Herbert West is amazing from the moment he walks into this movie. That’s all due to Jeffrey Combs, who owns every movie I’ve ever seen him in, like Castle Freak and The Frighteners.
Back when he was at the University of Zurich Institute of Medicin, he brought his dead professor, Dr. Hans Gruber (yes, the same name as Die Hard) back to life. However, the dose was too big and there were horrible side effects, he had to kill him, yelling, “I gave him life!”
He’s figured out a formula that can re-animate the dead and now he needs bodies which he can get thanks to his medical classmate Dan (Bruce Abbott, Bad Dreams). Of course, nothing is going to end up going well for anyone.
That’s because Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) is in love with Dan’s girl, who is played by the always amazing and forever young Barbara Crampton (who is also incredibly great in Castle Freak, Chopping Mall, Channel Zero: The Dream Door, We Are Still Here and more).
Miskatonic University is not ready for the sheer amount of gore and shenanigans that West is about to let loose. And when Rufus, Dan’s cat, is killed, well, why not bring him back to life and leave a note to explain?
As a result of this experiment, West and Dan get banned from the school, so they start breaking into morgues and injecting corpses with glowing liquid. Soon, the dead are violently rising to life and one of them ends up killing Megan’s dad, Dr. Halsey. So of course, they have to bring him back from the dead.
Dr. Hill ends up learning that our heroes — such as it is — have brought the dead back to life and he tries to take the formula. West will have none of that and lops off the evil scientist’s head with a shovel, then bringing his head and body back from the dead.
Bad idea number, well, I’ve lost track. That’s because for some reason, the undead Dr. Hill can control the other zombies and now, he’s taken Megan for his own. If you think it’s disgusting that a zombie body places his own head in a pan between a naked woman’s legs so that he can go down on her, perhaps you should skip this.
Seriously: when David Gale’s wife first saw this scene, she stormed out shouting “David, how could you?!” They divorced soon after. For what it’s worth, Gale said that he felt “spiritually bereft” after filming the scene.
The film ends with West fighting Hill’s zombie intestines and Dan trying to bring Megan back from the dead. If you’re thinking sequel, so was everyone else, thanks to the 1990 follow-up, Bride of Re-Animator and 2003’s Beyond Re-Animator.
This whole movie is the result of a party conversation. Director Stuart Gordon was complaining that he’d seen too many Dracula and not enough Frankenstein movies, so someone asked if he had read the H.P. Lovecraft story that this movie was eventually based on. He hadn’t, he did and the rest is history. Bloody, bloody history.
Want to watch it for yourself? It’s on Shudder with and without commentary by Joe Bob Briggs.
It is sad that this was the biggest film of Bruce Abbott’s, Jeffrey Combs’s, and David Gale’s careers . . . and it killed their careers at the same time. I have seen interviews where Bruce and Jeff said casting directors, which was a mostly a female-driven profession (at least at the time) turned on them because of the headless Gruber scene.
That it ruined Gale’s marriage is equally depressing.
I am still rockin’ this on VHS to this day. I just love this movie. It’s the best modern-day Frankenstein hybrid–ever (in my teen brain).
Pingback: Panic Beats (1983) – B&S About Movies