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Title: Together, We Are Providence
Abstract: An exploration of the homoeroticism in the Re-Animator films and associated media, and the place the films take in the mad scientist canon that has long been defined by Frankenstein.





I. In the Beginning

Birth is an act and a concept that is inexorably linked to women and womanhood, as is the creation of life itself. A woman might need a man’s sperm to begin the process, but from then on the task is often perceived as hers exclusively. Women have babies, ergo women bring life into the world. Is there a more important task than ensuring and nurturing the continuation of the species? It is this cultural standard that is theorized to serve as a catalyst for the male drive to create and build complex machines and structures, to fulfill a psychological need to give birth to their own children in a fever of what might conceivably be labeled as "womb envy" (sister to the Freudian and oft-contested "penis envy").

Horror movies in which human-like creatures are brought to life in laboratories are easily identified as representing a desire to find a substitute for women and natural birth, a way to circumvent the natural process with science. The most famous of these stories is, of course, Frankenstein, and the film version and sequel have long been identified as classic examples of homoerotic subtext in horror films. Re-Animator, in concept and in practice, is a direct parallel of Frankenstein’s themes, including those of homosexuality and men seeking to create life without women. If anything, these themes are exaggerated in Re-Animator and Bride of Re-Animator, infusing both with a sense of subtext so thick it often rises to infect the surface consciousness.

In writing this essay, I've been drawing heavily upon the theories and analysis presented in the excellent book Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film by Harry M. Benshoff. If you have further interest in the topic, I highly recommend it.


II. God Created Man




Herbert West is a pint-sized scientist with a compulsive drive to discover the secret of life itself. He is bossy, single-minded, and lacking in any amount of social conscience when it comes to his ultimate project of conquering death. While he is generally aware of the difference between right and wrong, he rarely applies these concepts to any of his own actions and has no qualms about turning the people around him into guinea pigs for his relentless experiments. He comes to Arkham, Massachusetts to study at Miskatonic Medical School after the death of his mentor, Hans Gruber, in Zurich--which, as the opening scene shows, he was directly complicit in. Upon his arrival in Arkham, he rents a room in the house of handsome and compassionate physician-in-training, Daniel Cain.

Dan is a well-favored student who is dating Meg Halsey, the dean’s attractive daughter, whom he plans to marry once he gets his degree. But Dan finds his well-adjusted world turned upside-down by Herbert’s arrival. When his cat, Rufus, is found dead and Herbert uses his "reagent" to bring him back to life (twice!), the two med students embark on a quest to perfect the reagent and eliminate death forever. In Bride of Re-Animator, their research takes a detour into the art of patchwork people as they build their “Bride” from the severed feet of a ballerina, the thighs of a whore, the womb of a virgin, the hand of a murderess, and the heart of Dan’s girlfriend Megan, who perished at the end of Re-Animator.

Herbert's personality is a caricature of the quintessential "mad scientist." In an extended scene in Re-Animator (one that is in the R-rated version, but not the unrated, and which can be found on the special features disk of the Millennium Edition DVD set) Dan initially describes Herbert to Meg as "...one of your typical geniuses... he's very intelligent, he's very private, he doesn't quite act like other people." The first scene of Re-Animator captures the essential flavor of West's maniacal drive, arrogance, and genius in such a way that perfectly sets the tone of the rest of the movie, not to mention the audience's perception of Herbert himself. After a nurse accuses him of causing the death of Dr. Gruber, he exclaims heatedly, "No, I did not!"; he then turns directly to the camera and declares, overblown and self-important, "I gave him life!"

Herbert is bitchy, catty, controlling, rude, elitist, and often downright repugnant in manner and actions. Yet he manages to be weirdly compelling and attractive. He is a genius, and the conviction he has of always getting his way is guiltily internalized by the viewer. Who can't identify with his childish tantrums when his plans seem to backfire? When he rails against a seemingly unresponsive test subject, "He failed! Not I!" the laughter that results from the audience is shrill with recognition; we all, to some extent, share Herbert's egocentric traits, and cannot help taking a sort of vicarious pleasure in Herbert's exaggerated, unrestrained reactions.

