WRITERS: Screenplay by Dennis Paoli, William J. Norris, Stuart Gordon
DIRECTOR: Stuart Gordon
STARRING: Bruce Abbott as Dan Cain
Barbara Crampton as Megan Halsey
David Gale as Dr. Carl Hill
Robert Sampson as Dean Halsey
Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West
Gerry Black as Mace
QUICK CUT: A new student goes to college in Massachusetts, finds a new roommate, they get a cat, and make new friends along the way.
Herbert West - A driven, focused, young medical student, with a bit of an emotionless streak, but that's largely due to being THAT focused. He gets emotional about his work, and cracks show here and there.
Dan Cain - Another young med student who's focused on his studies, but also focused on his love life with the dean's daughter. He doesn't take losing patients very well, either.
Megan - The aforementioned dean's daughter and Dan's girlfriend. She largely plays the role of love interest and plot complication, but she does serve as a grounding, human force for Dan.
Dr. Hill - A former associate of West's mentor, and a well known figure, with many discoveries and procedures under his name. Largely due to stealing and plagarising them.
THE GUTS: Welcome back, Triskelions, to our second review for 2016! This week, we are doing one of my favourite horrors, an all-time classic that started a career and a long link to HP Lovecraft, and is a movie I have been wanting to review since Trisk began; Re-Animator. Yep, it's time to get our yearly fix of Jeffrey Combs.
Like I said, this is a movie I've wanted to get around to forever, but since it was more on the side of a genuinely good horror movie, it was always easy to bump it every time something truly horrible or cheesy came into view. But I made it a goal to clear the decks of some long-standing reviews I'd always wanted to get to.
We dive right into things at a university in Zurich, where some staff and police are investigating a commotion. They break into a room and find Herbert West kneeling over the convulsing body of one of his professors, Dr. Hans Gruber, in his days before he came to California to fight cowboys.
They all watch as Gruber's eyes melt right out of his face, and he falls down dead. Everyone blames West, because sure, that's what it looks like. Instead, when they blame him of killing the doctor, West declares that no, he gave him LIFE.
Now see, that's a great tease for a movie. If you haven't seen it already, you're wondering what's going on, why did that guy's brain melt, and what does the guy mean??
I don't talk about the opening credits much these days, but these are GREAT. They roll over anatomical diagrams that are done in bright, neon, 80s colours. It's striking, and looks great, making the familiarity of the images seem that tiny bit off, while also working well for the look of the movie.
Also, the music is catch, as is most of the score. If you've seen enough movies by Empire Pictures, or their successor Full Moon (Oooh yes, this is related to Charles Band!), then you've heard plenty of music by Richard Band, and it's always interesting. He's almost the poor man's Danny Elfman, in all the best ways.
The movie jumps across the pond to Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts, and if you're a fan of horror...or you read the uh...title, you recognise those places as being straight out of Lovecraft's mythology. And while this movie never gives us the full Lovecraftian treatment, it has its moments.
Anyways, we meet Dan Cain a medical doctor student, doing everything he can to save a woman's life, but she's gone and dies there on the table. So he brings the body down to the morgue, where we also meet Dr. Hill and the dean of the college, Mr. Halsey.
Dan also meets Herbert West, transferring over to Miskatonic to further his studies. It's a solid introduction all around of the main cast, especially for West's cold, emotionless exterior, all focused on his experiments. He couldn't care less that there are other people in the room, he just wants to get things done.
As Dan looks for someone to split the rent with, we meet the last of the cast, his girlfriend Megan, who also happens to be the dean's daughter. And wouldn't you just know it? Of course his new roommate is going to be Herbert West.
We move on to one of Dr. Hill's classes next, where he's teaching them how to peel a skull, and remove the brain. Herbert remains utterly disinterested, as this is so far beneath him, and his lack of respect for Hill is palpable.
No, scratch that, it's beyond palpable. It's *awesome*. I just love the little shit giving this doctor, this teacher, this authority figure a hard time over his theories which West knows are either wrong or plagarised from other doctors.
