"I must say, Dr. Hill, I'm VERY disappointed in you. You steal the secret of life and death, and here you are trysting with a bubble-headed coed. You're not even a second-rate scientist!"
— Herbert West
A 1985 film directed by Stuart Gordon, starring the inimitable Jeffrey Combs, and based on the short serial Herbert West - Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft.The story involves an idealistic medical student named Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). Dan rents a room to Herbert West (Combs), who has discovered a way to revive the dead, and reluctantly becomes West's assistant. Soon their activities cause a rift between Dan and his girlfriend Meg (Barbara Crampton) and draw down the wrath of university higher-up Dr. Hill (David Gale). Then West decapitates Hill. Then he revives him. And then things get crazy.Re-Animator is remembered for its dark humor, gruesome gore effects, transgressive sexuality, and violence against an undead cat. Less well-remembered, but more poignant, is the sweet, wholesome quality of the relationship between Dan and Meg. Fangirls gravitate to the perceived homoerotic subtext between Herbert and Dan. Basically, there's something for everyone.Re-Animator was not the first film adaptation of Lovecraft; there were waves of them in the mid-1960s (The Haunted Palace by Roger Corman, and Die, Monster, Die! by frequent Corman collaborator Dan Haller) and the early 1970s (The Dunwich Horror — Haller again — and several episodes of Night Gallery). But Gordon's film is probably the most famous such adaptation. It spawned a wave of imitators and Spiritual Successors including From Beyond, Lurking Fear, and Castle Freak (all starring Combs, with From Beyond and Castle Freak also being directed by Gordon) and 2001's Dagon (directed by Gordon).Naturally also spawned official sequels. The first was Bride of Re-Animator (1990). Dan, growing uncomfortable with Herbert's experiments, decides that he will move out of the house that he and Herbert share. To convince him to stay, Herbert takes the heart of Dan's deceased girlfriend Meg and offers to create a body for it. Subplots include the return of Dr. Hill and a detective investigating the massacre at the end of the first movie.The second sequel was Beyond Re-Animator (2003). Herbert West has been in prison for thirteen years after one of his test subjects killed a teenaged girl and Dan Cain testified against him. The prison has a new doctor, Howard Peterson, who has West help him in the infirmary. Howard is revealed to be the younger brother of the girl who was killed by West's test subject. He helps West continue his experiments in the hope that what happened to his sister will never happen to anyone else again. West experiments with nanoplasmic energy, which can be taken from a living person and put into a reanimated person, restoring rational behavior. It works. Sort of.Besides the films, there are several other adaptations. Re-Animator has had crossover comic books with Hack/Slash and Army of Darkness. There is also a critically acclaimed musical.
The films provide examples of:
Adaptation Distillation: The first two movies contain many parts of the book and remain faithful with the character portrayals in the book, while changing the tone a bit.
The Original story was published in a comedy magazine. Lovecraft wrote a comedy. A really horrifying comedy.
The Original was also set over several decades, with each short story portraying one or more notable events in Herbert West's attempt to bring the dead back. The first two movies play out over the span of days and are set only months apart.
Animals Hate Him: Dan's cat Rufus is said to have hated Herbert. It's unclear if Rufus sensed something unusual about Herbert or if he was just being an ordinary cat. It's also unclear whether or not Herbert killed Rufus to use in an experiment.
Anti-Hero / Anti-Villain: West. He does really nasty, dreadful stuff, and the well being of his "friends" is an afterthought for him, but all in the name of science, and he never kills anyone unless it's in self-defense or the person deserved it. He also seems to genuinely have a fondness for Dan, even calling the Re-Agent in Bride "our Re-Agent", feeding heavily into the Ho Yay between the two.
Black Comedy Rape: A severed head attempts oral sex on a captured girl in one of the most outrageous scenes in the first film.
Black Dude Dies First: Surprisingly averted, despite teasing at this outcome several times; a black dude or two does die, but only among many other paler-skinned victims, and of course none of them stay dead.
Byronic Hero: Herbert West genuinely doesn't want to hurt anyone, but his blind pursuit of science leads to him doing some REALLY dreadful stuff in its name. He also has many flaws, including bluntness and lack of social skills.
The Cuckoolander Was Right: After dying and being reanimated, a prison guard in Beyond keeps saying "Dubious" after a confrontation with West in which he hears the word but doesn't understand it. When West impersonates Dr. Peterson to escape the prison, he passes the guard who says to no one in particular "Dubious? Dubious."
Dulcinea Effect: In Beyond Re-Animator. Dr. Phillips stops to help Laura, who has a twisted ankle, before helping a guard who had a chunk of his arm ripped out by one of West's zombies.