Is Herbert insane? Legally, no, as he seems well-aware of his surroundings, does not appear to experience hallucinations, and is technically capable of distinguishing what is considered by society to be morally and ethically acceptable from what is not. Nevertheless, there is something not quite right about Herbert, beyond his initial lack of social skills and massive arrogance. It is a quality that is noticeable to both Meg and Dan, even before anything truly weird happens, as evidenced by the dialogue between them that takes place just before Dan's cat, Rufus, is found dead:

Meg: Well... West is always in his room with the door closed. I mean, do you ever see him? Does he ever eat?
Dan: I told you, he--he's a little cracked.
Meg: ... he bothers you too.
Dan: No, don't be ridiculous.

So clearly there is more to Herbert than meets the eye. His insanity is recognizable in his extreme single-mindedness, his mild case of megalomania, and of course in the fact that he spends his time trying to bring dead people back to life. But what is also quite interesting about Herbert's psyche is his clear misogyny. Though it is debatable whether Herbert has an active dislike for women (usually debated most vehemently by those who would like to see a female love interest/assistant for him), he exhibits no clear interest in them in any of the three movies. Moreover, he establishes clear rivalries with Dan's love interests in both Re-Animator and Bride...; elaboration on these actions will be provided in the following section, so keep reading.

And so, what of Dan? How does an "everyman" character compete with so garishly forceful a personality as Herbert West? Some might say that he doesn't, and that Dan is a more boring character for it. However, this is not the truth of the matter. Dan is not an "everyman," not by a long shot, and the premise of the franchise suffers from his conspicuous absence in Beyond Re-Animator. Dan is, in pretentious literary terms, Herbert's foil. Or possibly the other way around (as a foil commonly sets off the main character; Herbert is not the main character in any of the three movies, but he is the character most people like). Regardless, their dynamic is that of yin and yang, with the traits and ideology of one complementing and enhancing the opposing traits and ideology of the other. Herbert is bossy; Dan is yielding. Herbert is physically small; Dan is larger and more muscular. Herbert rarely cares about people at all; Dan cares too much. And so on.

Dan is also, interestingly, one of the most squeamish heroes ever filmed, particularly for a medical student and later a doctor. Before he ever meets Herbert, we see him tiptoeing around bodies in the morgue, trying desperately to avoid touching them. He becomes catatonic and useless after violent bloodshed, even in a medical setting. He even pulls back from Herbert's iguana with a disgusted and fastidious look on his face. He is desperate to avoid death, to save people whenever possible. The emotional attachments he forms with patients is not healthy, and by the second movie the stress of it has begun to take effect. He is easily manipulated by Herbert and his reagent because of his desperation to save lives.

Other than that, though, Dan is practically the perfect boyfriend: handsome, clean-cut, polite, soft-spoken, sweet with a goofy sense of humor, and he likes cats. It's a bit of a shame that both Meg and Herbert push him around so much.


III. Mad Scientists in Love


Benshoff writes that "[t]ogether the mad scientist and his sidekick become a major generic convention that is easily read as queer: the secret experiments they conduct together are chronicled in private diaries and kept locked away in closed cupboards and closets…. While many of the classical horror films take the sado-masochistic relationship between their male leads to be the singular driving force of their narratives… perhaps the most obviously queer ones are those wherein the homosexual pair set out to procreate without the aid of woman. The act of procreation, read as sex, thus makes this particular formula spectacularly queer.” (48-49)

Herbert and Dan are an interesting pair for discussion because so much of Re-Animator's content and imagery is rife with sexual metaphor. Therefore, it is necessary to examine not only the interaction between the two characters but also the objects and themes with which the characters become associated. The analysis of their interaction can be seen as more superficial (though no less imperative for it) while the examination of the symbolism obviously requires a greater level of understanding of queer theory and psychosexual metaphor. Consider this section the first level of the strata, if you will.