These two facing off is just wonderful. It's all in dialogue and acting, and it starts off as subtle with glares, and how they say things, but things escalate quickly and the words turn to overt anger and confrontation in front of the class.
Jeffrey Combs isn't a tall man (He's the same height as me, so that's not a slam), and Hill frequently towers over him. It's amazing just how much power and control this at-the-time new actor commands every scene he's in, takes control and power, even away from Hill. It's a testament to both the acting and directing. Even when you can see them in the frame together, and West is a good head shorter, he still has all the power in those moments.
Later, Megan and Dan are having a study date, and discussing the new, weird, reclusive roomie, when they notice Dan's cat has gone missing. Which they find, in Herbert's minifridge in his room.
Which is of course when Doctor Mordrid comes home. I love that the scene basically plays out as, "You killed my cat!!" "YOU invaded my room!!" That...that's the wrong direction for escalation.
Herbert tries to explain that he found the cat dead, and was keeping it on ice until he could properly inform Dan. He wasn't about to leave a note that said, "Cat dead, details later!" To this day, I remain unsure if he's telling the truth, or outright killed the cat himself.
Also, he really shouldn't keep a dead body right next to the radioactive Mountain Dew, that's unsanitary.
That night, Dan gets woken up by *horrible* screeching, and goes to investigate, finding West down in the basement with a slightly less dead cat than Rufus had been.
Ahhh, yes good. You know I love it when people have to fight really bad animal puppets and act like they're being attacked, and this movie delivers. Although, if you're a cat lover, this also becomes painful to watch as they toss the undead feline around to try and stop it again.
Once things have calmed down, Herbie the Love Doctor explains to Dan how his re-agent is supposed to recharge the chemical processes of the body and sustain them after death. Y'know, it never occurred to me before, but I wonder, if somewhere in Charles Band's head, there is some kind of connection between West's re-agent, and the serum used in the Puppet Master series. I'm sure at LEAST they're done as an homage, but somehow it feels like they could be part of the same universe.
West tries to convince Cain to help him, and of course, Dan is sceptical, and a little bit terrified of the madman sitting next to him how keeps killing his cat. But West seduces him with the dream of every doctor; conquering death, and saving lives. Which ties in nicely to his reaction to losing the patient earlier.
The final bit of persuasion is bringing the cat back to life AGAIN, to prove that his re-agent actually works. The scene is hilarious in so many ways, from West lifting the dead cat and dropping it on the table to prove it's dead, with a most satisfying thump. To the whole discussion being played over the fluffy corpse right in the foreground, to some of West's dialogue. The movie really mixes the horror and camp quite nicely.
And I just really hope they put the cat out of its literal misery a third time, but we never actually see the fate of Rufus after his latest reanimation.
So of course Dan rushes right to the dean to squeal about West's findings. To be fair, Megan walked in and saw the zombie cat so he was about to find out anyways, but it reads a lot like LOOK WHAT I FOUND I AM LIVING WITH A REAL MAD SCIENTIST.
The best part is when the dean finds out his daughter knows, and he shouts, "You involved my daughter in your insanity!!" DUDE, Cain didn't even know there WAS insanity until five minutes before she walked in!
Moving on, Dan sneaks West into the morgue under the guise of being a dead body. Which makes me wonder the plan for sneaking OUT, especially if they managed to reanimate someone else. But we never quite get around to worrying about that plot point.
They find a body that isn't horribly maimed or burned, and good enough to run a test on, and administer the Mountain Dew.
Dean Halsey shows up just as the experiment actually works, and they reanimate a dead body, that then proceeds to go on a nude rampage. A rampage that includes breaking down a giant metal door to escape, while Halsey is on the other side of it. The poor dean gets tossed all over the place until he's killed.
Herbert finally grabs the bone saw and embeds it in the corpse's side, killing him again. I do quite like that they made sure to Chekov that early on in the film, in a very natural way. Most people would've been fine if it came out of nowhere, they're in a morgue, we know they're there, but the little detail of seeing it used earlier is a nice touch.
