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!
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.
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.)