(1985, dir: Stuart Gordon; pro: Brian Yuzna; scp: Dennis Paoli, William
J. Norris, Stuart Gordon, based on six short stories by H.P. Lovecraft;
cast: Jeffrey Combs, David Gale, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton)
Doctor and the Devils, like Scream (the 1996 film, not the 1973 or 1985 films of the same name) is arguably
suspense rather than horror. However, both were marketed as horror
and contain horror icons.
no genre ambiguity with Re-Animator,
which combined the new boundary-breaking gore of the cannibal zombie cycle
with the more traditional mad scientist icon.
on a six
story series by H.P. Lovecraft, Re-Animator is a retelling of the Frankenstein legend. The stories feature a loner/mad scientist, Herbert West,
and his monomaniacal attempts to re-animate the dead. Each re-animation
presents unforeseen problems, forcing West to try again with ever fresher
corpses. These simple tales still hold up today, aside from Lovecraft's
dated disparaging remarks about blacks and ethnic immigrants.
Re-Animator updates the stories, placing events in a contemporary version of Lovecraft's
Miskatonic University. Disparagements are removed. New characters
are introduced, along with romantic conflicts to keep them busy. West remains the monomaniacal loner.
script is structurally superb, establishing a delicate balance between
good and evil, then introducing an amoral catalyst who draws everything
crashing together. The good are the dedicated medical student Bruce
Abbott, his secret fiancée Barbara Crampton, and her father, the
upstanding Dean of Miskatonic University. Representing evil is the
brilliant neurology professor played by David Gale, a plagiarist with covert
kinky designs on Crampton.
is a newly transferred medical student, Herbert West, played with quirky
intensity by Jeffrey Combs. Arrogant and rude, intensely devoted
to his work, amoral about the means to achieve it, Combs's performance
proves him a stellar character actor (although it would be over a decade
before he would receive a role as good as Herbert West -- as the kinkily
paranoid FBI agent in The
his unpleasantness, Combs quickly insinuates himself into everyone's lives,
challenging Gale's integrity and competence in class, and setting up a
lab in Abbott's basement. He recruits Abbott despite the latter's
misgivings, and soon all are enmeshed in Combs's experiments, voluntarily
Re-Animator is a short film (86 minutes), but its rapid pace covers much. Betrayals,
blackmail, intrigue and counter-intrigue, zombie armies and talking heads
and splatter aplenty, as Combs presses on to perfect his re-animation serum. Frenzied action and gruesome effects are complemented by a smart script
with sharp lines. Threatened by a re-animated head, Combs retorts, "Who's
gonna believe a talking head? Get a job in the sideshow."
most horror films, villains outshine heroes. Jeffrey Combs and David
Gale provide the standout performances. Barbara Crampton is attractive
and sympathetic, but no more. Her character is good, and good people
suffer in horror. Between suffering she wrings her hands with worry,
much as Victoria Winters in Dark
Shadows. Yes, Crampton has a nude scene, and she looks
nice, but it's Gale who chews the scenery (I won't spoil it by saying how).
Combs is the central figure and catalyst of events, Bruce Abbott's character
is in a sense the more interesting if less charismatic. His character
is the only one who changes, the film a record of his corruption and moral
is a caring medical student, going the extra mile to save his patients. But as the film progresses it turns out he is weak, susceptible to temptation
and blackmail. Abbott is tempted by Combs, first by Combs's money,
then by his experiments, wading ever deeper into darkness. Abbott
yields when Combs threatens to inform the Dean about Abbott's affair with
In contrast, Combs devotion to his work is such that
he refuses to give in to Gale's attempted blackmail. Combs is stronger
than Abbott, and through threats and bribes, easily draws Abbott into areas
of science best left untouched. Yet Abbott is complicit in his descent,
repelled but also fascinated by Combs's work.
evokes Basil Rathbone in Son
of Frankenstein (1939), a good but weak man who allows himself
to be tempted, threatened, and corrupted by a stronger, darker personality
(the memory of his father, and to a lesser extent, Ygor).
a devoted daughter and forgiving fiancée, tries to keep Abbott on
the righteous path. She senses the darkness in Combs and warns Abbott
to avoid Combs. Abbott begins his descent when he dismisses her fears
upon seeing Combs produce a wad of rent money. Abbott's descent bottoms
out when he tries to regain what he lost (Crampton) using Combs's illicit
methods. The final blackout underscores his folly.
as a fast-paced zombie gorefest, Re-Animator delivers much entertainment. Its effects are visceral and imaginative. Dialogue is sharp and funny. Charles Band's musical score, a whimsical
variation on Bernard Herrmann's Psycho theme, establishes early on that Re-Animator is intended to be both funny and horrific.
It is, yet Abbott's moral
struggle adds another dimension, setting him, like Rathbone, above many
bland horror heroes. Abbott's love for Crampton is counter-balanced
by the dark temptation of the re-animation serum, culminating in a final
scene that blends poignancy, horror, and black comedy.
Brian Yuzna followed Re-Animator with From Beyond (1986). Although not
a sequel, it was another Lovecraft adaptation directed by Stuart Gordon,
again featuring Combs and Crampton. Combs played a more sympathetic
(and less interesting) experimental subject to Crampton's kinky mad scientist.
of Re-Animator (1989) continued the Herbert West saga with Combs and
Abbott, but added nothing new to be series. Daily Variety reported
in October 2000 that Brian Yuzna was working on From
Beyond Re-Animator, released in 2003 as Beyond
Review copyright by Thomas
"Communist Vampires" and "CommunistVampires.com" trademarks are currently unregistered, but pending registration upon need for protection against improper use. The idea of marketing these terms as a commodity is a protected idea under the Lanham Act. 15 U.S.C. s 1114(1) (1994) (defining a trademark infringement claim when the plaintiff has a registered mark); 15 U.S.C. s 1125(a) (1994) (defining an action for unfair competition in the context of trademark infringement when the plaintiff holds an unregistered mark).