Posted by Maggot Man
Released on: 1985

Despite having read most if not much of early 20th century horror writer H. P. Lovecraft’s work and having a more than passing familiarity with the Lovecraft-August Derleth connection, I’d never heard of the short story “Herbert West—Reanimator”. It took me until today to fully shed my assumption that Re-Animator, my reviewed movie du mois, had nothing more than a tangential relationship to the Lovecraftian world, one of several movies cropping up in the ‘80s and early ‘90s that dropped a “Cthulhu” here or an “Arkham” there into the plot dialog and promptly slapped H. P. Lovecraft’s name somewhere in its marketing campaign. I was wrong; Re-Animator really was based upon a Lovecraft story, acceptably close enough to avoid my “tangential” slur.

Unfortunately, ‘being based upon’ doesn’t mean ‘being as good as’. Hollywood has never proven capable of capturing the Lovecraft atmosphere, and this movie is no exception. Reanimator did nothing to reanimate us much past scarfing down snack food chock full of as many chemicals as any of syringes Herbert West emptied into his subjects. The film unfortunately lives up to the blurb I’m reading on its DVD cover as I type this—“as scary as it is funny”—to the detriment of both adjectives: it is neither particularly scary nor funny, though it does have a moment here and there of the latter.

To be the former, you’d have to do something more with a plot that ran something like this: Herbert West, late of Europe following some research shenanigans in the very opening scenes, shows up at Miskatonic U in the New England town of Arkham. He falls in with some medical student whose name I didn’t quite get who is banging the dean’s daughter on the side. (Or on the sofa, or on the floor, or anywhere else he can park her.) Herbie—I’m gonna call Herbert Herbie—soon reverts to his old ways, offing and resurrecting The Other Guy’s—I’m gonna call the other medical student The Other Guy—cat. In short order, Herbie resurrects some unfortunate in the local hospital morgue and has to kill him/it when him/it goes zombie-postal on The Other Guy, Herbie himself and the dean, much to the fatal detriment of the latter. Naturally, Herbie brings the dean back to life in his turn.

Herbie’s and The Other Guy’s instructor uncovers Herbie’s work after grilling the now-institutionalized dean and tries to worm his way into the experiment to share in the glory. Herbie takes great exception to any socialized medicine, and, not having Hillary on the scene yet, decapitates and reanimates the instructor in his constituent parts. The instructor, still in his decapitated state, escapes, kidnaps the dean’s daughter (whom he’s been packing a stiffy for before he himself went stiff) and is in the process of giving her head, so to speak, when Herbie and The Other Guy come to the rescue. The rescue is as short-lived as the dean’s daughter herself when she’s killed during the escape, as is just about everyone else (some for the second time) during a free-for-all involving The Other Guy, Herbie, the dean, the instructor parts I and II, and a scrum of reanimated zombies. The Other Guy, the only obvious survivor, raises up his former squeeze as the movie closes.

June being Dairy Month, we picked this and a sequel because Hollywood milked the original short short H. P. Lovecraft story churn out to make three (soon to be four) movies. (Milked. Churn. Dairy Month. Get it?) Even though the two movies we saw left a sour (Sour. Get it?) taste in our mouths, it didn’t do the same in Tinsel Town. I saw the term “Cult Classic” associated with this movie, and the major actors survived if not always prospered. The Other Guy, for instance, was married to the healthily udderred (Udder. Dairy Month. Get it?) Linda Hamilton, the dean’s “daughter” had extensive soap opera stints, and Herbie’s portrayer, despite having played West in the other sequels, is hardly a one-trick pony. Still, the movie was blah—typical of a rash of watchable (I’m pretty sure I’ve seen this) but forgettable HPL adaptations and other 80s horror movies that I did indeed watch and forget on cable through the years. Why HPL continues to get mostly B-grade treatment is beyond me, but so was the appeal of Juliette Lewis. Maybe current technology will finally allow Hollywood to get Lovecraft right. Until the day that we can finally sport W. W. C. D. wrist bands and have people get it, the world will have to succor itself with the 1970 Dunwich Horror’s delightfully loopy Dean Stockwell performance, the under appreciated Witch Hunt/Cast a Deadly Spell tributes and sly winks and nods that crop up now and then in real cult classics like Army of Darkness.

On the Malevolence of Cthulhu Mythos Deities Scale (Least Evil equals Nodens, Most Evil equals Cthulhu), Re-Animator rates a slightly less than average Nyarlathotep

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