Herbert and Dan's relationship actually begins when they are introduced to one another in the morgue by Dean Alan Halsey as he is giving new student Herbert a tour of the school's facilities. Herbert begins by correcting Dan's grammar, brushing past his outstretched hand, and deliberately failing to make eye contact. While the focus of the dialogue is on Halsey and Dr. Hill, Herbert and Dan can be seen casually sizing one another up [above]. But Dan's first impression of Herbert is surely less than stellar, as Herbert casually and caustically pegs the well-regarded Dr. Hill as a fraud and a plagiarist.

Herbert then forces himself into Dan's life--intentionally or un--by responding to Dan's ad for a roommate. He arrives just after Dan and Meg have finished having sex, and establishes an instant rivalry with Meg, who makes it clear that she would prefer to have anyone but Herbert West renting a room from Dan. Dan, however, is drawn to the promise of the money he needs to keep the house, and so accepts Herbert as his roommate on the spot.

Then, after an extended period of time has presumably passed, Dan's cat, Rufus, turns up dead. Meg finds his body in Herbert's refrigerator, which doesn't look good for Herbert. There's a certain amount of debate among fans as to whether Herbert actually killed Rufus or not, as it is never explicitly stated in the movie. The odds are stacked against Herbert, but I'm inclined to think that Rufus' death was not intentional because of one glaring truth: Rufus was Dan's and Dan liked Rufus. And Herbert "likes" Dan. From this dialogue:

Dan: What happened [to Rufus]?
Herbert: It was dead when I found it.
Meg: You killed him. He hated you.
Dan: Meg--
Herbert: [Coldly, to Meg] It suffocated. [More gently, to Dan] It knocked the garbage over and it got its head stuck in a jar. You weren't home so I put it in [the refrigerator]. I certainly didn't think you'd want to find it like that; I did not want to stink the place up. I was going to show you.
Dan: You couldn't call or write a note?
Herbert: I was busy pushing bodies around as you well know, and what would a note say, Dan? 'Cat dead, details later?' I knew you were fond of it.

While Herbert lacks any kind of "people-skills," he is aware of Dan's feelings and does, in his own ineffective way, try to soften the blow of Rufus' death. His voice changes dramatically as he alternates between Meg and Dan; he clearly feels nothing but contempt for Meg, but his voice softens slightly and he becomes about as apologetic and gentle as he ever is for Dan. Meg, however, presses the subject, making things worse. Once Dan notices the conspicuous bottle of glowing green liquid, Herbert becomes defensive and resorts to innuendo and threats of telling Dean Halsey that Dan and Meg have been sleeping together. In the extended scene, he closes the door to his room after them and snipes, "Garbage take garbage!" like the fox dismissing the grapes as sour.

It is arguable that Herbert killed Rufus because he liked Dan and needed his help. In the following scene, Dan is awaked by screeching and yowling noises in the middle of the night. He ventures down to Herbert's lab in the basement, where Herbert is being attacked by what turns out to be the undead Rufus. Herbert explains the process of re-animation to Dan, and the following dialogue ensues:

Herbert: You will help me.
Dan: No!
Herbert: Why? Because it's 'mad?'
Dan: No, because I don't believe you! . . . .
[Herbert begins to prepare a syringe full of reagent]
Dan: West, no! ...West, stop!
Herbert: I'll show you. Then you'll help me.
Dan: No!
Herbert: Yes, you will. That is why I brought the infernal beast back to life in the first place.

One could surmise, from that last line, that this was also why Herbert killed "the infernal beast in the first place," but I think it's unlikely. Herbert is opportunistic, yes, but he doesn't seem willing to kill something that is perfectly healthy unless he feels directly threatened--as with Dr. Hill and Lt. Chapman in Bride...--or if it is an animal whose purpose he regards as more-or-less mechanistic--as with the iguana he kills in Bride... to harvest the amniotic fluid for the reagent. And because Herbert is such an opportunist, I think it's more likely that Rufus' death was an accident (or mostly an accident) that he chose to profit from, rather than something he tried to forcibly engineer. Stuart Gordon does say in the commentary that Herbert "killed [Dan's] cat," but it is an off-handed comment in the middle of a list of Herbert's misdeeds rather than a solid confirmation. Since the movie sets it up to look like Herbert killed Rufus anyway, with touch of uncertainty for kicks, I don't think it answers the question definitively.



