The second Lovecraft-inspired film watched in preparation for the forthcoming At the Mountains of Madness only really has a tenuous link the Cthulhu Mythos. Though the original story was not really part of the Mythos as such, ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’ was the first Lovecraft tale to make mention of Miskatonic University.
Apparently Lovecraft intended the short story to be a kind of spoof of ‘Frankenstein,’ and Director Stuart Gordon takes this to heart, effectively making a horror comedy. At first, there isn’t much to laugh about except for the hammy acting, with Jeffrey Combs front and centre for the role of Herbert. Combs is great at keeping a straight face, no matter how ridiculous proceedings become. Herbert’s been kicked out of a Swiss medical school and is instead taken on at Miskatonic University, befriending Dan Cain. It’s a friendship borne out of convenience, as Dan also needs a new housemate, and Herbert is happy to take up residence, as long as he is never disturbed and can use the basement for his experiments. Unsurprisingly for everyone except Dan, Herbert’s experiments involving raising the dead, and it’s not long before his determination – and apparent lack of any ability to learn from his mistakes – leads to an undead disaster.
Re-Animator is all about the gore, and it does it pretty well. If you’re really itching for some severed limbs and spattered brains, then this film is for you. The prosthetics are top notch for their time, too. The sets are less impressive – I was constantly distracted by the security guard who had a desk in the middle of a hallway – however with a budget of apparently $90,000, it’s clear that the focus was upon the quality of the prosthetic effects rather than the locations.
The film is gratuitous in many regards, particularly when it comes to the aforementioned gore, and it throws in some unnecessary nudity for good measure, too. Poor Barbara Crampton (as Megan) gets her kit off for a particularly exploitative scene, though she did continue working with Gordon for years to come, so presumably wasn’t too conflicted about her role.
Re-Animator is quite nasty, really – like many horror films from the 80s. Even the humour doesn’t manage to hide just how unpleasant most of the film is, though I suppose this is part of the cult appeal of Gordon’s most fondly remembered film. If any Lovecraft fans out there are looking for a film that truly conveys the spirit and mood of his works, then this isn’t it. There’s nary a catacomb to be seen, though I’m told that future sequels would remedy this (I’ll let you know how those compare in time).Rating: