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Revisiting the morbid fascination of ‘Re-Animator’

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Collegian | Madelyn Hendricks

Stuart Gordon’s 1985 film “Re-Animator” is a cult classic science fiction film that perfectly fits every convention of the genre. Loosely based on the short story “Herbert West-Reanimator” by H.P. Lovecraft, the film delves into the story of a young medical student on a quest to conquer death once and for all.

Through gratuitous blood and gore, this film deals with the delicate balance between curiosity and morality in the sciences and confronts the topic of death as the greatest unknown. Although only a loose adaptation, this film is both a fantastic tribute to the original work and a terrific movie in its own right.

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This film quickly found its niche audience in horror and science fiction fans alike through the brilliant performance of Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West and the outstanding practical effects. The story follows West and his roommate Dan Cain through the creation of his reagent and its administration to the corpses of animals, their dean and, finally, every corpse in the morgue.

Predictably, this ends in disaster as the situation explodes into an absolute bloodbath. The reagent fails to completely restore brain function to those who have been brought back with it, and their corpses become violent and destructive shells of their former selves.

Violent movies like this are so satisfying to watch because they take fears and reservations surrounding the morbid and visually and psychologically fulfill them in every way.”

As this becomes apparent, West cannot be convinced to give up on his invention. He is completely consumed by the idea of defeating death.

Fear and anxiety surrounding death have hung around nearly every culture as an unwelcome guest. Lovecraft famously addressed these themes in his work by creating a sense of psychological horror and dread within his audience. This sense of fear holds each reader at the edge of their seat, and they are then left to imagine what horrors lie within his framework.

Through the medium of film, however, the audience does not have to imagine anything. Gordon keeps Lovecraft’s original sense of gloom and preoccupation with death but delivers his own punch in the form of relentless violence, shocking visuals and the emotional turmoil of a romance plot in the context of the story.

Violent movies like this are so satisfying to watch because they take fears and reservations surrounding the morbid and visually and psychologically fulfill them in every way.

This film in particular does an outstanding job with this. Effects and makeup director John Naulin is quoted saying the film was the bloodiest he had ever worked on, using over 24 gallons of fake blood throughout the production.

Through West’s obsession with beating death and brazen disregard for the potential consequences of his actions, viewers get a crash course about all of the main tenets of death anxiety. There’s annihilation, mutilation and, ultimately, a mature existential discussion on letting the dead rest.

As the film begins and ends with West’s roommate Cain in the emergency room, unable to accept the reality of death, we’re confronted with the sobering truth that sometimes, “a good doctor knows when to stop.”

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Reach Sophia Pruden at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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