Herbert's rivalry with Meg is obvious from the very beginning. He establishes his contempt for her in his own blunt way through their initial exchange:

Herbert: I startled you.
Meg: Yes, you did.
Herbert: Hmm.

Then, as it becomes clear that Meg does not want Herbert living with Dan, Herbert begins to up the ante, very nearly waving a wad of cash under Dan's nose in order to entice him to say 'yes.' As soon as the deal is sealed, he gives Meg a deliberate and smug smile of triumph. Points go to Herbert in that exchange. However, later in the movie, Meg enters unnoticed as Rufus begins life a third time, and her horrified cries distract Dan and pull him away from the accomplishment. Herbert's reaction is part exasperation and part anger. He is not happy that Dan's attention has been shifted away from what he thinks is important, and he is even more displeased that it was Meg who shifted it. Points to Meg.

Herbert, however, scores major points after Dr. Halsey tells Dan that Herbert is expelled and that his own student loan is being rescinded. In the extended scene, Dan immediately wants to talk to Herbert, but Meg tries to get him to reconsider:

Meg: ... you've got to separate yourself from West.
Dan: Meg! Don't you understand what he's done? What we could do?
Meg: What about what we could do?

She offers him the prerequisites for a normal life, complete with "normal" heterosexual romance and normal methods of reproduction, and even goes so far as to tell him that she accepts his proposal of marriage. Dan's reaction is lackadaisical; he says "I love you" and goes through the motions, but his vocal inflection and expression lack any of the urgency and excitement evident when he was talking about going to see Herbert. It is at this point that Herbert interrupts, coming around the corner and repeating Meg's last line sardonically, suggesting that he had been eavesdropping for an indiscriminate period of time. He comes between Dan and Meg onscreen [above, left] and Dan's attention immediately turns to him [above, right]. Meg interrupts them, growing progressively more hysterical; she tries to convince Dan that Herbert doesn't care about him, that he only cares about his own experiments. Herbert, however, remains calm, steadfast, and detached, and begins to seem more sensible and rational as Meg grows more emotional and irrational. He even picks up on Meg's pet name for Dan:

Meg: [loud, excited] Danny, listen to me!
Herbert: [quiet, calm] It's the only way, Danny.

Herbert rebuffs Meg's threats and accusations with sarcasm and derisive laughter, while also managing to manipulate Dan with the soft-spoken promise that "we can save everyone's life." Meg leaves in an angry huff; Herbert leaves with Dan firmly in tow. Game, set, match, and Herbert takes home the trophy.

Benshoff writes of the classic Hollywood Horror films, particularly those directed by the openly gay James Whale:

"The monstrously queer deviation of the gothic villain is also clearly marked within the text by the presence of an assertively ‘normal’ heterosexualized couple, who serve as the center of a naturalized and normative heterosexual equilibrium which the queer force disrupts. One or both members of this ‘normal’ couple become involved in the villain’s plot: the queer villain’s desire for one or both members of the couple is one of the main thematic imperatives of the genre. However, by the end of the film, the villain and/or monster is destroyed by a public mob or its patriarchal representatives, and the ‘normal’ couple are reinstated after safely passing through their queer experience" (pp 36-37).

This genre convention is as relevant to the analysis of the Re-Animator films as it is in an analysis of the Frankenstein films, perhaps moreso. Hebert acts as the queer (and queering) force in the film, and his presence disrupts not only the characters' ideas about what is normal and abnormal in the field of medicine, but also the "normal" heterosexual relationship between Meg and Dan. What is interesting is that, at the end of the first Re-Animator film, while Herbert is presumed to have been killed, Meg also dies. Thus, Re-Animator subverts the earlier convention that would reestablish heterosexual normality--of course, this being Re-Animator, the film does still end with their bittersweet reunion, as Dan takes up Herbert's syringe and needle and brings her back to life, and the film culminates with her shriek of horror.

