RE-ANIMATOR (1985) -A sci-fi movie with sparks of genius

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The following is my entry in the Movie Scientist Blogathon, being co-hosted Feb. 19-21, 2016 by Christina Wehner at her self-named blog and by Silver Screenings. Click on the above banner, and read a rich variety of blogs devoted to movie scientists of all kinds!

1985 reanimator

Poor Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). It was the first misfortune of his life to be cursed with a conscience. When we first see this medical student, he is doing everything possible to revive a dead patient long after his peers have given up hope. “Your optimism is touching,” one of his superiors tells him, “but a good doctor knows when to stop.”

Dan’s second misfortune is to take in, as his roommate, fellow med-school alumnus Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs). Herbert is regarded as a promising new student by the med school’s dean. But Dan and his girlfriend Meg (Barbara Crampton) regard Herbert as condescending, aloof, and mysterious – and with good reason.

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Dan, Meg, and Herbert.

We learn that Herbert was kicked out of a Switzerland medical school for his unregulated experiments in the reanimation of dead human tissue. It turns out that Herbert has a fluid that can bring the dead back to life, but only for a few moments at a time. What must Herbert do in order to prolong the resurrection process? Can he coerce naïve Dan into using his minor clout at the medical school to help him? And by the way, where has Meg’s cat gone to lately?

It seemed a daunting task, but co-writer/director Stuart Gordon, taking off from a story by H.P. Lovecraft, has created a riveting and plausible (albeit very gory) modern-day mad-scientist tale. We can truly believe that Herbert is singularly driven to make his wild dream of re-animation come true – not for fame or fortune’s sake, but simply because fate has decreed it must be done, laws and morals be damned. And we can also believe that Dan, given pause as he is every so often by that darned conscience of his, is compelled to help Herbert see his vision through.

Even if you’re willing to give yourself over to the movie’s Grand Guignol vision (which I was, surprisingly), the film has its troublesome elements. Richard Band’s score is haunting yet plagiaristic, slavishly aping Bernard Herrmann’s strings of Psycho.

And while Barbara Crampton is likable enough as Meg, her underwritten, shrieking-meemie characterization does the women of cinema no favors. By the time you see her bound, helpless, and naked in the movie’s climactic scene, all you can think is, “I sure hope they paid that actress well for what she went through.”  (Maybe what cinema needs is a mad-scientist woman inflicting this kind of stuff on men as the payback for all of the movie misogyny that women have endured over the years.)

The amazing thing is how the movie transcends its guts-and-gore origins and really gives you a stake in these characters’ outcomes. For 104 minutes, Re-Animator breathes fresh air into what seemed to be a moribund genre. Herbert West would be proud.

The movie’s trailer is embedded below. (WARNING: It’s redband.)

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6 responses to “RE-ANIMATOR (1985) -A sci-fi movie with sparks of genius

  1. The missing cat – a classic sign that something is amiss! Whenever a cat goes missing, I’ve often thought characters should instantly start looking for the mad scientist. 🙂 It sounds like it provides a fascinating take on what drives an obsession – not ego or fame, but simply to achieve the goal.

    Thanks so much for participating!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hear hear! Yes, it’s time an evil female scientist used men in her science experiments.

    As for this film, it’s not my style but I was glad to learn about it from your review. Also, it was a good refresher in Grand Guignol, which is something I don’t know much about. (I’ll be doing online research after I leave your blog.)

    Thanks for joining the Movie Scientist party!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Movie Scientist Blogathon Day 2 Recap – The Mad | Christina Wehner

  4. I haven’t seen the film but I’ve read the Lovecraft stories and it did make me laugh that they had introduced the obligatory naked female victim… where would horror flciks be without them? Yes, I’m all for a bit of gender reversal… I’ll start making a list of men I’d like to see… ahem… as victims… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That was fun! I enjoyed reading your take on it, which is about as close as I get to these sorts of movies (except for Rocky Horror Picture Show, which probably doesn’t count). Funny about the Herrmann/Psycho ripoff, too. The thing about genre movies like this is that the plots and characters are so codified that you have to stick to the template, and then find ways to make your version distinctive. Re-Animator sounds like it does both.

    Liked by 1 person

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