cain's love interest seriously counts against your life expectancy. You'll probably be horribly traumatized before dying, too.
- Cat Scare - Memorably.
- Contractual Immortality - Being played by Jeffrey Combs ensures that West survives the gory finale of each film against all odds.
- Which is a sharp 180 degree inversion from the original novella, in which West ends up a victim of his reanimation subjects, torn to pieces by an undead mob.
- "But perhaps I wouldn't be mad if that accursed tomb legion had not been so silent."
- Which is a sharp 180 degree inversion from the original novella, in which West ends up a victim of his reanimation subjects, torn to pieces by an undead mob.
- CPR: Clean, Pretty, Reliable - Well, maybe not so much on the reliable.
- Cradling Your Kill
- Creepy Basement
- The Cuckoolander Was Right - After dying and being reanimated, a prison guard in Beyond keeps saying "Dubious" after a confrontation with West in which he hears the word but doesn't understand it. When West impersonates Dr. Peterson to escape the prison, he passes the guard who says to no one in particular "Dubious? Dubious."
- Curiosity Killed the Cast - West re-animates every dead person and animal he comes across for science, despite the fact that they keep trying to kill him.
- Dangerous Windows
- Deadly Doctor - Herbert West has shades of this.
- Deadpan Snarker - "You steal the secret of life and death, and here you are trysting with a bubble-headed coed."
- Also, "Who's going to believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow!"
- Dramatic Thunder - Begs for attention during the finale of the second film.
- Expy - Several of the characters in Beyond. Dr. Phillips, West's new assistant, is Dan Cain. Laura, Dr. Phillips' love interest who gets killed and reanimated is Meg Halsey. The Warden, a lustful man obsessed with Laura who wants to steal West's reagent, is an expy for Dr. Hill.
- Eye Scream - Doctor Gruber.
- Also the junkie in Beyond.
- Fan Disservice - The infamous "giving head" scene.
- Fan Service - Lots.
- For Science! - Herbert West is DEAD serious about his dedication to this trope. He has no motivation for any of his experiments beyond his need to know. He's not interested in fame, money, helping others, or even immortality. He just wants to go past the mysteries of life and death. As far as he's concerned, any other thing is superfluous.
- Full-Frontal Assault - Most of the re-animated.
- Gallows Humor: Aside from the films themselves, Dr. West is a master of doing this... or just does this because of his non-social skills.
- Gag Penis - The Warden's severed penis which comes to life due to West's serum in Beyond.
- Genre Blindness - Everyone in these films.
- Genre Savvy - Surprisingly, West himself is this by Beyond. Apparently, 15 years in prison helps a lot to analyze what happened right and wrong in the previous movies. The moment he sees Laura in Beyond, he KNOWS she'll be trouble, and his approach to his experiments is much more methodical than his usual cut-and-paste improvised method of experimentation. He also learns to sedate a corpse before reanimating it.
- Gone Horribly Wrong - Pretty much every use of Re-Agent.
- Gorn - Holy crap, are these movies gory! Part of their charm, really. Just the Bride's death scene in Bride is one of the most lovingly crafted pieces of special-effect gorn ever filmed.
- Hard Work Montage - In Beyond, West produces some Re-Agent using a montage.
- Hollywood Law - A prison warden does not have the ability to increase an inmate's sentence.
- Hospital Hottie - Nurse Vanessa in Beyond.
- Hot Scoop - Laura in Beyond.
- Hulk Speak
- The Igor - Dan Cain
- I Love the Dead - Reversed. Reversed hard.
- I'm a Humanitarian - Some of the zombies as well as Moses, a crazy killer who was a cannibal even before his death and reanimation.
- Informed Flaw - Dr. Hill is portrayed as a scientific hack who can only steal the ideas of others. However, he is able to use his laser drill to control reanimated corpses and he understood the reagent well enough to successfully use it on bodies that West gave up on.
- The Insomniac - Herbert West is two of the listed subtypes, an Obsessive Insomniac and a Superpowered Insomniac. In a deleted scene, it's shown that West injects himself with a solution of his Re-Agent to keep himself from sleeping. This "keeps his mind sharp" but is also implied to be the cause of his insanity.
- Insufferable Genius - West's brash personality leads to a rocky relationship with a certain faculty member.