But Herbert is resurrected for the sequel. It is significant that he is the character who ultimately survives instead of Meg, and even more significant that he and Dan have remained together during the period of time that takes place between the first and second movies. In a sense, he usurps Meg's position as Dan's companion. However, this arrangement is not a satisfactory one for Dan, which becomes clear in Bride....



The relationship gets even more interesting in the first movie as the duo attempt to get solid proof of the reagent's success on a corpse in the hospital morgue. In these scenes, Herbert's bossiness surges to the forefront; he orders Dan around incessantly, and Dan seems to be able to do nothing except comply in a stunned and distracted way. But although Herbert calls the shots when it comes to re-animation, a pattern develops as the corpse they bring back becomes violent: Herbert defaults to Dan when Dan shows signs of becoming physically aggressive. He hides behind Dan as they try to stamp out the re-animated Rufus, he hides behind or clutches Dan as the corpse in the morgue attacks, and even as Dan hits the corpse, Herbert recoils. This is not to say that Herbert is weak or a coward or afraid of physical violence, as he certainly does his fair share of fighting throughout all three movies, but rather that he has a natural tendency to allow Dan to have the upper hand in that respect, and often takes advantage of the protection Dan offers as the more physical of the two.



Herbert also becomes uncharacteristically meek and compliant when Dan threatens physical violence against him. This behavior is evident in the first movie [above, left] as well as in Bride... [above, right]. While Herbert would gladly fight back or rain hellfire down upon anyone else with the gall to grab him and physically force or threaten him (note the body of Lt. Chapman in the image from Bride...), Dan is clearly a special case; Herbert even sounds downright meek and guilty as he explains to Dan what has happened to, respectively, Dr. Hill and Lt. Chapman.



In one of the more obvious and telling scenes of the first movie, after the carnage in the morgue settles, Herbert becomes possessive of Dan, who is so stunned by the events that he can't seem to argue much. Though Meg is also in the room, Herbert hovers at Dan's side, and when Dan goes into shock he pulls a blanket over him and embraces him [above, right]. In fact, it may be because Meg is in the room that Herbert decides to become exceptionally affectionate (for Herbert); upon hearing Meg's voice in the hall outside the morgue, Herbert's reaction is to growl, "That bitch!" But Herbert can rest assured that he gets the last laugh in this more minor battle; not only are his experiments moderately successful, but while Megan is busy with her undead father, Herbert is the one who gets to comfort Dan (and gloat over the success of their experiment, of course). Moreover, he does so in a far more public setting than any of his previous displays of minor affection.



Bride of Re-Animator makes greater use of Herbert's jealousy and possessiveness of Dan, as Herbert lurks in the shadows while Dan tries to build another relationship after Meg's death. When Dan invites his new potential girlfriend, Francesca, over for dinner in the house he and Herbert share (which is a point unto itself; as Jeffrey Combs exclaims in the commentary, "Our living room! Why are we living together?"), Herbert holes himself up in his basement laboratory and workshop, scowling and occasionally glancing up at the ceiling [above, left] while Francesca and Dan coo and kiss in the kitchen. In this scene, we are also given a taste of how Herbert's frustration manifests itself in his work, as he creates a minor monster which consists of a female leg and a male arm forced together with the stab of a steel rod and then re-animated (which he then, almost immediately, endeavors to get rid of).

In the actor commentary for Bride..., Jeffrey Combs (Herbert) and Bruce Abbott (Dan) describe the scene thusly:

Bruce: I think it’s very interesting that Herbert is insanely jealous…
Jeff: Yeah, well… he’s irritated that you are so easily taken away from the work.
Bruce: Well… some psychologists may care to go deeper.
Jeff: [overlapping] There’s so much--so much to be done and you’re up there--
Bruce: Frolicking around--
Jeff: Rooting about.

