The last Lovecraft piece I did was on Color out of Space which you can find here.
For this one I familiarized myself with the original story by H.P Lovecraft, originally published in 1922 as a serial story for the publication, Home Brew. You can find it here if you don’t have a copy. I always recommend reading the source material before watching the movie and Lovecraft’s writing style is just so flawless. His work is literally beautiful to read.
I then went on to watch:
Bride of Re-Animator (1990)
Beyond Re-Animator (2003)
Herbert West: Reanimator (2017), by Italian filmmaker Ivan Zuccon.
~The Original Short Story~
I think most films that center around the idea of Necromancy can easily be traced back to Shelley or Lovecraft. I’ve often wondered if Lovecraft was influenced by her work. Although Shelley’s version, Frankenstein (1818) involved a misunderstood creature that at heart wants acceptance and love; a more romantic idealization of reanimation. Whereas Lovecraft’s version, involves a certain amount of madness and soullessness.
“West was a materialist believing in no soul and attributing all the working of consciousness to bodily phenomena ; consequently he looked for no revelation of hideous secrets from gulfs and caverns beyond death’s barrier.” (How the narrator describes Herbert West).
The character of Herbert West was originally written as an awkward, highly intelligent doctor whose fascination lies in the idea that as long as a corpse is fresh enough and there’s no physical damage to the body or brain tissue- it can be reanimated using a specific serum that he’s carefully developed. I have to wonder if Lovecraft modelled the character of Herbert West after himself in some ways; awkward, no social skills, methodical, even the physical description of West, a slight spectacled, socially awkward man- sounds a lot like Lovecraft himself.
Over time, West has tweaked the serum to accommodate different organisms. It’s described as a thick oozing liquid that’s injected into the corpse. Starting off with animals, he works his way up to humans. He doesn’t work alone in obtaining his specimens and carrying out his highly unethical experiments. Luckily, he has a friend, the narrator. The one friend that’s been with him since studying at Miskatonic University. He not only respects and supports his work, but he acts as the voice the reason frequently, which seems to be lacking in Herbert West. He’s also a little afraid of Dr. West compelling him to stay by his side. Herbert has no sense of humility, or humanity in general. Thinking that the only thing one needs to bring someone back to life is purely physical, neglecting the emotional aspect of humanity altogether. His reanimated corpses lack a soul and reasoning. Naturally his experiments end in abysmal failures- creating a multitude of horrendous, bordering on blasphemous, zombie-like creations.
*Note the 2018 Italian version of the Re-Animator films is the only one that’s NOT a horror/comedy.
I am embarrassed to say I haven’t watched any of these movies. I’m not sure I would have appreciated them until now to be perfectly honest. The 1985 version was the most entertaining of the bunch and has the slight edge in ratings getting a strong 4.5/5 on Rotten Tomatoes. The two sequels only garnered a 3/5. Jeffrey Combs plays West flawlessly. He’s cold, almost in-human, methodical, brilliant, mad, and all about science. This movie is pure entertainment from start to finish. It stays fairly close to the source material other than the fact that in the movie, Dr. Halsey (Dr. Hill in the original story) is more of a villain than the character of Dr. Allan Hill. In the story, West had more respect for Hill, (Halsey) other than the fact that he looked at West’s work with disdain, he actually wanted approval from the esteemed Doctor. The characters themselves are entertaining in their own right. We have West (Jeffrey Combs) and his loyal friend, Dan Cain, (Bruce Abbot), there’s Dr. Hill’s daughter, Megan, (Barbara Crampton) who just happens to be dating Dan much to her disapproving father. There are creature effects, great action sequences, a lot of boobs (it was the 80s so the sexploitation and gratuitous nude scenes are plentiful). Finally, oh so much blood. The special effects department reportedly went through 24 gallons of fake blood for this movie. It’s classic 80s style horror with a lot of gore as well as some humor. It’s an experience. Five knives out of five.
