Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Re-Animator

What would a note say, Dan? “Cat dead, details later”?

Jarv’s Rating: 3 and a half Changs out of 4. A fucking absolute classic of its kind: gross, irreverent and frequently hilarious, this is an absolutely essential zombie film.

Re-Animator, or “How to get a head in medicine”, is notable for a few reasons. Firstly, it is arguably the only successful Lovecraft adaptation out there (don’t give me that shit about Dagon being anything more than worthless), although I will take Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness as  a Lovecraft-inspired film. Secondly, it also spawned several sequels, the first of which: Bride of Re-Animator is a gross and hilarious reworking of Bride of Frankenstein tied in to the Re-Animator mythology. Thirdly, Re-Animator represents a career high for almost everyone involved in it, certainly Jeffrey Combs will never put in another performance even remotely in the same league as his turn here, and finally, it’s just fucking gold from start to finish, combining some midnight-black comedy with excellent practical effects, and a skyscraper high level of entertainment. This is a storming film.

I’m starting to think of the period from 1980-1986 as a bit of a golden period for zombie films, particularly those that attempt to navigate the treacherous path of horror-comedy. There’s the excellent Return of the Living Dead around this time as well, another frequently hilarious and mostly unique look at zombies. Return of the Living Dead and Re-Animator, actually, have one thing in common that’s very rare for zombie films: intelligent, articulate zombies. In Return of The Living Dead, the zombies can use the radio to order up a fresh supply of paramedics, whereas here, well, the main villain is the re-animated corpse of Dr. Carl Hill, megalomaniac surgeon, plagiarist, and dirty undead cunt. I can’t think of that many films after 1986 that feature talking zombies, certainly not ones that can lay plans etc, and this does make me wonder what it was about this period that inspired this twist on the genre.

Jeffrey Combs plays Herb West. Herb has recently been expelled from a Swiss clinic for some frankly dubious and unethical practises involving a magic green syringe, corpses, and exploding heads. He’s got this crackpot theory about his magic green (and green stuff in movies featuring movie scientists is never a good thing) enzyme being the key to breaking the 6-minute barrier and effecting re-animation of dead tissue. There are, naturally, several unpleasant side effects that West hasn’t quite been able to iron out yet, not least of which is the tendency of his re-animated corpses to turn into insane and nigh-on unstoppable killing machines.

Herb didn’t start out with humans, of course, he built up to it, and in between falling out with Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), getting expelled and generally being a creepy douchebag, he manages to draw his roommate Dan Cain (Bruce Abbot) and his girlfriend Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton) into his web of insanity leading to hilarious and tragic consequences. Shenanigans eventually ensue, Dr. Hill organises an undead rampage before Cain and West can eventually shut everything down- although it is too late for poor old Megan and her father.

Firstly, I’ll just talk about the acting for a moment or two. Herb West was a career making role- he’s Mr. October in the mad scientist calendar, but not actually that easy a role to play. West is a fanatic, and an astonishingly pompous and self-righteous one at that, and although he is blessed with a script that delivers a fair amount of comic one-liners and insane megalomania, there was the real potential for the performance to strike the wrong note and just be creepy and aggravating. Combs is on absolutely stellar form here as West, his performance carries the film for the most part- he’s charismatic, creepy and frequently comical. It’s easy to see why Combs version of West has semi-iconic status. Abbot, on the other hand, has an equally difficult task because it falls to him to play straight man to West. His version of Cain is malleable and naive, and although blessed with a decent enough brain, he’s clearly no match for the towering intellect of his nutty roommate. Abbot plays this well, being as easy to manipulate as warm clay but strangely likable. Crampton (who interestingly partially won the part due to a willingness to take her clothes off- which is awesome) is also on good form as Megan, being sweet and generally easy to like as she fends off the pervy attention of Dr. Hill. Which brings me on to  Gale as the aforementioned undead cunt: he’s hilarious, spending the first 2/3 of the film sneeringly arguing with West and plotting his domination and the last third of it as a decapitated head on a tray- which allows him full rein to chew some scenery, and he doesn’t pass up the opportunity.