Anyways, Dean Halsey is dead, and where other people would see a tragedy, Herbert sees an opportunity, in the freshest possible body he could ever ask for.
So they bring Halsey back to life, which uh...doesn't quite go as planned, even if he was the freshest of corpses. And of course, that's when Megan walks in. I swear this is Bad Time to Enter: the Movie.
The rent a cop also shows up to see the carnage, and the dean blubbering in the corner. Even though West spins a story to cover his own ass, he calls the proper police to let them deal with this mess.
Everyone assumes Halsey snapped, and they have him tossed into a padded cell that uh...um, has a giant window, and is right off of Dr. Hill's office. He keeps a crazy person cage just off his office, where he can observe them? That's messed up.
While Dan tells Megan what's really going on, Dr. Hill shows up in West's basement to find out for himself.
He threatens West with going to the police, so Herb hands over his journal and fills Hill in on all the details so he can steal even more discoveries as his own.
As Hill gets invested in 'his' new discoveries, amazed and distracted by the awesomeness of it all, Herbert grabs a shovel, and clobbers the doctor on the head. But that's not enough, because he then uses it to outright decapitate him. Now really, that was wildly unnecessary.
Of course, the good doctor sees this as an opportunity, instead of a tragedy, again. He grabs his re-agent and tries to see if he can bring back to life a severed head and a headless body. Because why not? Gotta experiment, right?
It actually works, and I am not even gonna nitpick this thing, because magic serum, and we all know this shouldn't actually work for any number of reasons. It's fun, it's horror, and it is most definitely not science.
The irony of it all is that it actually WORKS. This is, quite undeniably, Herbert West's greatest success. I have no idea WHY this works, now, with a severed head, but it does. I'm going to chalk it up to Hill's sheer force of will, more than anything else.
But while West is distracted listening to Hill's head trying to yell at him, he doesn't notice the body creeping up behind him, and knocking him out.
Herbert wakes up with all his research and serum gone, except for what he has secreted away upstairs, just as Dan comes home. All the plotlines get caught up and moved forward, as the headless doctor releases Halsey to kidnap his daughter, and everyone heads for the morgue to end this.
Oh yeah, it's worth noting that Hill has created a laser drill that allows him to easily lobotomise patients, and bring the undead under his control, because he starts using it heavily at this point in the movie. I wonder who he stole that from?
While Hill is prepping his zombie army, Halsey shows up with his daughter, whom he then gets stripped down, strapped down, and prepared for unspecified experiments. Was it really necessary to nudify her? I mean, aside from putting in scenes for foreign audiences.
Of course she wakes up, with one doctor having a dummy's head where a real one should be, her mad bloody father to one side, and a talking severed head to the other. I can't even begin to imagine what this is like. And there really is nothing else quite so bizarre in this specific way.
And let's not forget that Hill lusts after Megan, and tries to lick and kiss her naked body. I am surprised that a person would be able to keep it together as much as Megan does. She is going to need decades of therapy after this.
Fortunately, Herbert West arrives, and the confrontation between the two that was setup wonderfully at the start of the film is bookeneded nicely here. Once again, Herbet "Little Shit" West just verbally crushes the guy.
Unfortunately, Hill has his reanimated corpse army to help him. And I love that if you paid attention to all the corpses before, all the ways they were horribly killed, you can identify and connect back most of them once actual bodies start walking. The movie may be silly and camp at times, but it does setup and payoff better than most.
I've seen this movie several times, and I always forget how absolutely crazy the last ten minutes or so gets. You've got Hill's head being camp as all hell being carried around and raspily ranting, you've got his zombie army carousing through the moruge in various states of damage and decay, and completely naked, and that's just scratching the surface.
Despite his success with lobotmising the patients, Megan still gets through to her father, and zombie dad attacks the headless doctor to save Ratchet.
The dean grabs the severed head of Hill, and squishes it good like he just watched Friday the 13th Part III, ending that threat.
