Re-Animator Series Review

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Created by Director of the first film Stuart Gordon and based, albeit loosely, on H. P. Lovecraft’s episodic novella “Herbert West–Reanimator” the film spawned two sequels, a comic series including a tie-in with the Army of Darkness and a stage musical which was director Stuart Gordons original idea although I don’t know if the stage show was originally meant to be a musical.

Considered a classic, if only the first film, I decided to watch all 3 back to back and see how they held up for me almost 25 years after I first seen the original.

Re-Animator Poster 1985Re-Animator (1985)

 

Doctor: You killed him!
Herbert West: No, I did not. I gave him life

Director: Stuart Gordon
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton
and David Gale

When the opening scene involves a mans eyes popping and you are presented with the arrogance that defines the single-minded Dr Herbert West, played to perfection by the always enjoyable Jeffrey Combs, you wonder if this is something great or something to appeal to gore-hounds only.

It’s great.
There is no reason not to get straight to the point. We all have heard of Re-Animator and Jeffrey Combs and if you haven’t seen it as a horror fan then it is time to rectify that.

After somehow avoiding jail in Zurich despite being almost caught red handed, getting caught and getting away with it is a common theme revolving around Herbert West, we find our erm hero? Herbert West at Miskatonic University in the fictional town of Arkham (a common setting for H.P. Lovecraft’s stories and the place that DC Comics Arkham Asylum is named after) where his forthright manner starts to alienate him during introductions especially to Dr. Carl Hill who is a brain surgeon heading research at the Miskatronic University.

He rents a room from fellow student Dr. Dan Cain whose cat dies leading to Herbert revealing his secret into re-animating the dead through his glowing green reagent.
You would not want anyone injecting anything that glows and is that colour into you even if you were dead.

They decide to work together but as always things get complicated most notably around Dans girlfriend Megan.
Already warned that she is a distraction we see more of Herberts single-minded attitude to his work when he warns Dan that she is a distraction, another theme throughout the films and another defining characteristic for Herbert.

It doesn’t seem to matter where he is or what is going on Dr. West has one goal in mind, his research, and nothing is going to stop him. He will kill or take any opportunity to seize advantage of the chaos around him for more specimens to experiment on.
Unfazed by what he needs to do and the extremes he needs to go to he doesn’t seem to think about the consequences or risk of being caught yet he always manages to escape any situation whilst getting what he wants.
Despite every animal or human he re-animates coming back with murderous, violent tendencies he continues to use his reagent anywhere and everywhere he can on anyone he can. this always leads to disaster but mostly for any poor soul that happens to walk in on Dr. West.

Because this is the 80’s all the effects are done in front of camera and they are fantastic and gory and bloody, very inventive and disgusting in the wonderful 80’s over the top style like in films such as the Evil Dead (1981) and Frankenhooker (1990).

Naturally it all comes to a head at the end in a wonderful anarchic mess that you was expecting.
Great cast with a decent script and lots of disgusting gory practical effects, this film is truly a classic horror film everyone should at least give a go.

Bride of Re-Animator 1990Bride of Re-Animator (1989)

 

Dr. Herbert West: 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!

Director: Brian Yuzna
Stars: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott and David Gale

How do you follow a classic?
If we knew the answer to that there wouldn’t be so many shite sequels.

Is this as good as the original? No.
Is this a shite sequel? No.

Starting with Dr. West and Dr. Cain working as medics during the Peruvian War so they have a constant supply of bodies to work on Dr. West reagent they decide to return back to Miskatonic University and back to Dr. Cains house to continue their experiments.

Stealing body parts from the hospital morgue Dr. West discovers he can combine and re-animate individual body parts but unfortunately for the good Doctor he is also being watched by Lt. Chapham who seems to have a personal vendetta against Herbert.

As with a few horror sequels from the 30’s up til the end of the 80’s this is the “Bride of” follow up. So not content with re-animating life this time Herbert wants to create brand new life with the stolen body parts from the hospital morgue whilst enlisting the help of Dr Cain again.
This is one of my issues with the film. I don’t quite believe the relationship between the two Doctors, I’m not sure why Dr. Cain would still be working with Dr. West after all the murder and questionable things they have both done in the past.
Of course there is the final scene of the first film (no spoilers) but that was more due to grief and Dr. Cain’s motivations are not really explored enough for me but then Herbert doesn’t seem like someone who would work with someone else for so long as well.
He is too arrogant who believes he is smarter than everyone else and again is frustrated by Dr. Cain’s interest in romance rather than West scientific pursuits so why does he need Dr. Cain around.

