I wish I could summon the late, great John Williams to do my intros like the one below which was a staple of UHF television and has stuck in my head for years.
…but I digress.
Imagine John Williams saying this:
I’m sure you’re all familiar with Stuart Gordon’s over-the-top horror masterpiece The Re-Animator, but did you know the original actually came out in 1962?
The Re-Animator is loosely based on HP Lovecraft’s series of pulp horror stories originally published in 1922. They are supposedly Lovecraft’s take on Frankenstein, but having read Shelly’s original recently, I prefer Lovecraft’s work over the classic. I know that literary critics consider H.P. a slob who aped Poe and threw away his talent and time on tawdry pulps, but his obsessions and sense of the weird are genuinely creepy and unsettling. To me, Shelly’s Frankenstein brings a creature to life through unknown methods as if he’s painting a landscape on a Sunday afternoon; he freaks out abandoning his creation, and cries about it for the rest of the novel. Lovecraft’s Dr. Herbert West is an obsessed individual completely in the thrall of the problem of death and it’s resolution. Lovecraft deals with the messy mechanics of gathering specimens for the reanimation process that feel closer to James Whale’s Frankenstein than they do to Shelly’s novel. Shelly’s character had everything he needed in his apartment. Herbert West and his associate had to go shopping and scavenging for their raw materials much like Dr. Frankenstein and Fritz in the classic Universal film. Lovecraft also dealt more effectively with the aftermath of the creative process. His reanimated corpses were far from sympathetic man-children. They were misshapen, shambling horrors driven by whatever animal instincts that were left in their damaged brains. Also, unlike Frankenstein, Herbert West was not a quitter. Failed experiments didn’t get him down. He was a try, try again sort of mad scientist. He ended up with a menagerie of creatures and abominations.
I was familiar with HP Lovecraft and had read a number of his stories thanks to the renewed interest in repackaging pulps in paperback editions in the 70s, but I had never heard of The Re-Animator series until the movie came out in 1985. I went to see it in all of its unrated glory at a long gone grindhouse on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. It was a hoot, but there was something familiar about it. It felt like a movie I had seen as a child that scared the crap out of me.
It has a mad, obsessed scientist, a deformed monster in the closet played by Eddie “The Jewish Giant” Carmel, gore, and, most importantly, a disembodied head kept alive in an enamel tray. It seemed obvious to me. The Re-Animator was a remake of The Brain That Wouldn’t Die. It also had a seamy sexuality that The Re-Animator had but no where near as explicit due to the time it was filmed and released. There were trashy stripper dives and private modeling studios that the mad scientist cruised seeking a buxom upgrade for his fiancee’s missing chassis.
As I said before, I had not read Herbert West: The Re-Animator at that point. I scoured bookstores looking for it, but I guess it wasn’t in print at the time. It’s readily available now for free on the internet, and I have recently had the pleasure of reading Lovecraft’s original. It is a great read and there are a number of elements that made their way into the 1985 movie, and Jeffrey Combs was perfect as West!
I read Herbert West Reanimator and Other Stories on my iPod Touch on the Stanza app. Both the application and the book are free!
Here’s an audio book version of Herbert West: Reanimator – Part 1 – From the Dark by H. P. Lovecraft:
Or it can be downloaded HERE. From there, you can chase down the other six parts of the story. The strange, monotone, female voice reading the story sort of adds to the whole experience.
Watch The Brain That Wouldn’t Die streaming or downloadable HERE. I warn you that it may or may not be the uncut version. There were gore scenes that were cut from television versions of the film, and a lot of the cut prints are floating around the public domain. Netflix’s streaming service along with some of the free services available on the Roku box offer the uncut version of the movie which is what I saw as a kid. Hulu has it uncut but with commercials. For some twisted, unknown reason or perhaps ignorance, I saw an uncut version broadcast on TV years ago, and it scared the crap out of me. The gore maybe why the movie was filmed in 1959 and not released until 1962.