Which gives West enough time to grab two full syringes of re-agent, to test a theory about overdosing the undead. At once this is the worst and best time to test theories.
Now, I've said that this movie may be based off of Lovecraft, although it rarely goes all the way into what anyone would recognise as being real, full on Lovecraftian terrotiry, save for the hubris of man. The closest the movie comes is when the headless body is reacting to the overdose, and the intestines burst out, and grab West.
The body horror and strangely reacting corpses is as close as we get to scratching the surface of something trying to break through in unexpected ways, especially when it looks like the corpse now has a portal in its chest that is trying to swallow West.
As Dan and Megan try and escape, they're attacked by one of the reanimated corpses, and he strangles Megan to death before Dan can axe him, and cut off the hand.
He rushes her to the doctors elsewhere in the hospital, and they do their best to save her. It's another great bookend to the scene where he lost the patient at the start of the movie.
They are unable to do anything to save the girl once more, but this time Dan has something that will, the re-agent. You would think the last eighty minutes would show him this is a bad idea, but oh well!
Aaand that's how we end the movie, with a fade to black and Megan screaming. Several fates are left up in the air, but at least the bad guy's dead. There's at least some conclusion. Although West is left in the morgue all tied up, so who knows what happened to him.
Video: This looks pretty good. The colours are good, that glow on the re-agent is great and really pops, and things don't have quite the usual washed out 80s look the typical palette does.
Audio: Another good mix, with solid dialogue clarity, and nice cat screeching all around you.
Sound Bite: "You'll never get credit for my discovery. Who's going to believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow!" Herbert 'Little Shit' West to Dr. Hill's head.
Body Count: This should've been confusing with all the deaths and redeaths, but most people only die once, because they were morgued before we got here...and most of them we never actually see die, so this was surprisingly low!
1 - Not even two minutes in, and Doctor Gruber's head has a meltdown.
2 - A poor woman dies when Cain can't help her.
3 - Rufus the cat dies off camera, supposedly suffocating 'accidentally'.
4 - The cat dies again in the basement as he is hurled against a wall.
5 - Dean Halsey dies after being used like a rag doll.
6 - A dead body is returned to death by West and his bone saw.
7 - Doctor Hill gets a shovel to the head, and neck.
8 - Doctor Hill dies again when undead Halsey squishes his head.
9 - One of the undead strangulates Megan.
Best Corpse: I am quite partial to Hill's head getting sliced off. It's a nice, solid piece of effects work, from the shovel, to the shot of the head rolling off, to Hill's twitching dying body.
Blood Type - B: The effects are good, the makeup on all the corpses is pretty cool, but the blood feels a bit light, overall. But a lot of points go to the dripping, severed head.
Sex Appeal: Poor Megan can't keep her clothes on. And Dan has some almost complete nudity.
Drink Up! Every time you see the green glow of re-agent.
Video Nasties: I had a few choices, but ultimately I give you the cat attack, because trying to act with an animal puppet will never not make my list.
Movie Review: Well, I blew this reveal with the opening paragraphs, but yes, I love this movie. It's a well made bit of film, and arguably the single best thing Charles Band has ever been involved with. But that's only a vague, distant relationship, since he was little more than like, the guy who ran the company, but still. Stuart Gordon is a solid director, and the movie is just well made. The acting may be campy and scenery chewing a lot of the times, but it's supposed to be. If you're going to insist on being campy, this is exactly the way it should turn out. Combs may be relatively new at this point, but you can still see he's a great actor, even if there's a few bits to iron out. The movie fails on having a proper narrative, in my opinion though. It really needed like another five minutes, just to wrap up little things. I don't mind leaving things in the air, but this leaves almost everything, and it's too much. Still, a properly camp movie with great horror and laughs, get it to a very solid three out of five dead cat bounces.
Entertainment Value: Like I said, campy, bloody fun. It's silly, it's amusing, the performances are great to watch, especially Combs and Hill. It's well paced and knows just the right amount of plot and drama to drop in to give us a break from the campiness. Four out of five syringes of Mountain Dew.