I was supposed to do Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds for this month, but unfortunately I had some problems with the DVD. I got partway into the movie and suddenly it froze and began skipping. I couldn't move on without missing some crucial parts to the film and it seemed extremely unlikely that I would be able to find another copy before the end of the month (and even if I was, I can't be sure I'd have another opportunity to see it). Fortunately, I had a few other horror films in my drawer that could go in its place for October's, and one in particular struck me due to its source material.
I therefore have a confession to make. Despite being a huge H.P. Lovecraft fan and my endorsements of the HPLHS adaptations of his stories, I had never seen the cult classic Re-Animator before now. For that matter I have not actually seen any of Stuart Gordon's other Lovecraft adaptations such as Dagon, From Beyond, or the TV treatment of The Dreams in the Witch-House he did for Masters of Horror. I haven't even gotten around to reading the original Lovecraft serial on which this particular film was based, making this the first time with any of his work I've seen the movie before reading the story.
Herbert West–Reanimator as Lovecraft wrote it was supposedly a parody of Frankenstein. Mary Shelley's classic tale (which surprisingly enough, I have read not seen any film adaptations of, unless you count Young Frankenstein) was about a man who tries to scientifically engineer a process to revive the dead. The creature that results from these experiments is a grotesque entity that causes him to immediately regret his hard work. Lovecraft's story takes that concept up several notches by having a scientist reanimate multiple corpses.
Though Lovecraft himself was not particularly fond of the story (he mainly wrote it for the money and had a lot of frustrating restrictions imposed on him), it does have something of a following with his fans. Maybe it's just because it's a little bit different from his usual horror, but whatever the case may be this is often one that fans will bring up. Naturally it appealed to Stuart Gordon, who given the path of his directorial career is clearly fond of Lovecraft's writing.
Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), is a brilliant but eccentric medical student based out of an institution in Switzerland, but he gets fired after he is caught performing unorthodox experiments on one of the staff. He moves to America and enrolls at Miskatonic University where he continues to develop his peculiar experiments after moving in with classmate Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). There he continues to experiment with a fluid he has developed capable of reanimating dead tissue. Things become difficult when Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson) voices opposition to West's experiments. Also thrown into the mix are Halsey's daughter Megan, who is engaged to Dan and gets mixed up in all of West's experiments, and a jerk by the name of Carl Hill (David Gale) who has made a career out of stealing credit for other people's accomplishments.
The whole thing has sort of a b-movie atmosphere, which has a strange kind of charm to it and actually does somewhat fit in with the original story (which was allegedly a parody of Frankenstein). The plot does get over the top and crazy at times, but when the film needs to it can be disturbing. You can naturally expect a lot of gore from a movie about reanimating corpses, and oddly enough the excessive amount of blood does make the appearances of the resurrected human cadavers a bit more disturbing.
Re-Animator is certainly an interesting experience for any major horror fan. It is a bit campy and over the top but it will keep you on the edge of your seat as you are taken through a bizarre sequence of events. It might seem a bit slow at first but once the bodies start rising it'll be a blast, and there is even a bit of emotion to be found in all of this. The main characters are rather likable but Herbert West himself is an especially interesting figure in the way he is driven by the passion of his discovery. I'm sorry I wasn't able to do The Birds as I originally planned, but this one worked alright as a substitute. Give it a watch, you won't regret it.