Bride of Re-Animator (1990)
The plot roughly follows episodes “V. The Horror from the Shadows” and “VI. The Tomb-Legions” of the Lovecraft story, and follows doctors Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) and Dan Cain (Bruce Abbot) as they attempt to create a living woman from dead tissue. It’s about eight months after the events that took place in the original movie. Dr. West and Dr. Cain are now Medics in the center of a bloody Peruvian civil war. It’s here where Dr. West has ample access to corpses to further his research. After an attack at their base, the pair are sent back to Miskatonic University where West sets up shop in Dan’s basement. West can now reanimate individual body parts so he finds the heart of Meg, Dan’s original love interest, Dr. Halsey’s head ends up being reanimated making for some serious cringe and comedy. This movie is crazy from start to finish. I laughed A LOT in this one. A zombie detective who’s still in hot pursuit of West for turning his wife into a zombie. A reanimated Dr. Halsey’s head, relying on a zombie guard to transport him everywhere until he makes bat wings for his head for readier mobilization. He then leads an entire zombie force of West’s former test subjects to hunt down Dr. West. There’s A puppet zombie dog, some crazy action sequences, and a shitload of gore that may not be for everyone, but I liked it. The forever loyal assistant, Dan is frequently, sometimes hilariously, shirtless and has to decide between his Peruvian love interest, journalist Francesca Danelli, and the newly reanimated woman containing the heart of his true love, Meg. This all leads up to a very interesting cat fight. Although this movie wasn’t received as well as the first it’s still a cult classic, it continues the original Lovecraft story. Plus, who doesn’t want to see a villain that consists of a head and bat wings leading a zombie army? Three knives out of five.
Beyond Reanimator (2003)
The movie starts off with Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) in prison for 13 years because of a murder committed by one of his unfortunate experiments- (zombies- he made zombies). Continuing his scientific research in prison, using whatever he can find around the facility, he has now discovered the missing element in the reanimation process. The “NPE” (Nano-Plasmic Energy), it’s an energy that can be extracted from the brain of a living organism through an electrocution-like process and stored in a sparkly chip. Using this in conjunction with his serum can possibly eliminate zombies altogether as it would not only restore the corpse, but also restore memories, skills, almost like their old selves right?
A new young doctor named Howard Phillips (Jason Barry)– (a nod to the author himself, H.P) is introduced as the new prison physician and the two quickly form a bond as West is assigned to assist him. They continue Dr. West’s research because Dr. Phillips, it turns out, is the little brother of one of West’s victims and watched the good Doctor being led away in handcuffs 13 years prior. He’s both fascinated by the research but contains higher morals than Herbert which keeps West from actually following through with experiments. Enter journalist Laura Olney (Elsa Pataky) who’s doing an article for her newspaper on the prison. Dr. Phillips and the pretty Laura develop a relationship and fall in love. The evil warden of the prison also fancies the pretty reporter and through a brutal attempt at making her his own, Laura ends up dying. It’s here where the moralistic Dr. Phillips turns to Dr. West to bring her back. I’m not going to give away spoilers other than this: there’s a little less gore in this movie but still some very cringey moments. There’s a considerable amount of violence that eventually erupts in a pretty bloody riot at the prison. It doesn’t really follow the original Lovecraft story but rather just another chapter with Jeffrey Combs playing the often comedic Dr. West. It’s generally not well received, it’s not scary but has a few shocking bits. If you’re a fan of the series, it’s definitely worth at least one watch. Two knives out of five.
Herbert West: Re-Animator (2017)
This is a unique adaptation by Italian filmmaker Ivan Zuccon. This is a much darker version of the tale. Starring Alessio Cherubini as Dr. West who tragically loses his daughter, Eleanor, a gifted student. This adaptation was my personal favorite. It’s dark and eerily shot, and goes deeper than the other films. The cinematography was beautiful. A true piece of art. The story takes some artistic liberties with the original Lovecraft story but the end result is a unique, beautifully told, incredibly dark story. It contains love, violence, some gore, but not over the top. It’s more of a slow burner, of course there are subtitles but I assure you it’s worth the watch. This Dr. West is devoted to his daughter and his love leads him down some dark paths. The film was recently released on Amazon and I highly recommend it. Five knives out of five even though it’s not totally reliant on the original source material, it was creative and very well produced.
*NOTE: I was able to find all four movies on tubitv.com myself for free, I’m in Canada so it may differ from country to country.
Re-Animator (1985) Movie Poster http://a-zhorror.com
Bride of Re-Animator (1990) Movie poster https://www.cinematerial.com
Beyond Reanimator (2003) Movie poster https://fanart.tv/
Herbert West: Re-Animator (2017) Movie poster http://imdb.com