Director: Stuart Gordon
Script: Dennis Paoli, William J. Norris & Stuart Gordon
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson Al Berry
Running time: 86 minutes
After being involved with the rather strange death of a Dr Hans Gruber (whose eyes manage to explode), medical student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is relocated to another medical centre at Miskatonic University in New England and ends up boarding with fellow student Daniel Cain (Bruce Abbott). West takes over the basement room for his experiments involving the reanimation of dead tissue and soon attracts unwanted interest from his housemate when he kills his cat. When Cain confronts him about it he soon discovers that his cat is now a signed up member of the undead, and rather pissed off about the fact too!
Herbert finally convinces Daniel of the worth of his experiments – partly through blackmail over Dan’s dating of the principle’s daughter, Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), and partly through his rather warped intellectual charisma. The two then embark on a series of experiments involving a glowing green fluid that Herbert is manufacturing in his make-shift lab. These culminate in an experiment on a human cadaver, which upon being injected with the serum comes violently to ‘life’ and begins attacking the medical students in the mortuary, where Dan has a part-time job. Unfortunately, the principal walks in on the ensuing chaos, and is himself killed by the shambling corpse, resulting in both students being dismissed from the university.
However, that doesn’t dissuade Herbert West from his nefarious experiments and the two ex-students try to help bring the principle back to life, an act which has some rather unforeseen consequences for everyone involved, including the young men’s ex-tutor, Dr Carl Hall (David Gale) and Dan’s girlfriend, Megan.
Reanimator was a breath of fresh air for the horror scene when it was originally released back in 1986. It not only injected some hyper-kinetic black humour into a then rather stale genre, but also lots of grue and Grand Guignol. Even watched today Stuart Gordon’s ode to the fantasy author H.P.Lovecraft still stands up as a remarkable achievement, especially given the limited budget and resources the filmmakers had at the time.
One of Charles Band’s Empire Pictures’ best films, Reanimator is a classic horror comedy that delivers on pretty much every level that a horror fan could want. Firstly, it’s got a decent story, based loosely on H.P.Lovecraft’s six part series Herbert West: Reanimator. Secondly, it’s pretty gruesome in places, with some quite ‘near the knuckle’ gore at times. Thirdly, it has engaging characters we care about, even if West is rather arrogant and creepy. Fourthly, the black comedy really works, which is notoriously difficult to get right in this genre. And lastly, it’s got a great, feisty and frequently nearly naked heroine in the shapely form of Barbara Crampton.
Reanimator also delivers on the acting, since all the central characters are really well cast and gel together nicely. Combs and Abbott, in particular, really work well together. Plus the late, great David Gale is wonderful here as the disturbingly hypnotic (in both senses of the word) Dr Carl Hall, West’s medical nemesis. He also gets the film’s showstopper scene, the understandably notorious ‘giving head’ sequence, which has to be seen to be believed.
The other controversial thing about the film was, of course, its musical score, penned by Charles Band’s brother Richard Band. Taking quite a few liberties with the music from Psycho, Band’s score is great fun, and was intentionally written as a bit of over-the-top micky-taking in homage to Bernard Hermann’s renowned score for Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece. Apparently 99% of people got the joke, but the Bernard Hermann Society didn’t and complained. To be fair Hermann was originally credited in the end titles, but got accidentally left out. Oops!
Reanimator does have its faults – for example, I don’t believe that Megan would have forgiven Dan - who’s partly responsible for the death of her father - quite so easily, and some of the special effects are pretty laughable - the reanimated cat springs to mind. However, for a horror fan, like me, it’s quite an endearing film, made before CGI came and ruined most modern horror flicks, and it stands up pretty well today; and it’s not hard to see why it frequently remains in many horror fans’ top ten lists.
Second Sight are distributing Reanimator on DVD and Blu-ray. Extras include:
Reanimator – resurrects (68 mins) – an informative behind the scenes documentary;
Another version of the film (105 mins)
Interview with director Stuart Gordon & producer Brian Yuzna (49 mins) where the two chat amiably about how the film came about, and about how Dr Hill was originally going to be an African voodoo priest.
Interview with composer Richard Band (15 mins) who talks candidly about putting together the score, and about the problems he later faced with the Bernard Hermann estate.
A music discussion with Richard Band (16.5 mins) where Richard talks about matching the music to different parts of the film.
Interview with Fangoria magazine editor Tony Timpone (4.5 mins) where he reminisces about his first viewing of the film in 1985.
Extended scenes (22 mins) –some interesting additions here, but I can understand why they were chopped out.
Deleted scenes (3 mins) – Dan arriving at the mortuary, and him injecting Meg with the serum.
Trailers (7 mins)
Galleries – full of behind the scenes shots (5 mins)
Production stills (2 mins)