Is tolerating him just to use his house as a workplace worth it for Dr. West?

That said it is good to see both characters back. Makes this more of a continuation from the first film.

But what is great about Bride of Re-Animator are the practical effects and filming techniques employed so they could use real limbs instead of prosthetics to simulate re-animated severed body parts or have by then 53 year old actor David Gale (Dr. Carl Hill) spend all of his time in the film as a severed head.

I don’t think when he started acting in London he thought he would be best remembered career wise for that.

There is some very nice stop motion involving severed fingers and an eye that Herbert combines and brings to life. Not uncommon during the 80’s to use stop motion and usually it was of a good enough quality no matter how cheap the film was it was used in.

Lots of lovely claret and body parts this leads to the more over the top ending we have come to expect in sequels but a real treat is how the good doctor just cannot help himself meddling with what’s around him and his reagent, this is still a must watch despite it’s flaws.

Beyond Re-Animator 2003Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

Howard Phillips: God damn you!
Herbert West: Religion has nothing to do with this

Director: Brian Yuzna
Starring Jeffrey Combs, Jason Barr,
Simón Andreu and Elsa Pataky

This time the films starts with two boys camping in the back garden who hear noises and go to investigate but end up accidentally scaring their sister.

We then see some of the erm odd and slightly disturbing play fighting between the sister and brother which is broken up by one of the good Doctors re-animated experiments breaking into the house and attacking them.

Now despite the awful acting from the youngsters, and it was awful, the effects on the mouthless attacker are nicely done.
During this CGI age (I’m not a hater of CGI I just think it is used in places where it shouldn’t be) I appreciate any use of practical effects.

Maybe things are looking up.

So the sister dies and our favourite medical researcher is arrested by the police while the boys sister looks on and finds a vial of Dr. West reagent. The Doctor of course is more focused on his work that the death of a young girl.

13 years later we see that the Doctor has been spending his time in a very Spanish looking prison and we see a reporter (Played by Thor actor Chris Hemsworth’s wife Elsa Pataky) interviewing the lecherous prison warden. It is here you will notice everyone apart from the Doctor and his upcoming partner in crime, Dr. Howard Phillips, is Spanish.

What happened to Dr. Cain? No idea.

I know there are lots of Mexicans in America but I didn’t think the prisons were completely full of them. You see this was filmed in Spain and sadly it shows. Rather than re-dub the voices the original accents were kept and after a while it gets distracting. When I first seen the film I thought Dr. West had fled the US to Europe again so didn’t mind as the original did start out in Zurich but that was not the case.

The new prison Doctor knows all about Dr. West and his experiments and convinces him to let him help which West accepts but he also notices a building attraction between the Prison Doctor and the reporter and in a classic Herbert West move warns the young Doctor to keep away from her and stay focused on their work.
Well just because he was right in the last two films doesn’t mean this won’t be third time lucky also the Doctor has made a significant breakthrough in his research that means the re-animated can come back with all their memories and faculties and not as the mindless zombies in the previous films.

Again this builds up to a predictable, not a bad thing, finale involving re-animated prisoners and a riot.

The acting is competent at best and the script largely bad. The characters are good and even memorable for a couple but Dr. West seems different in a way though that is probably down to constrained environment he is now in.
Still he has his acerbic manner about him and manages to find himself in the usual kill or be discovered situations where he always chooses kill and his single-minded ‘work is all that is important’ attitude.

The effects are still practical but digitally enhanced and not so bad though the severed body parts just aren’t up to the quality of the previous films and look too… shiny in places.

Obviously this is the weakest of the 3 but the premise is good putting West in a prison and the film has its moments.
Worth watching but probably only once. Frankenhooker (1990) is probably closer to that Re-Animator feel than this and there is no reason you can’t watch both

The series is still classic and holds up very well especially the original.
If you haven’t seen them then watch all 3 and if you have then watch them again if only for the wonderful Jeffrey Combs.