I saw the original 1985 Re-Animator when it first came on cable (which probably would have been a year later), and it never stuck with me as a favorite in my huge list of favorites, while many consider it a masterpiece. Actually the only 2 things that have really stuck with me over the years are a) the big muscle dude who plays a corpse that runs around completely naked (shocking, I know), and b) the absolutely repulsive part where the virtually salivating, and literally bleeding severed head starts licking all over a naked woman strapped to a table…right down to her…EEK! I can’t go there. It STILL grosses me out.
As for the sequels…I didn’t even remember them…
I still don’t personally love the film after the re-watch, but I appreciate it much more and consider it worthy of classic status. First of all, I’d forgotten just how many naked men run around in this film. Kudos to director Stuart Gordon for taking that chance back then. Sure, it isn’t the most desirable thing to see naked guys covered in gore, but this must have been the moment when my adolescent mind openly accepted the fact that it’s ‘just a movie’ and those are simply real men running around naked and wrestling with guys dressed like scientists. Hot.
Not so hot is the other nudity, which still repulses me as much watching it as an adult. It’s not even the fact that you see woman bush. The bodyless re-animated head is the epitome of grotesque. His mouth is covered in blood and drool, he has a perv’s unrelenting stare, and he whispers hoarsely, hisses incessantly, and breathes heavily while sitting in a tray being carried around by his headless body. It’s really a perfect example of true gross out horror. I still hate it, but now I love it for how it pushed the horror envelope back then.
The other great thing about the first film is that it gets right to the point. There are limited characters, very few settings, and a simplistic storyline that doesn’t get in the way of diving right into the horror. The awesome Jeffrey Combs is a bit of a mad scientist who re-animates corpses using syringes filled with day-glo green shit. Of course, no one seems to come back to life correctly. It’s all very Pet Sematary, right down to a campy horror comedy scene involving a black pussy.
The movie definitely joins the pack of horror-comedy type films that began to emerge at that time—it came out the same year as Return of the Living Dead. And I assume it’s mere coincidence that the face of the muscle zombie in this film looks very much like that of Bub the zombie from Day of the Dead, which also came out the same year. Wow. 85 was a pretty good year for the living dead.
Re-Animator isn’t a total horror spoof. The comedy is dark, often subtle, and never forced. It blends in flawlessly with the campy quality of the horror. There’s gore galore, but other than that ‘giving head’ scene, it isn’t TOO over the top. However, there are a couple of squirm worthy scenes involving brain research. They are grisly and very real, which makes them less digestible than the typical horror gore presented throughout the rest of the movie.
Other highlights include the running length (less than an hour and a half), the cute male lead (shirtless very often), an 80s spotting (Talking Heads poster on a bedroom wall), and an awesome musical score that is almost a complete copycat of the Psycho score. Plus, there’s a major, zombie-tastic surprise at the end, and an ending that begs for a sequel.
BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR (1990)
This is a definite case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ It’s also a case of ‘you’re going to break it simply by giving us more of the same but not as good.’ The psycho score rip off is back. Jeffrey Combs is back, further experimenting with his day-glo green serum. The hot young doctor is back, and taking his shirt off more than before (yippee!). The creepy doc head is back (even though it was ***SPOILER*** squished in the first film). There’s plenty more corpse wrestling as well.
Not back is hot young doc’s girlfriend. However, her heart returns, and they’re attempting to build her an entire new body so hot young doc can rekindle his romance. See, Combs has now figured out how to re-animate individual body parts, so the new addition to this film is freaky combinations of moving pieces: fingers attached to an eye, an arm attached to a leg, a human hand attached to a dog. It’s all quite icky and gets even better when an army of Combs’ deformed creations come crawling out of the shadows at the end of the film.
Bride of Re-Animator injects much more camp than the original (Combs shines even more than he did in the first), has plenty of gore that’s so over-the-top it’s not even gross, and completely fails to move at the same swift pace as the original. It actually drags quite a bit as we head to the ending when they bring the ‘bride’ to life. I don’t imagine anyone really thinks it’s better than the first.
BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2003)
Finally, Combs is thrown in the slammer for all his sick experiments in the third film, which opens right where the second ends. And this men-in-prison film doesn’t go exactly how some of us might like…. We are introduced to a young boy whose sister is killed by one of the runaway re-animated. The boy watches as Combs is arrested and taken away in a police car. He sees that a day-glo green syringe was dropped. He grabs it.
13 years later, the young boy is now an adult scientist, and comes to a prison to work with Combs. So we’ve replaced hot young doctor with new scientist guy as Combs’ assistant, and the whole mad scientist scenario begins again—only in a prison this time. While the third film captures much of the gory and sexually perverse tones of the first 2 films, it does suffer from looking too polished. It lacks the gritty visual of the old films. And the camp is ultra amped up. There’s simply nothing creepy or atmospheric about Beyond Re-Animator.
The good thing about this film is that there’s very little in the way of digital effects; it’s mostly tried and true nasty gore effects. The usual corpse wrestling takes place, and the psycho score rip off returns. The new angle this time around is that Combs seems to be perfecting the re-animation process (finally) and these corpses are coming back with much more of their faculties, instead of being mere ‘zombies.’ This also makes them twice as evil!
There are some pretty hot-bodied shirtless prisoners (if only I could be a fly on the electrified fence of a prison yard. Oh wait…then I’d be fried fly). And upping the gross outs, we get not only some female nipple noshing, we also give a standing ovation to a surprise appearance by a dismembered penis! In fact, the wiener has a pretty big roll in this film—the roll is big, the wiener, not so much.
But even a penile appearance can’t make every movie a winner. So by the end of Beyond Re-Animator, it’s distressing to see Combs once again escape into the night, suggesting that we may have to deal with another sequel in a few years…