Re-Animator (1985)

hpl1Always had a problem with Re-Animator. So many critics raved about it, but I rather detested it, alongside so many other films based on Lovecraft’s fiction made around that time. They transposed the stories to the present day and seemed (horror of horrors!) to play them more for laughs than scares.

Back in the mid-eighties, I was at college, and I remember spending one long glorious summer simply devouring the stories of H P Lovecraft. British paperback imprint Voyager had launched a three-volume omnibus collection; I bought all three and commenced reading them throughout. It was glorious indeed, I can hardly describe how care-free and innocent all that was, young and with loads of free time, soaking up all those stories- The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Festival, The Tree, The Rats, The Tomb, Dreams in the Witch-House… so many amazing tales. Whenever I think back to those days I can hardly believe I had so few cares in the world and so much free time (these days I hardly seem to have any time at all to read, currently slogging over a period of months through the Games of Thrones books).

But anyway, I grew very attached to Lovecraft’s stories. Many might consider them dated and stilted but I lapped them up, savouring their 1920s settings and the dark charms of Lovecraft’s chaotic uncaring universe of horror; “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of the infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” 

So imagine my chagrin when Hollywood turned to Lovecraft’s stories and turned them into modern comedies. Well, that’s how it seemed to me, and I responded with disgust. I still maintain that serious period movies based on some of HPL’s work -I’m thinking The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, but we came close a few years ago with At The Mountains of Madness- could be remarkable. Lovecraft’s vision is of its time, and the stories being moved to the present day just don’t, for me, work.

reanimatorBut anyway, years pass and my grudge against those 1980s films that betrayed my beloved Lovecraft has lessened somewhat. I guess time heals all wounds. I re-watched Re-Animator the other day on Blu-ray and quite enjoyed it. It isn’t really Lovecraft at all (which diffuses my hatred somewhat), and I guess it would make a remarkable double-bill with Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead on a boozy night in (the possibilities of drinking games watching those two together just makes my head spin). Now that the excesses of gore have somewhat been tamed by time and ever-gorier movies that followed, what really shines are the acting turns of  Jeffrey Combs and David Gale, chewing up the scenery in fine style. I remember being horrified (in the wrong way) by the distinctly Psycho-like score by Richard Band that really annoyed me (a homage, a rip-off? back in the day I was certain of the latter) but its so dated now in execution with ‘eighties keyboards etc that it almost has a charm of its own. So for me, in a funny way, Re-Animator has improved with time- perhaps I’ve mellowed with age. Its a fine horror-comedy (a tricky thing to pull off) and not a Lovecraft film at all. No, really- it has some crazy dude named Herbert West but that’s not the Herbert West of my beloved Lovecraft; he fools around with a hobby deserved of Frankenstein but that’s also nothing at all to so with the Lovecraft stories, no,  not at all. Just don’t tell me different. And be sure to keep a few pints near me whenever I watch it- the booze dulls my senses and I can let the injustices pass.



4 thoughts on “Re-Animator (1985)

  1. gregory moss

    I rather like Dan O’Bannon’s The Resurrected which was a serious (if modern) take on Lovecraft … for me it’s pretty much the only HPL adaptation that has come anywhere near in capturing the sense of DREAD in HPL’s writings … and let’s be frank here – it is indeed dread we’re talking about with Lovecraft … the one thing most filmmakers have continually failed to deliver … 🙂

  2. I never liked ‘ReAnimator’, either.

    I first saw it on VHS back in 1985. I was a big Alan Moore fan, and he and Steve Bissette gave it a brief rave on a Swamp Thing letters page when it was first released in the US. So one afternoon, when I was left alone with the VCR, I rented ‘Nightmare On Elm St.’ and ‘ReAnimator’.

    ‘Elm St.’ really creeped me out – even in broad daylight I was genuinely scared: that film is absolutely perfectly attuned to the teenage psyche. So following it up with the jokiness of ‘ReAnimator’ didn’t really work. I as actually bored for big chunks of it. I went to see ‘From Beyond’ on its cinema release, as well, and thought it was pretty crappy: I haven’t ever had much time for horror-comedy, especially of the cheap’n’cheerful kind.

    And, though we’d had a couple of Lovecraft paperbacks on the family bookshelves for years, I never picked them up until 1988, and a whole new world opened up to me. That Christmas I got the very same three-volume collection you did* – unlike today, they were pretty much the only Lovecraft collections available at the time, weren’t they? Those terrible covers! I tore through them all in a matter of weeks. And Lovecraft is still one of my very favourite writers, so whenever I’ve come across ‘ReAnimator’ since then it’s been viewed with a kind of snarling, lip-curling distaste.

    I have to say, I don’t think anyone could ever get Lovecraft right [though I have fantasies about filming ‘The Colour Out Of Space’ – you’d have to cheerfully ignore the impossibility of capturing the ‘new colour’ itself on film, but that aside it’d be a fabulous low-key chiller]. I’d prefer to see it as a period film, but you could, at a stretch, make it contemporary.

    I certainly think that Del Toro is exactly the wrong man for the job: there’s nothing in his work that ever ‘suggests’ rather than ‘shows’, though what he ‘shows’ is often very interesting, baroque, and individual. Better, I think, that Lovecraft remain a shadowy presence influencing writers and directors, rather than stepping into a glaring spotlight that would diminish him.

    *Can you please stop having these eerie parallels with my cultural life?! It’s unnerving.
    Cosmos, Lovecraft, Giger… reading your blog is like reliving what I though was a very specific personal 80s.

  3. I think the best silver screen adaptation of Lovecraft is the HPL Historical Society’s call of Cthulhu, done as if it was made 1928 silent and black and white I think the old man from Providence would have really liked it.

  4. Wow dude, really glad to see that this flick has got better over time. Or perhaps it was you mellowing but regardless, Re-Animator is a film that I must still watch at some point or another. It is a “classic” that I have missed out and aim to change. I might also like it more due to not reading the source material!

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