- Karma Houdini - Even with all the nightmarish stuff he causes and the many, MANY times someone or something tries to kill him. West always survives. Granted, there wouldn't be a franchise if he died, but...
- Through he does go to jail in Beyond... only to break out by the end of things.
- Lampshade Hanging - "They're all actors here."
- Large Ham: Apparently Stuart Gordon, the director of the first film, encouraged this kind of acting style. Jefferey Combs as West and David Gale as Doctor Hill in particular seem to have really gone for it.
- Laughing Mad - The end of Beyond.
- Lipstick Mark - In Beyond, West notices lipstick on Peterson's collar and fears that Laura might be seducing him for information.
- Losing Your Head - "You're a nobody!"
- Mad Doctor
- Mad Scientist - HOLY CRAP is he ever!
- Mad Scientist Laboratory
- Mix-and-Match Man - The Bride.
- Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness - On the soft side. We get no explanation for how the Reagent works beyond "restarting the physical and chemical process of life" and its effects are inconsistent.
- Morally-Ambiguous Doctorate - Dr. Hill, and possibly West in the sequels.
- Ms. Fanservice - Meg, Francesca, Laura, Nurse Vanessa.
- Not Quite Dead - Everyone.
- Open Secret - Reanimation in the third film. According to Howard, the government tried to cover up West's experiments. However, Laura has several newspaper clippings which show that at least some aspects of West's research are common knowledge.
- Our Zombies Are Different - To begin with, they're brought back by injections of glowstick fluid rather than by gnawing on each other.
- Parental Incest - Although the dad is a dead body being controlled by someone else by this point.
- Playing with Syringes
- Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner - West to the Warden. "This experiment is over."
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner - Before West fries the Warden in an electric chair.
Warden: "But I'm the Warden!"
- Professor Guinea Pig - In a deleted scene, West is shown shooting up the reagent himself to keep him awake indefinitely.
- Psycho Serum - The Re-Agent.
- Psychic Powers: Dr. Hill apparently possess them, since he is able to control the minds of people. Sadly, this only appears in a deleted scene of the first movie where he is hypnotizing Megan's father.
- This is featured more prominently in the second movie when Hill, nothing more than a severed head, is able to telepathically control three of the zombies he made at the end of the first film.
- Resurrected Romance
- Replacement Love Interest - Francesca, Gloria, The Bride.
- Sequel Non Entity: Dan Cain is nowhere to be seen by the time the third movie rolls around. This is handwaved away by West remarking that his "last assistant turned state's evidence on [him]".
- Series Continuity Error
- Screaming Woman
- Shadow Discretion Shot: The fight between warden's penis and a rat in Beyond.
- Stripperiffic: In Beyond Re-Animator the outfits Laura and Nurse Vanessa wear were for too sexy to ever be allowed inside a real prison, especially a men's prison.
- Actually justified in Laura's case, since she's trying to sweeten up the Warden as part of her scoop, but in Nurse Vanessa's case? Totally unjustifiable.
- At one point, Vanessa has her lab coat ripped off by one of West's zombies. She is apparently wearing nothing but panties underneath. Not even a bra.
- Shout-Out: Howard Phillips' name.
- Stalker with a Crush - Dr. Hill for Meg. It's implied that he's been obsessed with her ever since she was a child.
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute - Howard Phillips
- Technicolor Science - Re-Agent is actually the stuff inside your average glowstick.
- Too Dumb to Live - Laura in Beyond. Hooooly crap, did she ever mess up.
- Took a Level In Badass - West in Beyond is MUCH more willing to be physical than in the previous flicks. 13 years in prison will do that to you, it seems.
- Typecasting - Herbert West was one of Jeffrey Combs' first lead roles, which is why almost everything he's done since, with some notable exceptions, has been Horror, and mostly Lovecraftian Horror, at that.
- The Undead
- Villain Based Franchise - Herbert West, the titular Re-Animator.
- Visual Pun - Either supremely funny or supremely horrifying: Dr. Hill giving Meg head... as in, giving her oral sex as a disembodied head.
- The Watson - Dan Cain. Although, to be fair, more important to his role than asking questions on the audience's behalf is expressing disbelief at the fact that he's still living with West.
- Zombie Gait