The script and direction here absolutely sparkle. Re-Animator is flat-out hilarious on several occasions and intentionally so. Take, for example, the cat sequence. Cain wakes up in the night because he can hear strange noises in the basement, down he goes to find West being attacked by a zombie cat. After a brief struggle, West and Cain manage to despatch said undead feline, before, instead of giving West his marching orders, they sit down so that Herb can demonstrate the effectiveness of his magic green solution. This sequence is laugh out loud funny, and this is because of the dialogue and performances and direction. West and Cain are arguing over whether or not the cat is actually an ex-cat, and to demonstrate West picks it up and drops it while repeating “would you say this cat is dead”. It’s obviously, fucking dead, by the way, as it looks completely mangled. Nevertheless, the whole scene is played with a gleeful charm- this is clearly a stupid moment, but it’s also a hilarious one and all involved know it. Stuart Gordon knows that he’s got golden material to work with here, and actors right at the top of their game. Therefore, he’s more than happy to let the camera stand back and allow events to unfold without gimmick. It’s a brave decision, but undoubtedly the correct one, as the three-stooges inspired antics in the morgue, say, demonstrate. Actually, the film Re-Animator reminds me of most is Evil Dead 2 in that there’s an awful lot of physical comedy played on-screen, and it would undoubtedly fall completely flat if it didn’t have the right personnel to perform it. It’s not as good as Evil Dead 2, but little is, and the comedy is as gross, but nevertheless, this is sterling stuff.

There are two other points of note before I sign off, the first is the score- which is derivative of earlier times. It’s also note perfect and while pleasingly cheery has a gothic note, thereby managing to nail all the facets of a complex zombie film. However, more importantly, the practical effects in this are top-notch. When Hill eventually takes centre stage, he does so as a decapitated head and body. It’s fucking priceless the antics he gets up to- with a great sight-gag involving one of those anatomy dolls you saw in biology class at school. Secondly, there’s a monumentally gross visual pun (and I think Hill makes the link verbally for those too stupid to spot it) at the climax of the film, which I am going to put a picture up of below, that is so wrong, and so funny that it’s one of the stand-out moments from any undead film. This scene, actually, sums up Re-Animator in a nutshell for me: gleeful, irreverent, sick as fuck, and downright hilarious.

Overall, this is an excellent film. In fact, it’s very nearly flawless. Re-Animator is one of the genre classics of the era, and a truly schlocky treat that is fun for all the family. There’s gore, comedy, nudity to keep the kids interested and a strong storyline allied to even stronger performances. I’ve rated it with 3 and a half out of 4, which is on the very high side, and that’s because I do really, really, really recommend this one. Re-Animator is a fantastic romp that scores in pretty much every department and if you haven’t seen it yet, then I suggest you get it and it’s sequel for an epic double-bill of zombie hi-jinks.

Until next time,


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About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

56 responses to “Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Re-Animator”

  1. Xiphos0311 says :

    Combs did excellent work on Star Trek Deep Space 9.

    I watched re-animator about a year or ago and it reminded that once upon a time Hollywood use to make bat shit insane movies just to make bat shit insane movies. I miss those movies and days.

    • Jarv says :

      Yeah. Me too. Would be nice if people would stop making loopy films because they’re ironic or some shit.

      Never watched ds9.

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Ironic, Post-modern and Deconstructionist the 3 words that untalented hipster fucktards use to hide their lack of talent as directors and writers.

        Christ I wish they would just make movies that are fun for the sake of entertainment without all the horseshit they think the drooling mouth breathing cinema nerds want. The assholes Hollywood should ever listen too are the AICN news TBers and the like. Militant film snobs ruin the entertainment factor of movies with their innate stupidity.

      • Jarv says :

        It’d be great if they’d also stop giving money to Wankers like Snyder to turn out onanistic shit as well.

      • Jarv says :

        Also- Bitch Slap was designed as “a better b-movie”. They just aimed at exploitative fun and fucking nailed it.

  2. kloipy says :

    great review Jarv. This is one of my favorites. Just pure crazy. I love the “what should I leave a note, cat dead, explain later” line. If you haven’t seen it check out Bride of Re-Animator. It’s just as crazy and I think you’d dig it

    • Jarv says :

      Bride is next up. Stop your demented doodling!