Expy: Several of the characters in Beyond. Dr. Phillips, West's new assistant, is Dan Cain, an idealistic young doctor who hopes West's work can be used to save lives. Laura, Dr. Phillips' love interest who gets killed and reanimated is Meg Halsey. The Warden, a lustful man obsessed with Laura who wants to steal West's reagent, is an expy for Dr. Hill.
Forgets to Eat: In the first movie, Meg points out that Dan has never seen Herbert eat or sleep. In a deleted scene, it's implied that West injects a diluted version of his Reagent instead.
For Science!: Herbert West is DEADserious about his dedication to this trope. He has no motivation for any of his experiments beyond his need to know. He's not interested in fame, money, helping others, or even immortality. He just wants to go past the mysteries of life and death. As far as he's concerned, any other thing is superfluous.
Genre Savvy: Surprisingly, West himself is this by Beyond. Apparently, 15 years in prison helps a lot to analyze what happened right and wrong in the previous movies. The moment he sees Laura in Beyond, he KNOWS she'll be trouble, and his approach to his experiments is much more methodical than his usual cut-and-paste improvised method of experimentation. He also learns to sedate a corpse before reanimating it.
A God Am I / Rage Against the Heavens: "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!"
Gorn: Holy crap, are these movies gory! Part of their charm, really. Just the Bride's death scene in Bride is one of the most lovingly crafted pieces of special-effect gorn ever filmed.
I'm a Humanitarian: Some of the zombies as well as Moses, a crazy killer who was a cannibal even before his death and reanimation.
Informed Flaw: Dr. Hill is portrayed as a scientific hack who can only steal the ideas of others. However, he is able to use his laser drill to control reanimated corpses and he understood the reagent well enough to successfully use it on bodies that West gave up on.
West's opinion of Doctor Hill is due to the latter's disbelief in West's theories. Doctor Hill revises his opinion later in the movie and may actually teach what he knows is inaccurate (deleted scenes show him possessing hypnotic mind-control powers). By the time Hill revises his opinion, he's trying to steal the reanimation agent.
The Insomniac: Herbert West is two of the listed subtypes, an Obsessive Insomniac and a Superpowered Insomniac. In a deleted scene, it's shown that West injects himself with a solution of his Re-Agent to keep himself from sleeping. This "keeps his mind sharp" but is also implied to be the cause of his insanity.
Insufferable Genius: West's brash personality leads to a rocky relationship with a certain faculty member.
Karma Houdini: Even with all the nightmarish stuff he causes and the many, MANY times someone or something tries to kill him, West always survives. Granted, there wouldn't be a franchise if he died, but...
Though he does go to jail in Beyond... only to break out by the end of things.
Large Ham: Apparently Stuart Gordon, the director of the first film, encouraged this kind of acting style. Jefferey Combs as West and David Gale as Doctor Hill in particular seem to have really gone for it.
Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: On the soft side. We get no explanation for how the Reagent works beyond "restarting the physical and chemical process of life" and its effects are inconsistent and unpredictable.
Of Corpse He's Alive: Used to smuggle a body out of the university's crematorium in Bride of Re-Animator.
Open Secret: Reanimation in the third film. According to Howard, the government tried to cover up West's experiments. However, Laura has several newspaper clippings which show that at least some aspects of West's research are common knowledge.
Our Zombies Are Different: To begin with, they're brought back by injections of glowstick fluid rather than by gnawing on each other.
Parental Incest: Although the dad is a dead body being controlled by someone else by this point.
Psychic Powers: Dr. Hill apparently possess them, since he is able to control the minds of people. Sadly, this only appears in a deleted scene of the first movie where he is hypnotizing Megan's father.
This is featured more prominently in the second movie when Hill, nothing more than a severed head, is able to telepathically control three of the zombies he made at the end of the first film.
This seems to be the reason Hill's headless body can see what it's doing and knows how to tend to his head. There's also implication that Hill has a psychic hold over the reanimated Alan when the former releases the latter from his padded cell.
Sequel Non-Entity: Dan Cain is nowhere to be seen by the time the third movie rolls around. This is handwaved away by West remarking that his "last assistant turned state's evidence on [him]".
Series Continuity Error: In Bride of Re-Animator, West references seeing Dan holding Meg's dead body after failing to reanimate her. A deleted scene shows the actual failed reanimation, as well as West handwaving Hill failing to kill him as "He didn't have the guts." More generally, West apparently dies in both of the first two movies, but still comes back for the sequels.
Stripperiffic: In Beyond Re-Animator the outfits Laura and Nurse Vanessa wear were far too sexy ever to be allowed inside a real prison, especially a men's prison.
Actually justified in Laura's case, since she's trying to sweeten up the Warden as part of her scoop, but in Nurse Vanessa's case? Totally unjustifiable.
At one point, Vanessa has her lab coat ripped off by one of West's zombies. All she has on beneath it is some extremely flimsy lacy underwear, the bra part of which doesn't hold together for five whole seconds under the assault.