Film / Re-Animator
aka: Re-Animator

"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 Sci-Fi Horror Comedy film directed and co-written 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. Others gravitate to the 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: First was Bride of Re-Animator (1990), directed by Brian Yuzna (a frequent collaborator of Stuart Gordon who was a producer on the first film) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003), also directed by Yuzna.

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 film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The first two movies contain many parts of the book and remain faithful with the character portrayals in the book, but play up the story for Black Comedy and lots of sexual weirdness. 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.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In Lovecraft's original story, Herbert West was described as blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Every subsequent depiction of West anywhere else since the Re-Animator film has been closer to Jeffrey Combs' appearance.
  • Ambiguous Situation: It's unclear whether Herbert killed Dan's cat for use in an experiment or if he really did find the cat dead like he claimed he did.
  • 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.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The Re-Agent.
  • Arch-Enemy: Dr. Hill to West, which carries on to the sequel when he is brought back to life.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: West and Dan checking out bodies in the morgue for a suitable test subject, citing their causes of death:
    West: Burn victim... [next body] Here's your meatball... [next body] Shotgun wound to the head...
    Dan: [next body] Ugh, god! He's rotten!
    West: [next body] ...Malpractice.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Of course. For one example, Hill's severed head still manages to talk despite a lack of lungs to push air through his vocal chords.
  • Asexuality: Herbert shows no interest in sex or romance whatsoever and despises Hill for using his formula just to have sex with Megan. There is also that line taken from the second movie:
    Herbert: Don't let the little head rule the big head, Dan.
  • Big Bad: Dr. Carl Hill, who tries to steal West's notes and ends up leading a zombie army against him.
  • Black and Gray Morality: Or just plain Evil vs. Evil, considering everyone the Villain Protagonist knocks off intentionally or otherwise is also an Asshole Victim. There's not a whole lot of gray among the black here.
  • Black Comedy Rape: A severed head attempts oral sex on a captured girl in one of the most outrageous scenes in the first film.
  • Body Horror: Lots of creative examples.
  • Bodybag Trick: Dan smuggles West into the morgue to do re-animation experiments with this trick.
  • Book Ends: The first film begins with Dan failing to resuscitate a dead woman despite all his efforts. It tragically ends the same way when he is unable to revive Megan no matter what he does, which makes him use the Re-Agent on her corpse out of desperation...
  • 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.
  • Came Back Wrong: EVERYBODY who comes back comes back wrong in at least some way.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Dr. Hill's head is crushed by the reanimated Dean Halsey at the end. However, in the second film, it shows up intact and gets reanimated again.
  • Cartwright Curse: Being Dan Cain's love interest seriously counts against your life expectancy. You'll probably be horribly traumatized before dying, too.
  • Deadly Doctor: Herbert West has shades of this.
  • Deadpan Snarker: West. Sometimes it isn't even verbal, like when he kept snapping his pencils to interrupt a professor he didn't agree with.
    "You steal the secret of life and death, and here you are trysting with a bubble-headed coed."
    • Also:
    "Who's going to believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow!"
  • Downer Ending: After Hill is seemingly killed, his zombies go on a complete rampage, with one strangling West — which is also the last we see of him. A zombie manages to kill Meg, whose desperate boyfriend Dan tries to inject her with Re-Agent. Film fades to black in the middle of the zombie rampage, as we hear Meg's screams. Mitigated by the sequel, where we learn that West and Dan survived.
  • Eye Scream: Doctor Gruber in the intro has his eyes squished out.
  • Fan Disservice: The infamous "giving head" scene.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Dan's Talking Heads poster. His teacher Dr. Hill later becomes one.
    • The opening scene where Dan fails to resuscitate a dead patient and is told by one of his peers that he needs to know when to quit. He's faced with the the same scenario at the very end- this time the dead person his own girlfriend, making it much more personal- and becomes so desperate not to lose her that it drives him to use West's reagent on her.
  • Forgets to Eat: 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 dead serious 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.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Most of the re-animated during the climax, since they were naked corpses laying on slabs before their re-animation.
  • Gallows Humor: Aside from the films themselves, Dr. West is a master of doing this... or just does this because of his non-social skills.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Pretty much every use of Re-Agent.
  • Happy Ending: A Real Life example. David Gale had grown tired of acting and had been doing it for the paycheck for years when he was cast in the first film. Much to his surprise, he realized that he loved hamming it up and actually wrote director Stuart Gordon a note thanking him for "re-animating [his] love of acting." Gale's agent put the word out that he would be interested in more sci-fi and horror films; because of Gale's awesome work as the loathsome Dr. Hill, he had his pick of roles until his death years later.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The re-animated Alan Halsey regains some semblance of recognition and turns against Dr. Hill in order to save his daughter.
  • 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.
  • Job Title
  • 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.
  • Losing Your Head: "You're a nobody!"
  • Mad Scientist: Dr. West. Surprisingly he's also the most level-headed individual in the entire series— by the end of a film, everyone except West is going through some manner of hysterics, while West continues like everything is just another experiment.
  • Named by the Adaptation: Dan Cain. In the original novella, West's reluctant sidekick is the narrator and never gets around to mentioning his own name.
  • 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.
  • Professor Guinea Pig: In a deleted scene, West is shown shooting up the reagent himself to keep him awake indefinitely.
  • Psychic Powers: Dr. Hill apparently possesses 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 an implication that Hill has a psychic hold over the reanimated Alan when the former releases the latter from his padded cell.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: The morgue guard Mace, after witnessing the reanimated shenanigans first-hand, wisely decides to bail out.
  • Shovel Strike: After Dr. Hill declares that he is going to take credit for the Re-Agent, West distracts him by showing him a sample under a microscope, hits him over the head with a shovel and then cuts through Hill's neck with the edge of the shovel.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Dr. Hill for Meg. It's implied that he's been obsessed with her ever since she was a child.
  • Technicolor Science: Re-Agent is actually the stuff inside your average glowstick.
  • Villain-Based Franchise: Herbert West, the titular Re-Animator.
  • Villain Protagonist: Herbert West again.
  • Visual Pun: Either supremely funny or supremely horrifying: Dr. Hill giving Meg head... as in, giving her oral sex as a disembodied head.
  • The Watson: Dan Cain. Although, to be fair, more important to his role than asking questions on the audience's behalf is expressing disbelief at the fact that he's still living with West.