    • Jarv says :

      Also, that’s a great line. I used it for the quote for this review, bit there were so many others I could have gone with. West’s “co-ed” line to Hill, or taunting him for being just a head in a tray leaping to mind.

  3. DocPazuzu says :

    Great write-up. While I do share your limitless love for Re-Animator, I do think there are at least a couple of cool Lovecraftesque movies out there, most notably From Beyond and The Resurrected.

    • Jarv says :

      You know, for some reason, I’ve never seen From Beyond. I shall remedy that forthwith.

      • DocPazuzu says :

        Oh man, I thought maybe you had just forgotten about From Beyond. Well, you have some treat ahead of you then!

        Try to get ahold of The Resurrected too if you can. The protagonist is played by none other than Hawk the motherfuckin’ Slayer, John Terry, himself. It’s twisted and mean-spirited as hell. Recommended!

      • Jarv says :

        Holy shit!

        Hawk the Slayer! I have to find this,

      • Spud McSpud says :

        The Doc is right, Jarv – FROM BEYOND is fucking brilliant. Plays fast and loose with the HPL source material, but it is as creepy and gross and insane as any HPL adaptation should be. I think you’ll like it.

        RE-ANIMATOR is, as you rightly state, a stone-cold classic of its kind. I must get round to a back-to-back night of this and FRANKENHOOKER 😀

      • Jarv says :

        Much like Re-Animator plays fast and loose with HPL?

        Yup, I’ll get it.

        Also, Spud- double bill this and Bride- fucking awesome.

      • Droid says :

        I second the double bill. Great stuff. Just don’t do it when you’re astonishingly hungover. Takes some of the fun out of it.

      • Jarv says :


        Awesome any time.

      • Droid says :

        Christ I felt like shit that day. Were we drinking whisky?

      • Jarv says :


        And extremely posh Scotch as well.

      • Droid says :

        Yeah, I was going a bit nuts with that stuff. The best word to describe it is “guzzling”.

      • Jarv says :

        I did a bit of freelance design recently, so I’ve got some more coming.

      • Spud McSpud says :

        I’ve seen BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, and yes, it’s almost as good as the first. Seriously deranged fun.

        Great design work, too – the idea of an eye on four fingers running round the house like a severed human limb-spider creeped me out for MONTHS…

      • Jarv says :



  4. Col. Tigh-Fighter says :

    One of my favourite 80’s films.

    They just dont make ’em like they used too!

  5. Tom_Bando says :

    Any love for Repo-Man in these parts?

    • Jarv says :

      Yup. Own it and watch it very now and again. Good film. Frequently hilarious and just weird as all fuck. Alex Cox made a right bollocks of his career.

    • DocPazuzu says :

      “Don’t want any Communists in my car! Or Christians!”

      “Diarrhetics — matter over mind.”

      Repo Man FTW!

  6. koutchboom says :

    Yeah I need to watch this again. I got the DVD when it first dropped, watched it but it didn’t grab me. Granted I had just seen Dead Alive and was hoping for something more like that. I bet I’ll like it more now.

  7. ThereWolf says :

    ‘Re-Animator’ is the bollocks – I usually double-bill this with ‘From Beyond’, which is also magnificent.

    The, erm, last picture… I think the UK censors took exception to that sequence and lopped a few frames out. I had to get a US import to finally see the movie in its full glory…

    • Jarv says :

      Wouldn’t surprise me, to be honest. I’ve seen it in various forms, and it’s full glory is downright hilarious. Nasty, but hilarious.

      • ThereWolf says :

        I saw it first on VHS rental & wasn’t aware of cuts at that time. Then stories of a ‘head’ version started doing the rounds. But it wasn’t until the recent-ish US ‘Millennium Edition’ DVD did I get to see a fuller version.

        Worth the wait!

  8. goregirl says :

    Re-Animator and From Beyond are two of my favourite horror films of all time. Stuart Gordon is fucking awesome!

    • Jarv says :

      Top film. I’m looking to rectify the weird From Beyond omission this week.

      I also weirdly haven’t seen Beyond Reanimator either.

      • DocPazuzu says :

        Beyond Re-Animator is not bad, even if it’s nowhere near as awesome as the first one. However, it DOES have a rat vs. re-animated penis battle.

