"If Re-Animator doesn't get your blood pumping, you're already dead."

Taking cues from The Evil Dead's innovations in gore but prefiguring the splatstick zeitgeist ushered in by its sequel, Re-animator is one of horror's great one-offs and undoubtedly the best HP Lovecraft adaptation to date (even if it is based on an underwhelming serial that's not especially representative of the esteemed author). With a star-making turn from professional nutter Jeffrey Combs and a brilliant Bernard Herrman-riffing score from Richard Band, it's classier than you'd expect and has aged remarkably well, the sort of mid-budget marvel that could only have come from that mid-Eighties golden age of practical effects.

Miskatonic University medical student Dan Cain has a new housemate named Herbert West with some big ideas about the after-life, having perfected a serum that has the power to resurrect the deceased. Looking for bodies to experiment on, West enlists Dan's help to access the morgue, but when their first visit goes disastrously wrong, Dan's life is thrown into turmoil, especially his relationship with Dean's daughter Megan. When dastardly Doctor Hill attempts to steal the serum to aid his own experiments into neuro-function, the scene is set for a showdown between the living and the dead that blurs the line between both.

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Chicagoan director Stuart Gordon has never bettered this debut (though he came close with the fantastically freaky and more classically Lovecraftian From Beyond), but has recently relocated some of his mojo post-Nineties straight-to-vid ghettoisation by returning to his theatrical roots with a series of effective if subdued stagey indies (from early Mamet adaptation Edmond to outrageous based-on-fact black comedy Stuck). It's that sense of theatrical flair which gives Reanimator much of its charm; unlike many of the period's body count flicks, it's founded on exchanges between pairs of actors that feel organic and intrinsic to the plot and relationships, rather than merely setting up the next bloodbath.

The main reason to return to Re-Animator with this new release is the integral cut, which splices back in the extra dialogue scenes that were filmed to replace gore for home video, resulting in a feature running nearly 20 minutes longer. Unusually, rather than feel superfluous, these additions make for a deeper, more cerebral experience. Importantly, there's more of uber-villain Dr Hill's hypnosis, including a creepy subplot that makes more sense of his subsequent mind-control over the dead, while Megan is given more to do on the anti-West front, further fleshing out her romance with Dan.

Sometimes these scenes disrupt the snappy rhythm of the original cut, and there are some slight continuity errors, but they add enough worthwhile character detail and are short enough to avoid detracting from the overall feel. In particular, there's one insane plot addition involving West's application of the serum that adds a whole new layer to the madness engulfing him.

The performances all add immeasurably to the texture and tone of the piece, with straight-man Bruce Abbott a committed counterfoil to Combs' unhinged intellectual mug-show. There's even a sense of pathos between Robert Sampson's protective but close-minded Dean and appealing love-interest Barbara Crampton, leading to unexpectedly tragic and rousing scenes of daughter-to-zombie-dad connection. David Gale is especially delightful, out-camping Combs as his menacing would-be master, the friction between them charging the action with a delirious tension (West's pencil-snapping antics at an early lecture are priceless).

Despite being more artistically credible than most of its contemporaries, Re-Animator will always be best-loved for its gleefully OTT undead carnage. A modern Prometheus Unbound, its escalating series of blood-drenched set-pieces retain the power to provoke shock and mirth in equal measure. Gordon's unbridled enthusiasm for on-camera trickery was borne from his Grand Guignol stage company and still screams from the screen - his recent return to the stage further highlighted this with the Re-Animator musical pulling off all the film's effects in all their trashy glory.

From the literally eye-popping opening scene to the frenzied zombie-cat attack - where Combs and Abbott have more fun thrashing a fake fur prop than ought to be legal - down to the spectacularly tasteless 'head' scene - once trimmed but reinstated in all its ickiness since 2007's DVD release - Re-Animator is positively rabid entertainment, climaxing with an extended assault on the senses that truly gets the blood boiling, especially with Herrman's - sorry, Band's - cacophony of shrieking Hitchockian strings.

It might lack the punk energy of the same year's Return Of The Living Dead, but Re-Animator is an equally ribald treat that's bound to find many new fans in this new edition. Even those who've bought it countless times before and know it inside out will want to check out the integral version, with its even more involving and out-there storyline. Modern gorehounds might be surprised to see how little of its edge it's lost, while even non-horror viewers should find plenty to savor in its black humour and classical approach. If Re-Animator doesn't get your blood pumping, you're already dead.

Reviewed on: 12 Jun 2014
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Re-Animator packshot
Students decide to resurrect the dead.

Director: Stuart Gordon

Writer: Dennis Paoli, William Norris, Stuart Gordon, based on the story by HP Lovecraft

Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson, Gerry Black, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Peter Kent, Barbara Pieters, Ian Patrick Williams, Bunny Summers, Al Berry, Derek Pendleton, Gene Scherer, James Ellis

Year: 1985

Runtime: 86 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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