Friday, May 13, 2011

Lovecraft's Corner #5: Re-Animator

At this point, I wonder why Kriken insists on putting me on schedule. Deadlines seem to be my archnemesis. Oh well.

H.P. Lovecraft, Master of Horror, best known for his work in creating the Cthulhu mythos, once wrote a stealth parody of 'Frankenstein' that reached patently ridiculous levels. That's not to say it wasn't creepy - the man could've written about toast and made it scary, I'm sure. That said, when I discovered Re-Animator, today's flick, I was wondering, not how, but why they'd adapt a work that Lovecraft himself thought was poorly done. Was this a good idea? Let's find out. Spoilers ahoy!

The movie opens in a foreign country, with a nurse, a doctor, and two policemen breaking down a door to find a young bespectacled man (played by Jeffrey Combs) leaning over an ashen-faced bleeding older man. In a rather gruesome scene, the older man's eyes burst and he falls over dead, with the younger man saying the dosage was too much. The nurse accuses the younger man of killing; the younger man calmly replies he gave him life. This takes us to our opening credits, played over neon outlines of human head anatomy sketches. One such sketch suddenly opens its eyes, and the zoom-in to white fades to the Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachussetts. There, we meet our hero, Dan Cain, attempting and failing to revive a female patient. He takes her to the morgue, and we get to see the coroner, Dr. Hill, using his famous laser drill to collect a sample from the body's brain. Dan is then surprised by Dean Halsey, who wants Dan to meet their newest student - the young man from the beginning, Herbert West. West immediately gets off on the wrong foot with Dr. Hill (who is revealed to be a famous researcher).

The next scene has Dan posting an ad for a roommate, and Megan, Halsey's daughter, walks by. The two are clearly in a relationship, as demonstrated by the cut to the two of them in bed. They talk for a while, confirming that Meg is the Dean's daughter and her father would go into conniptions if he knew the nature of their relationship. The two of them joke around, and Dan ends up chasing Meg to the door, with him in nothing but a bedsheet. It turns out West is at the door to inquire about the roommate Dan asked for and is accepted after some hesitancy on Dan's part.

The first class we see West in is a disaster - taught by Dr. Hill, who is interrupted intentionally by West every time West disagrees with his teachings. Cut to that evening, when Hill is having dinner with Mr. Halsey and Meg. Dan arrives to pick Meg up for a study date, and Hill toasts her in a rather creepy manner. At Dan's place, Meg reveals her concerns about West - and both realize their pet cat, who normally won't leave them alone, is missing. Meg finds the cat in West's refrigerator, dead, and West threatens to tell the Dean about their relationship if Dan and Meg don't leave him alone. Late that night, though, Dan is awoken by a scream and finds West being attacked by the cat. In a humorous moment, the two end up rekilling the cat (better than it sounds, honest). West then tells Dan just what his project is: resurrecting the dead. Even better, he's decided he wants Dan to be his assistant! After all, as he says, Dan's hardworking, respected - he even revived the cat for him!

...I'm not gonna make any jokes about the exact nature of West's relationships with others, but I WILL keep a counter of all the times I could've.

Gay jokes: 1.

West reanimates the dead cat again to prove his work is real, and Meg (who was still there?) comes down to see the cat, howling in agony, guts on the table. She takes it well. Dan tells Halsey about West's work, and he takes it well too, suspending Dan's financial aid and expelling West. In a desperate attempt to prove the research was not made up, Dan smuggles West into the morgue, and they attempt to revive a fairly healthy specimen. Meanwhile, Halsey learns Dan is in the morgue and leaves Meg with the nurse to get him. Dan and West are about to leave when the body revives and attacks West. When Halsey reaches the morgue, the body gruesomely attacks him as well. West finally stops the corpse by driving a frickin' bone saw through the chest - and then, upon realizing Halsey is dead, persuades Dan to help him revive Halsey. Meg, by this time, has gotten away from the nurse and arrives at the morgue to find her zombie dad trying to strangle West and Dan. She makes him stop, security comes in, and West concocts an explanation that places all blame for the mess solely on Halsey - just visiting Dan (he even grabs him) when Halsey came in and went nuts. While the guard calls the cops, Dan goes into shock, and it's West who puts the blanket around him and holds him possessively.

Gay jokes: 2.(maybe 3?)

Halsey is secured in a padded cell with a straitjacket, with Meg watching him through a one-way mirror sadly. Dr. Hill gets her permission for exploratory surgery to find out why he's gone mad. Dr. Hill then starts making moves on Meg, and it is a blessing when Halsey interrupts by banging his head against the mirror. Meg leaves and Hill, angry that Halsey kept him from scoring, has him seized.

When Meg comes home, Dan is waiting for her. She demands to know just what he and West did to her father, and he has to tell her he's dead. She reacts about as well as you'd expect. Meanwhile, West, who cares not about women, is working in the basement when Hill arrives. He reveals he knows Halsey is dead and wants West's research as his own. He even says, "You will do what I tell you to."

Gay jokes: 4.

