There comes a point in every horror fan’s life when they finally experience RE-ANIMATOR, and depending on how young (or old) you were at the time, it probably scarred you for life. And if not, I know for me personally, I definitely felt like I was watching something that I absolutely should not be seeing. The over-the-top gore, the body walking around with its own severed head. That severed head… giving head! Shocking! And sheer lunacy! Even for a horror film!
Over the years, as I’ve gotten older and gone back to revisit Stuart Gordon’s 1984 masterpiece, I tend to find it less shocking and scary, and more of a fun, comedic romp. I mean, “Cat Dead, Details Later?” Classic!
RE-ANIMATOR, the movie, is based loosely on the H.P. Lovecraft story “Herbert West, Re-Animator,” paired up with some bits of other Lovecraft stories. It follows the exploits of the eccentric Herbert West (played to perfection by Jeffrey Combs), who convinces his new roommate Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) to join him in his experiments for conquering death with his “re-animating” agent. The maniacal Dr. Hill finds out about West’s findings and intends to steal them for all the fame & credit. He also lusts, in very creepy fashion, after the dean’s daughter Meg (Barbara Crampton) who happens to be dating Dan Cain. So because Hill hates West, he manages to convince the dean that Dan’s a bad influence on his beloved daughter.
Well, when you’re dealing with reanimation of the dead, you know things aren’t going to end well for anyone! Meg’s father ends up accidentally killed, and then reanimated. West cuts off Dr. Hill’s head, only for the good ol’ doctor to come back holding his own noggin in the arms of his headless body! And before you know it, Hill resurrects the entire morgue at the hospital causing a massive zombie uprising! The way the first film ended left the door pretty definitively closed in terms of the fates of its primary characters. But let’s face it, that can always be tweaked or cheated in order for there to be a sequel!
And in 1989, we got our RE-ANIMATOR sequel, this time under the direction of producer Brian Yuzna, who had just completed his gooey sleaze-fest, SOCIETY! This time, the boys would bring back a BRIDE-to-be from the dead! Thanks to Arrow Video, a brand new high definition Blu-Ray set just came out this week and has restored this cult classic back to all its gory glory!
The film opens with both Herbert West (mysteriously not dead!) and Dan Cain in South America in the middle of war! They’re experimenting on the bodies of soldiers and, after a tense confrontation, decide it’s time to go home and resume their experiments. Ever since the death of his beloved Meg, Dan hasn’t been the same and reluctantly continues to follow West’s lead. Herbert has been conducting radical experiments on severed body parts, trying to prove that life is inherent in every part of the body.
Slowly but surely, West is collecting the various body parts of women with the intent to resurrect a creation of his own being. Despite his protests, Dan follows along when Herbert shows him the heart of Meg and promises to resurrect her as their new hand-made bride. Meanwhile, the head of Dr. Hill has surfaced and is alive and well. (No seriously!) The movie gets pretty bonkers as Dr. Hill’s head has bat wings sewn on to each side, so he can fly around. West manages to bring the bride to life after securing the head from a patient of Dan’s and all hell breaks loose as West’s freak creations made of scattered body parts start running amok! The bat-shit finale reminded me quite a bit of the similarly themed FRANKENHOOKER that had strange little monsters comprised of random body parts as well!
BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR isn’t nearly as good as its inspiration, but it does have some cool stuff going for it. Combs is always great, but Bruce Abbott really steals the show in the sequel. He even manages to make a new girlfriend out of his South American guide Francesca (the gorgeous Fabiana Udenio). David Gale wanted to return for the sequel (bless him), and hence Yuzna and the writers had to get creative in figuring out a way to make that possible. After all, he was just a head in the last movie! And speaking of radical ideas, I love that they really go for it in terms of weirdness and creativity. One of West’s many strange creations includes a group of fingers with an eyeball in the middle. Kind of creepy, but kind of cute?
Last but not least, there’s the bride herself as played by HALLOWEEN 4’s Kathleen Kinmont. She does a fine job, but it’s the FX that are the star of the show, courtesy of everyone from the KNB guys to John Carl Beuchler to Screaming Mad George and beyond! Really, so many top notch talented people pooled their resources together to deliver the film’s vibrant, blood soaked gags. The Bride, herself, is quite a sight to behold in the final act!
Do they work as a double bill? Hellz yes they do! Obviously, BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR is made with a lot of love and reverence for what Stuart Gordon created with his strange, unique debut feature. With the exception of (the much-missed) Barbara Crampton, the core cast all returns, the story is over-the-top and the FX are spectacular. While I still recommend doing this triple-feature which I wrote about a few months back, RE-ANIMATOR paired up with its sequel, BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, will do the job as well.