For better or worse, the desire to categorize films is one that fans are all to familiar with. And then there are those films that simply don’t…fit. Sometimes the lines between genres and what is or isn’t become blurred resulting in a film that marches to its own electronic drum. Stuart Gordon’s 1985 film Re-Animator is one of those films. Neither full Horror, Comedy or Sci-Fi, Re-Animator is a unique and perfect blend of all those genres and more. As stated in The New York Times in 1985,
”RE-ANIMATOR” has as much originality as it has gore, and that’s really saying something. Based on stories by H. P. Lovecraft, ”Re-Animator”…tells of Dr. Herbert West, a medical student whose pet project is resuscitating the dead. He accomplishes this by injecting them with a fluorescent chartreuse serum, which causes any corpse to spring to life in an outstandingly terrible temper. It even has a sense of humor, albeit one that would be lost on 99.9 percent of any ordinary moviegoing crowd.
Due to Gordon’s vision of execution, the score to accompany such a film would also have to be just as unique. That’s where composer and musician Richard Band would come into play. Re-Animator, separated from the music, is an interesting film. The acting by all the key players is a bit over the top, a style perhaps better suited for the stage. The special effects are gruesome, excessive and vibrant. The deadpan delivery of dialogue and dramatic body movements from the incredible Jeffrey Combs as Dr. Herbert West could easily come across forced. The absurdity of the story borders on primo B-Movie territory, and yet…it’s all intentional. There’s a sense of humor and lightheartedness to every second of this movie. In order to make sure this important fact was not lost on audiences, Gordon had to find a composer who also understood this. Band proved to be his man.
No stranger to the world of horror and film music, Band grew up in a family dedicated to the world of film. His dad, Albert Band was a producer, writer and director. Charles Band, Richard’s brother, would follow in his dad’s footsteps and became a producer and director as well. Fascinated with music from a young age, it’s no surprise that Richard chose to pursue a career in music. After years as a touring musician and obtaining a formal music education, Richard began to shift his focus. His early works on films like The House On Sorority Row (1983), Laserblast (1978) and Troll (1986) exhibited his firm grasp and understanding of film music and horror films specifically. His ability to encapsulate a film’s overall feel and emotional aesthetic with his music made him the perfect choice to tell the tale of Dr. Herbert West.
In a 2013 interview published in the liner notes of the Waxwork Records Re-Animator vinyl soundtrack, Band spoke about his initial approach to the score:
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When first confronted with the film I had to figure out a way to invite the audience in for the experience without necessarily forcing them in any particular direction. I felt I needed to give them permission to absorb the horror and insanity of what they were about to witness while appreciating the total absurdity of what it was. Thus, the quirkiness of the music was never designed to be funny or totally scary. Rather, it was designed to invite the audience to ‘not take this ride too seriously’ and to instead sit back and have fun even within their possible disbelief of what they were about to view.
Right off the bat the stage is set with the introduction of Dr. West and the Main Title theme. Slowly bowed strings anchored by droning lows create an air of mystery. The slow shift from a major interval to a minor creates instant tension and an air of unease. The orchestration and utilization of classic acoustic instruments here adds a weight and gravitas to what is about to unfold. As West makes his first appearance, the music becomes inextricably linked to what is being shown on screen. And then, as Dr. Gruber meets his unfortunate end, reverb heavy electronic disco drums pop in adding an element of playfulness and hinting about the direction the film is going to take.
However, it’s during the title sequence that we really start to understand what kind of film Re-Animator is going to be. In one of the most famous and recognizable main theme songs in all of horror, Band introduces the world to Herbert West and Miskatonic Medical School. While the range of instrumentation is full, the shifting focus creates a feel of simplicity and forward momentum. Never lingering on one section for too long, the syncopated and staccato-esque rhythms expose an element of lightness. This combined with the swaying downward cascade of notes that follow the inevitable build up creates an atmosphere evocative of 1960’s television series like Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie. And yes, one can’t ignore the obvious similarities and references to Bernard Hermann’s Psycho score. While some interpreted this blatant allusion as pure thievery, Band has always been open about the similarity being an homage to the soundtrack maestro.
In the same Waxwork liner notes mentioned earlier, director Stuart Gordon said,
He [Band] had asked the producers that ‘With humble apologies to Bernard Hermann’ be included in the end titles of the picture, but somehow it was inadvertently left out, making Richard look like a goniff. What’s the matter Bernie, can’t you take a joke?
Everything Band sets up here is crucial; not only to the rest of the film music, but to the actual film itself. The melodies, sounds, pacing and overall vibe that Band sets up in the Prologue and Main Theme resound throughout the entirety of the film. This is the power of a good theme; a power that Band understands and knows all to well. In a January 2018 interview on the Scored to Death podcast, Band had this to say on his love and fondness for a good theme:
I’m a firm believer in thematic music. If used properly, a theme can evoke a lot of emotion in your audience. It’s one of those things that, emotionally speaking, an audience can grasp onto.
While the score continues to evolve and adapt to what is happening on the screen, the foundation of each and every song has a thread that leads back to these two pieces. And like a green fluorescent serum, flowing throughout the veins of the film, Band’s theme guides the audience through Herbert and Dan‘s journey and says, “It’s ok. You can laugh.”
Even though Re-Animator is a film that defies any one genre of film, Band’s score helps us as the audience navigate and accept that fact. Through the music, we are able to make sense of the complete absurdity of what is unfolding before our eyes and appreciate it for the very same reasons. The score helps us find humor in the darkness and intrigue in West‘s obsession. It brings light and suspense in equal parts, balancing out the gore with a smirk.
Needless to say, this is a score worth owning. Luckily, there are now several options for anyone searching out this quirky fun ride. Originally issued on vinyl by Varese Sarabande in 1985, those copies are lovely, but a little spendy. Back in 2003, La-La Land Records issued the one and only CD version of the score, and it wouldn’t be until 2013 that we got another vinyl copy. With their very first release ever, Waxwork brought this classic back from the dead in 2013. While sold out for years, they have just recently offered another pressing so now is the time to strike. And of course, they’ve got it available on some dynamic colored vinyl. Find a copy here or at your local record store.
What do you think of this quirky fun ride of a soundtrack? What are some of your favorite soundtracks? Let us know over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!