When Dan and Francesca retire to the bedroom (apparently Dan works his magic awfully fast), Herbert follows, hovering with an expression of thoughtful menace [above, right] and listening as Dan tells Francesca her skin is "so soft, so warm" as he traces the line of one of her breasts. Again, Bruce and Jeff describe the scene and, again, Bruce hints at Herbert's deeper psychosexual turmoil, which Jeff hotly denies:

Jeff: Who’s listening? Well… Herbert is.
Bruce: Mm-hmm. Not only listening.
Jeff: Well, but he doesn’t understand what’s going on.
Bruce: Of course he does! Are you kidding me?
Jeff: [overlapping] No, he doesn’t! That’s what this whole moment is about, right here.
Bruce: So Psycho. Unbelievably Anthony Perkins.
Jeff: “What is going on here? Why don’t I have that in my life?”
Bruce: Yeah, well, he did taxidermy, you re-animate. What’s the diff?
Jeff: [laughs]
Bruce: It’s the mommy thing.

Herbert later makes his voyeurism slyly known to Dan when, as he shows off the various parts of the nearly-finished Bride in his strangely erotic soliloquy, he echoes Dan's movement and words, tenderly skimming his fingertips over the dead flesh and murmuring tauntingly, "So soft... so warm... so cold in death." To again quote Jeffrey Combs: "Ewwww! Creepy!"



Herbert is also a conspicuous presence when Francesca runs from Dan after finding out more about the nature of their experiments. Herbert watches placidly as she yells at Dan, in disgust and horror: "I hate you!" He stands commandingly, watching over Dan's hunched form [above] and quips: "You're better off without her." And with him, presumably.



The construction of the Bride and her underlying purpose add a particular touch of grotesque eroticism to the proceedings of the second movie; indeed, Bride of Re-Animator is nothing if not preoccupied entirely with the weaving together of sex, death, and birth.

Herbert uses the concept of the Bride to retain Dan's interest and keep him from leaving, as before Herbert suggests the project, Dan announces with all seriousness that he is moving out, which is not the sort of thing Herbert wants to hear coming out of Dan's mouth. He tailors the Bride to Dan, using for the most significant pieces the heart of Meg Halsey, whom he regarded principally as a rival for Dan's attention in Re-Animator, and the head of a patient at the hospital, Gloria, whom Dan sees as a substitute for Meg and Herbert regards as being a source for potentially useful parts. Since the brain and the heart are traditionally the two major places in Western culture where the soul is thought to rest, it would seem that Herbert is, in a weak sort of way, creating a second "Meg" for Dan, who took the loss of the real Meg so badly. Herbert would not want Meg back for himself--he clearly disliked her--but might want to create a facsimile in order to comfort Dan, as well as keep him from trying to move on or distance himself from Herbert through a more normal relationship with someone like Francesca. Herbert even uses Meg's heart to strengthen the connection between himself and Dan, holding the organ out like a sacrifice or a present [above, left] as he describes his ideas to his transfixed audience.

The re-animation and birth of the Bride as a whole entity [above, right] is particularly tense for both subjects, as they've each gone batty in their own special ways. Dan asserts himself in this moment, taking the hypodermic needle (a phallic symbol, see next section) from Herbert's shaky hands and saying "Let me." They inject the solution directly into the heart, and the tableau that results has Dan's hand on one of her breasts, Herbert's hand on the other, and Herbert's hand grasping Dan's shoulder, completing the circle. As Dan empties the needle, Herbert relaxes and lets out a sigh of satisfaction. The whole scene carries a sense of surface homoeroticism as well as being a reflection of the deeper psychological aspects of two men coming together, literally and figuratively, in order to create new life.



It is worthwhile to examine the ambiguity of the title of Bride of Re-Animator, inasmuch as it does not clearly reflect the roles defined within the movie. One would assume that the "re-animator" is Herbert West, but the Bride he and Dan create does not appear to be for him, and indeed does not even like him much once she attains consciousness. The Bride is, for Herbert, less a companion and more a mechanistic challenge that, in addition to being a new experiment and test of his own abilities, is something to keep Dan--his real companion--occupied and engaged in something that includes Herbert.

