Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter revisits Re-Animator with a listen to the film’s commentary.
Our focus on horror-themed commentaries continues with another fantastic, enduring genre comedies — Stuart Gordon’s 1985 classic, Re-Animator. Teenage me loved it for its explosive gore effects and appealing contributions from Barbara Crampton, but multiple re-watches over the years revealed the film to also be an incredibly creative, extremely funny take on the mad scientist sub-genre… with explosive gore effects and appealing contributions from Barbara Crampton.
The film celebrates its 30th anniversary this week – thirty years old, and it’s still one of the ten best horror comedies of all time – and in honor of that feat I gave a listen to one of the two commentary tracks available.
Keep reading to see what I heard on the Re-Animator commentary.
Commentators: Brian Yuzna (producer), Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Robert Sampson (actors)
1. The opening scene set in Zurich, Switzerland was actually (and unsurprisingly) filmed in Pasadena.
2. This intro to Herbert West’s (Combs) peculiar experiments and their bloody results was in the script but wasn’t filmed during production. They went back afterwards when they realized the need for it.
3. “I hurt her a lot,” says Abbott during his intro scene performing chest compressions on an extra. “I think I broke three ribs.” He plays it straight, but it’s probably safe to assume he’s joking. Mabe? One thing they do agree on is that this scene was originally much longer.
4. One of the nurses seen when the doctor takes over for Cain (Abbott) is played by the production’s accountant, Barbara Pieters. “She’s in the movie too?” asks Crampton, to which Yuzna replies “Well everybody was. You guys were the only actors we could afford.”
5. Abbott recalls having trouble guiding the gurney down the hallway to the morgue. “You know we got that gurney from Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead because it already had the hole cut in it.”
6. Yuzna plays one of the background corpses in the hospital morgue.
7. They collectively love the jokey inclusion of a Talking Heads poster above Cain’s bed while he and Megan Halsey (Crampton) are playing doctor – well, all except Abbott who claims he didn’t even know it was there during the scene. “I was busy,” he says.
8. Crampton insists the other commentators close their eyes when she hops out of bed topless. It doesn’t bode well for the film’s most infamous scene a bit later in the movie.
9. West’s voice rises a bit when he introduces himself at Cain’s house, and Combs attributes it to a poor looping job by someone. “Well whoever put the tone treble on that one,” he replies when asked who did it, clearly not thrilled by the result. All three of the actors in this scene had to loop their dialogue as the floorboards in the room were apparently very loud and creaky.
10. David Gale, who plays Dr. Carl Hill, wears a wig in the film. “And a bad wig,” adds Yuzna. His own hair was fine, but they needed a wig to match the dummy’s,”and we couldn’t afford to make hair that looked like his.”
11. Abbott gave Crampton his denim jacket from the film after production wrapped, and she still has it. He asks for it back, but his request is laughed away.
12. That’s a real dead cat in West’s mini-fridge.
13. Combs was able to convince director Stuart Gordon to let him put his socks and shoes on during the scene where West pretends to be a corpse that Cain wheels into the morgue. Gordon thought it would take too long, but Combs proved to be a shoelace master.
14. The first corpse that West and Cain re-animate is played by Peter Kent who at the time worked as Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body double. Actor Tom Towles (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) was originally up for the role but changed his mind.
15. The necklace Crampton is wearing in the scene where Megan discovers her dear old dad is now a re-animated loon was stolen from the actress in London.
16. Sampson went home for the day after shooting one of his zombified scenes with his face still done up, and when he stopped for gas the only thing the attendant said to him was “Do you need any help man?”
17. The first cut of the film was two and a half hours long. The released version is 87 minutes.
18. Combs recalls having to feed Gale cigarettes during the scene with Hill’s head in the tray on the table. Gale was in that position for hours and couldn’t reach his own face.
19. Combs hates — hates — the line where he says “He took my serum, except for what I have upstairs!” “Terrible, terrible, terrible,” says Combs. “How do you make a line like that work?”
20. The head-less Hill effect was achieved in part with the use of a belt. The performer inside the fake shoulders/neck rig had a belt that he would take hold of with his mouth to keep his head pulled down and steady.
21. Apparently the morgue security guard who leaves his post repeatedly for coffee was actually going to masturbate? I always assumed he was just bad at his job and really into coffee, but no, he was jerkin it to his nudie mags.
22. Crampton stuns the guys with a question none of them had pondered before regarding the scene where Hill’s body sneaks into the morgue wearing a medical prop head. “If he placed that fake head on his shoulders, why couldn’t he have placed the real head on his shoulders?” This is an absolutely legitimate question.
23. There’s silence on the commentary when when Megan’s undead father plops her onto the gurney and removes her clothing, but it’s broken by one of the guys pointing out the cool lights in the shot. “Look at those lights?” “Look at those breasts!” Sampson recalls her telling Gordon that he could only have four seconds of her full body.
24. Sampson asks whose hands are in the shot messily fondling Megan’s breasts while Hill’s head looks on in delight — Combs suggests they belong to Gordon, “He wrote the scene!” while Crampton assumes they’re Gale’s. That would have been impressive as Gale is in the shot, trapped beneath the gurney with only his head sticking through… a fact the guys remind Crampton of immediately.
25. “David felt spiritually bereft,” says Sampson, regarding the scene where his head goes spelunking in Crampton’s lady business. “Those were the words that he used. He said ‘I feel awful doing this.’” Apparently Gale’s wife thought he didn’t feel awful enough, “and after the first screening she split on him,” says Yuzna. “She didn’t come home.”
26. The actors playing the re-animated corpses all worked out together at the YMCA to coordinate their movements as zombies.
27. Abbott really wanted to use a particular take of the scene where he’s distraught over Megan’s death. “You were really crying,” recalls Crampton, “and snot was coming out of our nose, and Stuart didn’t like it one bit.”
28. Crampton does all her own screaming in the film — as well as one on the commentary — something Yuzna says is uncommon for actresses.
Best in Context-Free Commentary
- “This is my mother’s favorite movie.”
- “Yeah I remember her. She was the one who brought all those dildos to the set.”
- “See my daughter again, and I’ll cut your dick off.”
- “Hey, I was chunky in this movie, wasn’t I?”
This movie is still so much ridiculous fun, and while Gordon’s commentary offers more technical anecdotes this group one offers up a great listen too. Their collective appreciation for what they created is evident, as is their affection for each other, and the gang shares laughs as readily as they do memories. Combs makes mouth music, Crampton occasionally segues into voices (including one that sounds like a moll from the ’20s that makes me want to see her in a gangster film), and Sampson proves his memory remains the best as to various production details. It’s a great listen for a great film.