Re-Animator (1985) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Back in the last two decades before the great war that divided the last century, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was considered on the of the great popular writers of the day, the Edgar Allan Poe of the 20th century. It might also be accurate to say that he was the Quentin Tarantino of the early 20th century, because he was the king of the Pulp Fiction writers. 

For those of you unfamiliar with what pulp fiction really is, it was the whole oeuvre of cheap sensationalist paperback books that were the pre-war equivalent of television. Some of them were regular monthly editions, some of them were one-time issues. The boys of my dad's generation read the pulps and listened to radio dramas, much as I read comic books and watched TV.  Same psychology, earlier technology. Although it was not a medium suitable to distribute Jane Austen novels, the pulps produced some of America's best adventure stories, sports fiction, detective fiction, sword and sorcery, horror tales, Westerns, and other popular entertainments. 

The pulps cost five cents or ten cents, and had such names as Argosy, Detective Weekly, Dime Mystery Magazine, Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, Saucy Stories, and Western Round-Up. These stories generally existed in a white male world, in which women and foreigners were one-dimensional characters to be defeated or seduced. The Native Americans were savages, the Asians were sadistic and inscrutable, and the women were objects or evil or both. It was a boy's club, years before there was a notion of political incorrectness, and all non-white non-males were subject to savage nicknames. 

To be fair, there were also a few pulps with love stories marketed at girls, but they comprised a minor sub-genre, much like the few droplets of love story comics in the ocean of super-heroes. 

In addition to Lovecraft, the format could boast of regular contributors like Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian), Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan), Erle Stanley Gardner (Perry Mason), Dashiell Hammett (Sam Spade) , Max Brand (Westerns and Dr Kildare), Sax Rohmer (Fu Manchu), and C.S. Forester (Horatio Hornblower). Occasional contributors included such distinguished names as Tennessee Williams, Paul Gallico, Philip Wylie, and Ray Bradbury.

Lovecraft was the master of the horror continent on the pulp world, and his prose was masterful in many ways. I think I've read every word he ever wrote, and find it wonderfully gothic. Using a large and obscure vocabulary, deliberately antiquated syntax, and florid narrative passages he fashioned two worlds of his own. One was like ours, populated by humans in New England, featuring Miskatonic University, the town of Arkham, and a mysterious book called the Necronomicon which was said to contain the links between the human world and the nether dimensions. In his lower world dwelt the Old Ones, monsters of an unimaginably blasphemous second creation, who once could enter our world, and would like to again, for reasons and purposes unspeakable.

Sadly, there has never been a great film made of Lovecraft's stories. There are probably other good reasons why, but I think the key issue is imagination. In my dad's generation, there were no specifically visual media in the home. The pulps were words alone. Radio added sound. Monsters can be described in words and sounds that evoke the greatest terrors present in each individual's sub-conscious. Monsters were scarier in their generation. But monsters pictured in movies, TV, even comic books, tend to look too much like seaweed and rubber snakes. Alas, no great genius like Giger has come along to give Cthuhlu a form and substance that can match the horrors we imagined when we read about him or heard him described on the radio. Of the horror movies I can think of immediately, only Hellraiser and maybe Alien seemed to be as terrifying as our own imaginations. Many of the others produced laughs rather than screams.  

Re-Animator isn't a great film, but it is a truly weird one, and seems to be the one film that best caught Lovecraft's sense of the outrageous.  


Barbara Crampton is completely naked on a morgue table while a disembodied head examines her in various ways. 

Male: abundant anonymous nudity, including brief frontals, during the comic opera finale

I don't even know where to begin to describe it. The basic plotline is that a medical student has found a way to bring the dead back to life, and there are two central problems

  1. The dead are very unruly and difficult to control when you bring them back. Plus they look like shit, especially if they've been decomposing. I guess it's safe to say that the dead always have a bad hair day, and this applies to the rest of their head as well.
  2. The medical student's professor wants to take credit for this brilliant discovery.

Keep that in mind, and then get ready for some crazy shit, highlighted by a dead doctor's body walking around holding his severed head, and sticking said head into certain areas of Barbara Crampton's naked body.

The movie is loony, and sometimes very funny. The student tells the doctor something like, "who's going to believe your word against mine? You're a talking head. Find yourself a sideshow". The logic of the film, the performance by Jeffrey Combs as the mad-scientist-in-internship, and the ultra-gore are all just so demented that you have to take this film to your heart in a certain way.

the DVD is currently out of print. See the main commentary.
For some reason, the out-of-print DVD, including the unrated cut in a widescreen version, is selling for $44.95 on e-bay, which is silly. Just look around, you'll find it somewhere. I bought a new copy yesterday at Border's bookstore for fourteen bucks. It is a marvelous DVD, with two supplementary audio tracks, one featuring the director, the other featuring five of the actors. They recorded the commentary for the DVD in 1995, which must make this one of the first DVD's to have any special features of this nature. The film element used for the transfer was a new 35mm low-contrast print struck from the original 35mm camera negative. The DVD also includes the alternate footage that was used to create the softer r-rated version for the earlier video distribution, as well as one sequence that was cut from both versions. Some of the supplementary material is in 4:3 format, although the full director's cut is letterboxed widescreen, 1.85:1.

The Critics Vote

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.8,  approximately consistent with the critical consensus.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Totally insane genre film. Mainstream viewers will probably find it repulsive and stupid, which it is. That's the point. Genre fans worship this puppy, and the re-mastered DVD with two commentary tracks is a collector's dream.

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