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The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

The student news site of Sacramento State University

The State Hornet

Student news without fear or favor

Hornet Horrors: ‘Re-Animator’

The best film adaptation of Lovecraft’s work
One+of+many+adaptations+of+the+works+of+horror+author+H.P.+Lovecraft%2C+1985s+Re-Animator+manages+to+also+be+one+of+the+best.+A+great+example+of+an+80s+cult+classic%2C+this+flick+has+all+the+blood+and+cheesiness+you+could+want.+%28Graphic+created+in+Canva+by+Ariel+Caspar%2C+Image+courtesy+of+Empire+Pictures%29
Ariel Caspar
One of many adaptations of the works of horror author H.P. Lovecraft, 1985’s “Re-Animator” manages to also be one of the best. A great example of an 80’s cult classic, this flick has all the blood and cheesiness you could want. (Graphic created in Canva by Ariel Caspar, Image courtesy of Empire Pictures)

Disclaimer: Spoilers for the film are included in this review

In tonight’s Hornet Horrors we’re taking a look at another literary adaptation, this time of H.P. Lovecraft’s work in the 1985 film “Re-Animator”. Whereas the previous film we looked at,“Rawhead Rex,” failed to live up to its written origins, this cult classic manages to significantly improve upon its less than stellar source material.

Umbrella Entertainment


The story, originally serialized in the early 1920s, tells the tale of the mad Dr. Herbert West, who discovers the secret to bringing the dead back to life. Decades before “Pet Sematary” taught us that people “come back wrong,” West’s abominations were terrorizing rural New England.

Despite that complementary description, the story is also acknowledged as one of Lovecraft’s worst, even by the author himself. Formulaic and horrendously bigoted,, the bar was low for making a film that surpassed the source material.

The filmmakers did this in a few ways, ranging from solid special effects to a fun tongue-in-cheek atmosphere. But what truly sets it apart is the performance of Jeffrey Combs as West.

Combs almost instantly gets across what his character is supposed to be from the very first time he’s on screen; an amoral megalomaniac, more interested with whether or not he can do something than if he should do it.

Combine this with a glowing green solution he uses to bring the dead back to life and it doesn’t take long for West to make his god complex everyone else’s problem.

RELATED: Hornet Horrors: ‘Rawhead Rex’

A large part of what allows Combs’ performance to work is the other good acts to play off of, with Bruce Abbot playing Dan Cain, his reluctant partner in re-animation, and David Gale as his main rival and the antagonist of the flick, Dr. Carl Hill.

Each character also acts as a representation of the different stages of corruption West’s character goes through in the original serial. Cain represents the idealistic doctor who wishes to cure death for people’s betterment, West is the amoral experimenter more interested in proving he can do it and Hill is the self-centered maniac.

The characters playing the roles of the re-animated dead bodies also deserve a lot of credit. At one point a character describes those who are brought back to life as being in constant pain which drives them mad. The physical acting of those underneath the make-up convey that suffering perfectly.

Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs, left) is confronted by Dan Cain (Bruce Abbot, middle) and his fiancée Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton, right) after finding their cat in his fridge. The movie never confirms whether West killed the cat for his experiment or was telling the truth about finding it already dead. (Image Courtesy of Empire Pictures)


The film also benefits from some pretty solid practical effects and makeup, especially given its relatively low budget. These can be credited to John Buechler, the film’s make-up supervisor, who does a stellar job pumping the gore to ridiculous heights.

Buechler’s impressive effects can be seen in the film’s cold open where West’s first on screen test subject has his eyeballs literally explode out of his head. This is only a fraction of the 24 gallons of fake blood the film reportedly used, according to a Fangoria interview with make-up artist John Naulis, and establishes the over the top tone of the movie.

Often labeled as a horror-comedy, “Re-Animator” is very self-aware of how silly its concept can come off as and decides to lean into it just enough for it to work. Gore effects are over the top and performances are melodramatic, but it never undercuts itself by flagrantly pointing out how silly it is.

A perfect example of this is the scene where West is accosted by a recently re-animated cat. It would take an astounding lack of self-awareness to see Jeffrey Combs running around a basement with a cat puppet and not expect people to chuckle about it. Instead of having a character break to talk about how ridiculous the situation is, they let it play out and effectively give the film some levity.

West prepares his “re-animation solution” to bring the severed head of Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) back to life. The glowing effect of the solution was made using luminol, a compound used in glow sticks. (Image courtesy of Empire Pictures)

Of course, I’d be remiss to talk about the film’s dark comedy and not discuss a very infamous scene where the female lead, played by Barbara Crampton, is sexually assaulted by a severed head. Even taking differing sensibilities of the time into consideration, it’s hard to look at the scene doing anything but giving severe tonal whiplash.

Crampton would later poke fun at the scene in a cast commentary on a later DVD release, but even the other cast members are clearly a little uncomfortable when the scene starts. Ultimately, it ends up being more distracting than anything else and probably should have been left on the cutting room floor.

There are a couple of other issues with the film, but they are relatively minor compared to the point above. Hill’s ability to control the re-animated dead through lobotomies is a little contrived and if you look closely, some make-up on the gnarlier bodies is a bit obvious, but these are more nitpicks than damning condemnations.

The opening theme song is noticeably similar to the theme from “Psycho,” but composer Richard Band has always been open about it being influenced by the classic thriller.

In many ways “Re-Animator” is the archetypal cult horror film, managing to have a lot of charm while being bit on the grimey side. Combs’s performance alone would be enough to give this movie a recommendation, but the overall package makes it more than worth seeking out for any horror fans.

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About the Contributor
Jacob Peterson, News Editor
(he/him)
Jacob joined The State Hornet in fall 2022, and served as the spring 2023 visuals editor and now the fall 2023 news editor. He earned his A.A. in journalism at Cosumnes River College and is working on his B. A. at Sac State.
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