By Breanna Whipple
CALGARY — Herbert West has a very good head on his shoulders… and another one in a dish on his desk.
Having devoted his life to the study of re-animating the dead, he has forcefully immersed his roommate in his gory, scientific endeavours. Emotions run high and the blood flows freely in this monumental body horror flick from the king of Lovecraftian adaptations, director Stuart Gordon.
“Herbert West – Re-Animator” was written by the prestigious H.P. Lovecraft and was first serialized in six different parts from February to July in 1922. Throughout the six instalments, the reader follows West through the narrative of his sole companion, whom he initially met at Miskatonic University. The duo spent years of trial and error re-animating fresh corpses, haunted by failed attempts. Stuart Gordon cherry picked aspects of the gruesome tale for his 1985 film adaptation, Re-Animator.
Jeffrey Combs portrays the leading role of Herbert West, an obsessive scientist whose studies are unbounded. Combs effectively instills a feeling of unease throughout the film, his sanity unraveling as the story progresses. Bruce Abbott, playing Dan Cain, creates a balance to West’s manic obsession.
Early introductions of Cain establish his level-headedness, which creates apparent conflict when he explores the barrier of life and death.
Scream queen Barbara Crampton portrays Megan Halsey, a young family-oriented woman with a heart of gold. Brought into the bizarre world of West by accident, her emotions run like a rollercoaster throughout the film. Carolyn Purdy-Gordon also has a small yet important role as Dr. Harrod, who establishes a strong sense of reality by her professional presence.
Trevor Henderson, a freelance illustrator from Toronto, spoke on the film and its importance to him as both an emerging and established horror fan.
“When I was younger, Re-Animator was the epitome of the video on the shelf that six-year-old me was fascinated by. That image of the headless corpse looming behind the mad scientist Herbert West, combined with that blackly funny tag-line combined in a way that was both iconic and told the potential viewer exactly what they were in for,” Henderson says. “Now, grown up, Re-Animator stands as an almost perfect summation of what 1980s horror was all about. Crowd-pleasing fun, gallows humour and outrageous amounts of gore.”
H.P. Lovecraft has had a colossal role in shaping the horror genre entirely. The first acknowledged adaptation being Roger Corman’s The Haunted Palace (1963), which was based on the tale The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward.
Lovecraftian works have been referenced even further, the use of the Necronomicon in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead franchise being a well known example.
However, when Lovecraft and film are connected in the same sentence the mind immediately turns to Stuart Gordon. Re-Animator was the first of Gordon’s Lovecraft adaptations, and in it he created a refreshing take on period pieces. Dominantly focusing on the early aspects of Herbert West’s exploration, we are fed the zeal of progression. Elements of sex and gore, although not directly mentioned in 1920s horror literature, are more than at home in Gordon’s films. The film also created a niche for actors Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton, who starred in other Lovecraftian films such as Gordon’s From Beyond (1986) and Castle Freak (1995). Combs also had the opportunity to star as H.P. Lovecraft himself in anthology horror Necronomicon: Book Of The Dead (1993).
The Annual Calgary Horror Con has made several horror fans’ dreams a reality in arranging a Re-Animator reunion on June 20 & 21 at the Clarion Hotel. Guests include Stuart Gordon, Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton and Carolyn Purdy-Gordon.AB, Alberta, Calgary Horror Con, Calgary Horror Con 2015, Re-Animator