Monday, May 26, 2014

Re-Animator (1985, USA)

Directed by: Stuart Gordon
Produced by: Brian Yuzna
Written by: H. P. Lovecraft
Screenplay by: Stuart Gordon, William J. Norris, Dennis Paoli
Based on: Herbert West, Re-Animator by H. P. Lovecraft
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale
Music by: Richard Band
Cinematography: Mac Ahlberg
Editing by: Lee Percy
Studio: Re-Animator Productions
Distributed by: Empire Pictures, Vestron Pictures
Release dates: October 18, 1985
Running time: 95 minutes, 86 minutes (unrated)
Country: United States
Language: English, German
Budget: $900,000
Box office: $2,023,414
Plot: A medical student and his girlfriend become involved in a bizarre experiment into reanimating the dead conducted by the student's incorrigible housemate in this campy sendup of an H.P. Lovecraft story. The emphasis is on humour but once the dead walk, there is gore aplenty.

Info: Re-Animator is a 1985 American science fiction horror film based on the H. P. Lovecraft story "Herbert West–Reanimator." Directed by Stuart Gordon, it was the first film in the Re-Animator series. The film has since become a cult film, driven by fans of Jeffrey Combs (who stars as Herbert West) and H. P. Lovecraft, extreme gore, and the combination of horror and comedy.

Production: The idea to make Re-Animator came from a discussion Stuart Gordon had with friends one night about vampire films. He felt that there were too many Dracula films and expressed a desire to see a Frankenstein film. Someone asked if he had read "Herbert West-Reanimator" by H.P. Lovecraft. Gordon had read most of the author's works, but not that story, which had been long out of print. He went to the Chicago Public Library and read their copy.



Re-Animator original 1985 trailer.

Originally, Gordon was going to adapt Lovecraft's story for the stage, but eventually decided along with writers Dennis Paoli and William Norris to do it as a half-hour television pilot. The story was set around the turn of the century, and they soon realized that it would be too expensive to recreate. They updated it to the present day in Chicago with the intention of using actors from the Organic Theater company. They were told that the half hour format was not salable and so they made it an hour, writing 13 episodes. Special effects technician Bob Greenberg, who had worked on John Carpenter's Dark Star, repeatedly told Gordon that the only market for horror was in feature films, and introduced him to producer Brian Yuzna. Gordon showed Yuzna the script for the pilot and the 12 additional episodes. The producer liked what he read and convinced Gordon to shoot the film in Hollywood because of all the special effects involved. Yuzna made a distribution deal with Charles Band's Empire Pictures in return for post-production services.

Yuzna described the film as having the "sort of shock sensibility of an Evil Dead with the production values of, hopefully, The Howling." John Naulin worked on the film's gruesome makeup effects and worked from what he described as "disgusting shots brought out from the Cook County morgue of all kinds of different lividities and different corpses". He and Gordon also used a book of forensic pathology in order to present how a corpse looks once the blood settles in the body, creating a variety of odd skin tones. Naulin said that Re-Animator was the bloodiest film he had ever worked on. In the past, he never used more than two gallons of blood on a film; on Re-Animator, he used 24 gallons.

 
Poster design by Steve Jencks of Retro DC Design. Steve designed the poster for Rosen's Drive-In in Hendersonville, NC.
 
The biggest makeup challenge in the film was the headless Dr. Hill zombie. Tony Doublin designed the mechanical effects and was faced with the problem of proportion once the 9–10 inches of the head were removed from the body. Each scene forced him to use a different technique. For example, one technique involved building an upper torso that actor David Gale could bend over and stick his head through so that it appeared to be the one that the walking corpse was carrying around.

When Re-Animator was originally released on VHS and Beta by Vestron Video, two versions were available: the unrated theatrical cut and an edited R-rated version, for those video stores whose rental policies would not allow them to rent unrated films that would be considered films with an 'X' rating. In the R-rated version, all extreme gore was edited out, but edited back into the film was a deleted scene: Before going to the Hospital morgue to confront Dr. Hill, Dan discovers West injecting himself with a watered down version of his Re-agent in order to fight off fatigue.


Poster art for 'Horrorshow' Movie Theatre in Pitt Meadows, British Columbia.

Re-Animator was followed by Bride of Re-Animator in 1990 and Beyond Re-Animator in 2003. Both sequels were preceded by another film based upon an H. P. Lovecraft story, From Beyond; though this film featured a story unrelated to Re-Animator, it was also directed by Stuart Gordon and starred both Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton. In the book Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft, producer/director Brian Yuzna mentions an idea that he had for a fourth Re-Animator. This version would have been titled Isle of Re-Animator, and would have been strongly influenced by the H. G. Wells novel The Island of Doctor Moreau. In 2011, a musical adaptation opened on Broadway, which director Gordon participated in.

Reception: Re-Animator was released on October 18, 1985 in 129 theaters and grossed USD$543,728 on its opening weekend. It went on to make $2,023,414 in North America, above its estimated $900,000 budget. The film was well received by critics, earning mostly positive reviews, and today has a 95% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Pauline Kael enjoyed the film's "indigenous American junkiness" and called it "pop Buñuel; the jokes hit you in a subterranean comic zone that the surrealists' pranks sometimes reached, but without the surrealists' self-consciousness (and art-consciousness)."


