Sunday, October 18, 2015

Newsploitation: Extra! Extra! Talking Severed Head Turns 30!

Okay, now I’m going to make you feel really old. Stuart Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR came out thirty years ago today on October 18, 1985. Coming out of left field, it gave ‘80s audiences their Dr. Henry Frankenstein and did it with so much over-the-top flourish that became an instant classic. So raise your vials of glowing reagent to celebrate this vital birthday.

Based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West - Re-Animator” from 1922, RE-ANIMATOR came about when Chicago theater director Gordon was looking for something new to adapt to the stage and read Lovecraft's serialized story at the library. Gordon, playwright Dennis Paoli and fellow writer William Norris then considered making their loose adaptation into a TV series. Fate intervened when they met producer Brian Yuzna. The producer had been looking for a project to launch his filmmaking career and this proved to be a perfect fit. Eventually the group got in bed with Empire Pictures’ Charles Band and the rest is history. Filming began in November 1984 with a main cast of young unknowns in their first few years working in Hollywood including Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott, and Jeffrey Combs.

As an independent theatrical outfit Empire Pictures was just barely scraping by. Their biggest hits to date had been TRANCERS (1984) and GHOULIES (1984), which went out to a few dozen theaters upon release. RE-ANIMATOR was their first wide release and by wide we mean only 129 theaters the weekend of October 18. I wish I could tell you that it was a blazing success right out of the gate, but RE-ANIMATOR didn’t even crack the top ten with a haul of $543,728. However, there is something interesting to say about this - the film garnered a per-screen-average of $4,214, which was double what any film in the top five (including COMMANDO, REMO WILLIAMS and SILVER BULLET) made. Had it gotten to over 1,000 screens like those flicks, it would have killed the competition. Ultimately, it would make just over two million in its U.S. theatrical run, ending up Empire’s third highest grosser overall following later releases TROLL (1986) and ELIMINATORS (1986). Where RE-ANIMATOR truly found its audience was on home video and cable. I can still remember my mom renting me the Vestron VHS from our Farm Fresh supermarket. If only she had known.

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