THE DEAD TIMES

DEAD ARE COMING...

Way out West

In 1985, a film was developed and released called Re-animator and, in my mind at least, it deserves recognition - a public acknowledgement of greatness to stop a bygone favourite from falling into the misty dark void of the forgotten past. Firstly, and perhaps the most surprising fact about this film is that it is based on "Herbert West-Reanimator", the little-known short story from H. P. Lovecraft - a master of horror writing with a flair for the unknown and unusual. The plot revolves around a young medical student known as Herbert West who has discovered how to bring deceased bodies back to life - an extraordinary feat he achieves using a mysterious Re-agent; a luminous green liquid, the ingredients known only to West. Throughout the fairly short film various hijinks go on with West's experiments and his futile efforts to keep his re-animation solution secret from everyone other than his conscripted science partner - his hard-working yet gullible flatmate. It is all very tongue-in-cheek and comedic yet, at the same time, the movie keeps a mostly serious medical experiment theme throughout. I really do urge anyone to watch it - it has aged tremendously well and got me chuckling away more than most modern films. My favourite part is when Herbert West gets bored, holding his head in his hands, staring at the decapitated body and severed head of a murder victim. He then has an idea, audibly speaking the thought - "I've never done individual parts before..." letting the sentence trail off and your imagination begin the, albeit simple, task of predicting what will happen when the life-restoring Re-agent is injected into the two severed limbs individually.

Of course, this is an old idea - the concept of someone applying some strange substance to the dead and bringing them back to a resemblance of life is nothing radically outlandish - a modern and scientific hypothesis drawn from the Voodoo culture of Bokors and 'Zombie Powder'.

Going off at a tangent, the product of a mind that wanders as much as an idling Zombie not yet latched onto nearby prey or the result of a constant effort to bring some real-world relevance to these often whimsical articles, the existence of an entity living longer than it logically should is not actually unfounded. There exists, in the deep waters of the ocean, a tiny jellyfish (only about the size of the nail on your pinky at full size). Originally discovered in the Mediterranean Sea in 1883, this wonder-jelly has swarmed throughout the world's oceans - an invader from an alien land, a mischief that cannot easily be got rid of, restlessly pushing forward, slowly taking over foreign homes like an invasive army of the living dead.

© "Immortal" Jellyfish Swarm World's Oceans | National Geographic

What is so extraordinary, so astounding, so near-incomprehensible about this rather dull looking animal is that it can effectively live forever - yes, you read that right, it has completely eradicated death from old age! It does this by using its own mysterious Re-agent. When the jellyfish becomes old it simply engages the Re-agent and "transforms all of its existing cells into a younger state" thus winding back the age clock and avoiding death. It can do this as many times as it likes thus replacing the normal birth/death cycle with an infinite loop between young and old, though apparently it only chooses to reset its age clock in extreme conditions such as starvation or physical damage. To this day, it is a mystery exactly how this aquatic animal is able to achieve this feat - maybe Dr. West had the answer. Just imagine the wonders, the impossibilities that could be made possible, if mankind fully understood this strange power.

However, the reason for the existence of this article is not to debate the scientific possibility of Herbert West's Re-agent or to theorise as to its chemical properties. What I want - nay, need - to know to lay my mind at rest is an answer to a question:

Is Re-animator a Zombie movie?

It involves the once living coming back from the dead which screams "yes" to me, neurons of joy firing in my undead-hunting brain. In addition, many of the early re-animates behave erratically, prone to animalistic violence in a strikingly similar way to the modern depiction of Zombies. Some later subjects seem to retain a limited intelligence which, again, is not unheard of in modern Zombie portrayal - even the infamous Day of the Dead had a semi-intelligent Zombie named "Bub". However it also involves the re-animation of individual body parts - a headless body is brought back from death at one point, the body stumbling around, physically separated from the (also re-animated) controlling mind. This alludes to "No" - in Zombie lore, if a head is separated from a body (without damaging the all-important brain), the head will remain animate but the body will fall loosely to the ground.

This question is not just a flight of fancy, it also has some hidden importance. Whilst the 1985 film is clearly a mile away from George Romero's 1963 masterpiece of Zombiism, Night of the Living Dead, it was based on a short story written in the early 1920s. If true and Re-animator is concluded to be a Zombie movie then, through implication, that short story by H. P. Lovecraft is a story about Zombies and, more importantly, the first portrayal of Zombies as something biological - something altered through science and chemical-makeup. This would have profound implications for the history of the Zombie, denting the crown of George "Godfather of the Dead" Romero.

Please, if you have an opinion (and I really do want to read any opinion on this important subject), leave a comment using the 'Add Comment' button below.

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The Dead Times © Tom Clark 2013 onwards

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'Universal Fruitcake' font sourced from www.fontsquirrel.com