The Science of Stuart Gordon’s Reanimator

Reanimator_poster

This article will focus on the science behind Stuart Gordon’s film H.P. Lovecraft’s Reanimator.  However, before I do this I want to clarify something that was brought to my attention from the last article.  I identified three phases of the reanimation serum with the second one involving an embalming fluid and neutralizing agent. I hypothesized that Dr. West may have mixed the serum with these compounds to kill and preserve the traveling salesman so that they could try the serum when his assistant got back. However, someone on the message board (known on the message board as shoggothlord) pointed out that Dr. West actually put the salesman into a medically induced coma until his assistant came back. He then revised the salesman only to kill him to try the reanimation serum on a fresh body. I just wanted to point out this discrepancy. While West may have augmented his embalming fluid and the associated neutralizing agent with his reanimation fluid, this is highly unlikely. It looks like a flat out case of murder in order to obtain the “freshest” body possible for his experiment. As we previously mentioned, while it appeared to be a temporary success, it was very short-lived. Thank you shoggothlord for pointing that out.

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Reanimator Herbert West by Xmattmurdersx (www.deviantart.com)

Stuart Gordon’s film H.P. Lovecraft’s Reanimator is interesting in the fact that in some aspects it is very close to Lovecraft’s original tale and in others it makes large deviations from the original text, which also includes the scientific aspects of the film. Dr. Herbert West does develop a reanimation serum although no background is given to its origin. An interesting component of the serum shown in the film is that it glows green, which is probably a type of bioluminescence. I hypothesize that the glowing green does not represent an active ingredient of reanimation serum but instead is a bio-indicator, identifying when the serum is in an active state.

Bioluminescence is frequently caused by a relatively simple biochemical reaction where the enzyme luciferase oxidizers luciferin and in its electronically excited state it emits a photon of light. Most people are familiar with bioluminescence by watching fireflies in the summer but many other organisms, including bacteria and algae such as dinoflagellates, utilize similar bioluminescence, biochemical pathways. I hypothesize that Dr. West included this bioluminescence compound in the reanimation serum as a simple indictor of when the serum is active.

As a previously mentioned, I believe the reanimation serum is a type of Stem Cell Therapy, using a combination of human cells and Deep One cells. However, once the cells are mixed and the serum is “activated” it has a specific period of time when it remains active before the cells start to degrade and decompose. A quick and easy way of determining whether the serum is active is to couple it with the luciferin compound and tag the cells with luciferin. Thus, active living cells tagged with luciferin would glow green once the luciferase is added.  Once the cells begin to degrade the green glow would fade, indicating that the serum is no longer active. Indeed in the director’s commentary for the film Stuart Gordon himself states that green glow would last only about 45 minutes. Thus, it appears that once active, the reanimation serum is only viable for less than an hour. However, refrigeration may extend the duration of viability. There were a number of instances when the glowing green serum was retrieved from a refrigerator. As shown below, bioluminescence has been used in an applied medical capacity such as identifying the size and location of cancer cells (see below).

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Applied use of bioluminescence in the identification of cancer cells – is the green glow of the reanimation serum a bio-indicator of when it is in its active state? (from http://www.photobiology.info)

It should also be noted that unlike Lovecraft’s serum, Gordon’s serum may only have a limited duration of effectiveness before another injection is required. In Lovecraft’s tale, one injection was all it took to reanimate the dead with the individual living on for years. In contrast in Gordon’s film we have no indication if the serum will wear off over a period of time. Dean Halsey is the individual who is reanimated for the longest period of time and that was only for 24- 48 hours. In contrast, the decapitated Dr. Hill appeared to require both blood and more of the reanimation serum to keep at least his head alive. It may be possible that routine injections are required to keep separated body parts alive; however, this is not discussed in the film.

The last thought I want to bring up is the notorious “head giving head” scene. Unlike Stuart Gordon’s film From Beyond, where an increase in sexuality was a side effect of the biochemical impact the Resonator had on the pineal gland, there is no indication that the reanimation serum increases sexuality. We know from earlier in the film that Dr. Hill was attracted to Dean Halsey’s daughter Megan. Thus, I think the scene has nothing to do with the serum affecting Hill’s sexuality; I think the guy is just a creep.

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The reanimated head of Dr. Hill from Stuart Gordon’s film H.P. Lovecraft’s Reanimator

To conclude this dissuasion of Reanimator I want to recommend two books. First, I strongly recommend Pete Rawlik’s book Reaniamtors (2013). It is a fun book documenting the adventures of a rival / competitor of Herbert West and it is well immersed in Lovecraft’s New England, Arkham and Miskatonic University. Also, Pete provides presents some really interesting scientific ideas in the novel.

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The second book I am half way through and really enjoying. It is Chaosium’s Legacy of the Reanimator: Chronicles of Dr. Herbert West (2015). I was lucky enough to pick up a copy at the NecronomiCon in August; it should be available for purchase very soon and I highly recommend it. It includes tales from various authors documenting various portions of West’s life and includes two round-robin stories. The book is edited by Peter Rawik and Brian M. Sammons. Pick it up when it’s out!

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Next time we will be discussing some of Lovecraft’s lesser known sentient species such as those found in “The Doom That Came to Sarnath” and “The Nameless City.” Thank you and Happy Halloween everyone! Fred.

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One thought on “The Science of Stuart Gordon’s Reanimator

  1. The secondary injections are up for interpretation since no explanation is given, but if You’re interested I always thought it was needed in Hill’s case for much the same reason the blood was needed; He was a severed head with an open wound leaking blood constantly. If West had surgically modified Hill first–as was done with Clapham-Lee in the story–to connect the blood vessels in a closed circuit, all that may not have been necessary.

    As per the scene You mentioned, while it doesn’t indicate the serum effecting people’s sexuality (because Hill was a major creep before dying) it would probably be another sign of the sort of mental degeneration that can occur from reanimation. Hill went from a egotist with an obsession over a student He barely new to a full-blown megalomaniac and rapist. Dying and coming back seems to have made His pre-existing psychological defects considerably worse.

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