Re-Animator VHS distributed by Vestron Pictures.

Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars and wrote, "I walked out somewhat surprised and reinvigorated (if not re-animated) by a movie that had the audience emitting taxi whistles and wild goat cries". In her review for the New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "Re-Animator has a fast pace and a good deal of grisly vitality. It even has a sense of humor, albeit one that would be lost on 99.9 percent of any ordinary moviegoing crowd". Paul Attanasio, in his review for the Washington Post, praised Jeffrey Combs' performance: "Beady-eyed, his face hard, almost lacquered, Combs makes West into a brittle, slightly fey psychotic in the Anthony Perkins mold. West is a figure of fun, but Combs doesn't spoof him". In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas wrote, "The big noise is Combs, a small, compact man of terrific intensity and concentration". David Edelstein, writing for Village Voice, placed the film in his year-end Top Ten Movies list.

In their book Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft, Andrew Migliore and John Strysik write: "Re-Animator took First Prize at the Paris Festival of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, a Special Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and even spawned a short-lived series of comic books. Even though it was a hit with audiences, the film generated a huge amount of controversy among Lovecraft readers. Fans thought the film a desecration of Lovecraft; their literary hero would never write such obvious exploitation! But the final criticism of the film might have been a bit more muted if these fans had actually read the "West" stories, which are pure exploitation. Lovecraft himself acknowledged as much, and female love interest and black sex humor aside, Re-Animator really is one of the more faithful and effective adaptations." Entertainment Weekly ranked the film #32 on their list of "The Top 50 Cult Films" and also ranked it #14 on their "The Cult 25: The Essential Left-Field Movie Hits Since '83" list.

 
Re-Animator tattoo. Joe Badiali from California set through a 13 hour tattoo session. A true horror fan in my book.

Film Facts: The special effects department went through 25 gallons of fake blood during the shoot.

The "brains" in the severed head were made up of steer meat by-products, ground beef and fake blood and when they shot the scene in the autopsy room with the severed head being thrown out the door and then smashing onto the hallway wall, the crew were all behind the cameras with garbage bags over their clothes because no one knew just how much the brains would splatter.

David Gale was made to shave his head and wear a toupee, as this was found to be in keeping with Dr. Hill's character. In the DVD commentary, it was revealed that this was also necessary for budgetary reasons, as there was no money available to match Gale's hair on a prosthetic head prop.
Re-Animator digital art by Sam.

The first man who is re-animated at the morgue (who goes on to kill the dean) is Arnold Schwarzenegger's body double.

Very loosely adapted from H.P. Lovecraft's "Herbert West - Re-Animator". Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli originally intended to be faithful to H.P. Lovecraft's story, but the film ultimately has little in common with the story, which was intended to be a parody of "Frankenstein".

Originally director Stuart Gordon wanted to shoot the movie in black and white on 16mm film to give the film a gritty quality.

The opening theme borrows heavily from the Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) opening theme by Bernard Herrmann.


Limited edition 180 gram green vinyl of Richard Band's score for the classic Stuart Gordon film Re-Animator. This new vinyl reissue features audio remastered from the original tapes. Released in 2013 by Waxwork Records. This is Waxwork Record's first ever release.

Richard Band went over schedule by two days while composing the score in Rome, Italy. As a direct result of this, Band had to invest $1,500 dollars of his own money in order to finish the score.

The bald, bearded doctor at the foot of Megan's bed who gets shoved away as Dan tries to revive her is underground cartoonist Kim Deitch ("The Boulevard of Broken Dreams"), son of legendary Jazz-era cartoonist Gene Deitch ("The Cat").

Tom Towles was originally set to play the first re-animated corpse before Peter Kent got the part.

A poster for the Talking Heads documentary Stop Making Sense (1984) is visible above Dan's bed.
Director Stuart Gordon's trademark: A shovel is used as a weapon.

Jeffrey Combs delivers a wonderfully crazy performance as Herbert West, the scientist in the movie who is determined that he has discovered a scientific method to beat death, and is desperate to try it out on a human being rather than small animals, on whom he has had remarkable success. He is playing a completely one-dimensional character, a genius scientist whose mental capacity is also tinged with madness, but which is counterbalanced by the fact that he may very well be desperate to try something potentially immoral but which could also potentially revolutionize medicine. Maybe his intentions are good after all, but for the purposes of the film, he just wants to get his hands on some fresh corpses, which is a great premise for a horror film.

The movie operates in its own world, like the Evil Dead films did. It takes place in the horror genre but wants to combine some elements of drama as well, as we have a real scientist who is truly brilliant. He is still in medical school, I believe, but is often smarter than his often-published professors, criticizing their work for being incorrect or even plagiarized. He's very quick to make enemies, I would think his line of work might be easier the less people he had watching him, so it's unfortunate that he was so good at making people not like him. Mere days after he rents out a room from a couple of other students, they find their cat dead in his refrigerator. I hate it when new roommates do that.

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