      • DocPazuzu says :

        As for From Beyond, I think the fully uncut edition is still being seeded at That Place. Run, don’t walk, and obtain it forthwith!

        I think The Resurrected is still being seeded there too.

  9. Frank Marmoset says :

    Couldn’t agree more. This is a great film, one of my favourite horrors from the eighties. Bride Of Re-Animator is pretty good, too. Beyond Re-Animator is a disappointment, but it does have a few moments, especially the Rat Vs Penis scene Dr P mentioned.

    Has anyone out in Californee-eye-aye seen the Re-Animator musical? I’m not a big musicals guy, but I would totally see that.

    • Jarv says :

      Agreed, I love it to. And I would also watch that musical…

    • Continentalop says :

      Have not seen it. I was planning on going but than I got suckered into shooting this shitty feature. Now I’m off the feature, but I think I missed my chance to see Re-Animator: the Musical.

      • Jarv says :

        Oh no!

        What a shame. Never mind, maybe it will be like the rocky horror picture show and come back.

      • Jarv says :

        Did you get fired then?

      • Continentalop says :

        No. They just were “polite” enough not to fucking call me and tell me what is up. I had to see they got a new DP by seeing them post photos of him on Facebook.

        I don’t mind them getting someone else (Hell, I wouldn’t use me as a DP) especially since I was thinking about walking away anyways, but be a little courteous. Especially when you consider all the shit I had to put up with and how many strings I pulled for them.

        Of course they probably are unaware of their incompetence and everything I did for them, and just think I was being “negative.”

      • Jarv says :

        What! If you’re going to fire someone, then have the fucking balls to actually do it properly.

        Fuck’s sake. What’s wrong with people- still, slip me a review copy and I’ll beat the shit out of it either with or without creative swearing.

      • Jarv says :

        Oh, and don’t worry we’ll hire you whenever we get round to AvWWOTM. We don’t care about negativity because we plan on having lots of lovely drugs to take it away.

      • Continentalop says :

        If I told you about how fucking dumb this project was you’d laugh…at them, and then me for fucking working on it.

        And I plan on sending you guys and Eccho a copy of my friends movie when it is done so you can review it (feel free to be honest). It might be something you guys like – the basic premise is what if Eli Roth was captured and tortured like the characters in his movies.

      • Jarv says :

        the basic premise is what if Eli Roth was captured and tortured like the characters in his movies.

        By hot lesbians with an inability to keep their clothing on?

      • Continentalop says :

        Plus I don’t believe I am being “negative.” I believe I’m “critical.” And I don’t think being critical is a bad thing. It means you just think something could be better.

      • Jarv says :

        I agree. Even when I’m ranting at crappy films, I do it at films that actually could be better. When something is truly bad I’m nowhere near as entertaining. I just get depressed.

      • Continentalop says :

        This movie falls in the later category. Actually it has a really good script, which is why it is so frustrating. They just throw it out the window with incompetence.

        I’ll continue my rant in the rec room.

      • Jarv says :

        I’ve got to pop out for an hour or so- look forward to reading it. I’m sure, though, that with a description like that they’ll be on the remake of Citizen kane before you can blink.

        GODDAMNIT. That’s it. This summer in Spain, I’m going to fucking start writing Astrodykes.

      • Continentalop says :

        BTW my friends movie I might send you is NOT the same one as the one I’m working on. Just to be clear.

  10. Continentalop says :

    Fuck it. I want to bitch about this movie some more. I’m going to take this over to the rec room so I don’t distract from your awesome Re-Animator review.

    BTW – Jeffrey Combs only performance as good as this one was his VO work on Justice League as the Question. I’m actually not a big fan of the DCU cartoons, but I did see some episodes with Jeffrey doing the voice of the Question and he was damn good.

    • Jarv says :

      Eh? Never seen that either.

      I’m looking forward to doing 100% Gordon. I think this could be an excellent challenge.

      • Continentalop says :

        You might like his version of the Question on the JL cartoon. Rorschach from the Watchmen is based on the Question, so it’s almost like watching an alternate universe version where they made him cool and entertaining.

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