Hill is allowed to read West's notes and see his tissue samples. While Hill is distracted, West gets a shovel and decapitates him. He puts the head in the pan, standing it upright after a couple of unfruitful tries, and then decides, because SCIENCE! is more important than common sense, that he'll see if he can revives body parts (while normally I'd cry foul, the original character really could get this stupid; at least here, he had a bit better reason to kill a guy he decided to resurrect). Unfortunately, it goes horribly right, and West is knocked out by Hill's body. Back with Dan and Meg, they break into Hill's office to find Halsey has been lobotomized and Hill is waaaay too obsessed with Meg.

When West recovers, he finds Hill has stolen all his work and notes. He tells Dan what happened. Dan can't believe that not only has he killed someone but then brought him back, despite that everything West reanimates tries to KILL him. West's response? "Look, he tried to blackmail me, Dan! I didn't want you to disappear!"

Gay jokes: 5.

Dan and West work out Hill's plan, and Dan decides to inform Meg, despite West's protests.

Gay jokes: 6?

We then see Hill returning to his office, head kept in the pan (and how he got back is anyone's guess). After some fresh blood and a quick reanimation, Hill gives orders to Halsey, in which it's shown the lobotomy makes the mad reanimated subjects subservient to Hill. After this, Hill then sneaks into the morgue, using a head model from his desk to cover his severed neck. Cut to Meg's house, where Dan arrives to check in on her. The two have a tender moment before Zombie Dad Halsey ruins the moment (so he's a professional mood killer too) by breaking in, knocking out Dan, and kidnapping his daughter.

Back at the morgue, Hill's body is lobotomizing corpses when Halsey arrives with Meg and, on Hill's orders, strips her and restrains her. While I search for the rape horn, Dan wakes up to Herbert rather close to his face, calling his name repeatedly, before pulling him to his feet to save Meg.

Gay jokes: 7?

We return to the morgue to see Hill trying to rape Meg before West interrupts him and keeps him distracted long enough for Dan to free Meg (and give her a shirt). Hill reveals he wasn't unprepared, as legions of the undead rise to fight the trio, and beat them down fairly quickly. West is forced to drop his reagent and is bent over the autopsy table by two of the undead...

Gay jokes: 8.

Ok, there's NO way this is unintentional by now. The writers HAD to know what they were doing! So, while West is pinned to the table for a lobotomy with the laser drill, Dan tries and fails to protect Meg from the zombies. However, Meg finally gets through to Zombie Dad, who tears the zombies away before saving West by pushing Hill's body out of the morgue and then grabbing his head and squeezing it.

The remaining zombies are in extreme pain, freeing West and giving Dan and Meg a chance to get past their attackers. Hill's body returns to try to stop Halsey, but then West retrieves two more syringes of the reagent from his bag and overdoses the body; like in the beginning, this is effective, turning the body into a bloody mess and letting Halsey crush Hill's head and throw it out the morgue (finally prompting the guard to flee for his life). The zombies go nuts, destroying the lab, breaking a water pipe (I think) and destroying the fuse box. West, who cannot resist recording the results of an experiment, watches Hill's body until its stomach explodes and intestines capture West. He throws Dan his bag of serum and notes just before being dragged away. Dan and Meg get to the elevator to escape, but a zombie strangles Meg. He manages to get her to a hospital room, where one of the first scene replays: they try to save Meg and fail. Dan, having already lost his boyfriend - new friend, I mean, doesn't take her death well.

And then remembers West's bag.

He takes out a syringe and the reagent, tells Meg's body he loves her, and then positions the syringe at her neck as the screen fades to black, only showing the glowing reagent. The reagent then depresses. Cue a horrific scream - and roll credits.

As an adaptation....this movie's pretty good. The timeline's very compressed, granted, and there's a lot less ambiguity than in the original (in which West began going to extreme lengths for his research and his assistant rarely, if ever, protested), but the plot keeps the main story intact while adding pieces that develop the characters further (such as Megan). West is far more heroic and badass here than ever hinted at in the story this movie's based on, and his assistant Dan (unnamed in the original tale) is not as willing to go along with West, but it's at least explained in the movie why. There's a few scenes that don't seem to make as much sense due to the fact they were adapted straight from the book and the compressed timeline, but they do not interfere with the adaptation much. Plus, this adaptation drops some of the more racist connotations that came up in the original - certainly not a bad change. Overall, as an adaptation, I'd recommend this. Kriken, what'd you think?

Overall, I thought it was a rather decent movie. Not quite sure how well it stayed true to the original story, but it seemed to have an element of horror that I've come to expect from HP Lovecraft. I think what made it the best adaptation to date is the well timed humor and the Lovecraft references feel natural throughout the movie. It doesn't try to reference some other Lovecraft story that doesn't belong in this story so the flow of the movie is rather good. I'll have to agree with RBY about West coming off as a tad gay in certain scenes. Whether it's the dialogue or just the actions, there's something about his performance that seems to hint at the occasional "Ambiguously Gay Duo" jokes. It's not a bad thing, as it helps to make his scenes more enjoyable. Honestly, I'd recommend it if you're looking for a decent HP Lovecraft movie.

H.P. Lovecraft fans or nonfans, you must track this down and watch it. Whether you like horror, humor, drama, or Ho Yay, there's something for everyone.

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