There are two mad scientists at Miskatonic University, and that is one too many. First, there is Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), a brain surgeon and a member of the faculty, who is motivated by sex, fame, and power. Not unsurprisingly for a man driven by such strong passions, the principal goal of his research is the location of the will in the brain.
The other mad scientist is Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), a medical student. West is dedicated to truth, and cares nothing about women or fame. The principal goal of his research is reanimation, bringing dead people back to life, for which he has a reagent, a green, glowing liquid. Hence, he is the title character in Re-Animator, the movie loosely based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft. West is so cold and devoid of sympathy that he is indifferent to the pain he causes when he reanimates the dead, supposing himself to be doing them a favor.
West is openly contemptuous of Hill, whose intellect he regards as inferior to his own. Hill finds out about West’s reagent and tries to coerce West into letting Hill get credit for it. While Hill’s back is turned, West chops his head off. Then he reanimates the separated head and body, all in the name of scientific research, of course. The body knocks West out while he is examining the head, and then it picks up the head and the bowl it is in. It steals all of West’s reagent and leaves. After kidnapping Dean Halsey’s daughter, Megan (Barbara Crampton), whom Hill is obsessed with, he has her stripped naked and strapped to a table. Then Hill’s head watches as his headless body feels her up. After that, Hill’s body holds Hill’s severed head and moves it around so that it can violate Megan with his tongue. All this leads to a final struggle between the two mad scientists, with Hill in control of reanimated corpses from the morgue. This Grand Guignol masterpiece is replete with hilarious scenes of horror and gore.
There are many versions of this movie. Usually, a director’s cut has more than was shown theatrically, but not so here, where the director’s cut resulted in many scenes being deleted that should have been left in. First of all, these include scenes that make it clear that Hill has mesmeric powers. It is fitting that the man whose research focuses on the location of the will in the brain should have the power to control the will of others. More importantly, it helps us understand why Hill has so much influence over Dean Halsey, Megan, and even West, though only briefly; we understand how he can control his own body with his severed head; and we understand how he can control the corpses he has reanimated in the morgue. Without these scenes of mesmerism, we don’t fully understand how he can do these things. Finally, the deleted scenes make for a smoother plot. West’s roommate is Dan (Bruce Abbott), another medical student, who is Megan’s lover. Hill is jealous of Dan. In the director’s cut, when West says that Hill wanted to make Dan “disappear,” we wonder if West is just making that up; in a deleted scene, we see Hill telling West that Dan will be made to disappear.
Second, several of the deleted scenes further develop West’s character. Both in his physical appearance and his manner, he reminds me of Dean Stockwell’s portrayal of Judd in Compulsion. Judd, of course, was that movie’s version of Leopold in the notorious Loeb and Leopold case, in which two psychopathic geniuses decide to commit the perfect crime in order to prove they are Nietzschean supermen. Without seeing the deleted scenes, I might not have made that connection. It may be that the director, Stuart Gordon, never intended such a connection, but he should have, because it fits perfectly.
Third, there is a great scene where West is discussing with Dan what they are going to do about Dr. Hill. West seems to be bothered in some way, and he lurches to his room. When Dan goes to see what West is doing, he finds him with a syringe and a bottle of reagent, about to mainline himself. West assures him it is just a weak solution, just enough to keep the brain sharp, so he won’t have to sleep. Dan helps his shoot up, after which West is in complete command of his faculties.
Gordon said he deleted these scenes because he felt that they slowed down the pacing, and that is a shame. The scenes are included in the DVD, and it is worth making the effort to watch them. Not every deleted scene should have been kept in, of course. The dream sequence, in particular, does not belong in the movie, and its deletion was appropriate. Supposedly, there is version called the “integral cut,” which puts the deleted scenes back in, which sounds great, but as I have not seen it, I cannot vouch for it.
One thought on “Re-Animator (1985)”