Herbert's reaction to the Bride's rebuff reflects his perception of her as an object, a made thing. As she turns away from him and to Dan [above, right], Herbert says in a voice that is more indignant than it is angry or rejected: "I made you!" Her rejection is an insult to his own proprietary sense; she was his idea, she is the fruit of his labor and genius more so than of Dan's, and thus she should recognize that and respect it. The relationship, such as it is, is more reminiscent of parent and ungrateful child than anything sexual or romantic, as would befit a bride. He sees her as a demonstration of his own skill and the abilities of the reagent, noting smugly to Dan as Francesca and the Bride duke it out: "Your girlfriend doesn't stand a chance. Our girl is superior." But he also regards her destruction with impassivity, sneering that she is "just an assembly of dead tissue" and even calls out facetiously as they run her from her dissolving assemblage: "Make a note of it, Dan! Tissue rejection!" She is an elaborate experiment that happened to fail, and nothing more.

So, who is Herbert's real bride? Let's face it, he and Dan are wed by the fact that they create life together, if by nothing else. Herbert even goes so far as to grasp Dan's hand before taking the Bride's [above, left], a gesture that expresses the triumph of their partnership, like a new father clasping his wife's hand as he encounters his child for the first time. It's just no use asking who the perfect woman is for Herbert; Dan's already filled that role, whether he likes it or not.


IV. A Freudian Horror


The theme of creating life (or monsters) is a complex one, with representations pegging the creator as megalomaniacal, power-hungry, and suffering a severe God-complex. Subtextually, the story of the lone creator at work on his devilish band of zombies is feverishly autoerotic, and representative of an all-consuming male masturbatory fantasy of replacing the need for women in reproduction with raw science and testosterone. But two men working together toward such a goal forms not a mad scientist circle-jerk, but a homoerotic partnership in which the goal of producing offspring becomes all-important. Bride of Frankenstein was a movie that was particularly aware of these interpretations, mostly because it was directed by James Whale, who was homosexual, and starred Ernest Thesiger (straight, but delightfully camp) and Colin Clive (pretty, vulnerable, and reputedly bisexual). At its very core, Bride of Frankenstein is an attack on the family structure and the nature of reproduction.

While Re-Animator and Bride of Re-Animator shoot for less lofty structural goals, their stories still revolve around the basic concepts of creating life, and these themes seek to instill undertones of homoeroticism throughout the dialogue, interaction, and more focused symbolism found in the movies.



A hypodermic needle is perhaps the most phallic instrument on the planet that is not, in fact, a penis. The design of the hypo allows for the tip to be inserted beneath the skin and the liquid of choice released, generally directly into the bloodstream, where it will begin to take effect. Re-Animator uses the phallic properties of the hypodermic needle to its distinct advantage in reinforcing the underlying sexuality of the movies’ themes of creating and regenerating life, while also creating a significant amount of intimacy between Dan and Herbert.

The first time we see a hypo used, it is in the scene in which Herbert reanimates Rufus for Dan’s benefit (though Herbert uses a hypo to inject Dr. Gruber in the opening scene, we are not shown this action). This scene is already highly significant, as Herbert refers to Rufus’ reanimation as a “birth”:

Dan: Why is it making that noise?
Herbert: Birth is always painful.

Thus establishing the underlying goal of reproduction. As Rufus is "reborn," Dan and Herbert draw closer to one another--so close, in fact, that Herbert is almost embracing Dan from behind as he looks over his shoulder--an appropriate arrangement, since in this scene Herbert is the one manipulating the hypo. The scene might as well be subtitled "Rufus Has Two Daddies," a joke that is more truth than it is humor, as this is the first scene in which the birth metaphor is undeniably shown for what it is (and it rivals only the similar re-animation scene in Bride... for its value of sexual subtext).



In an extended scene, Dan finds that Herbert has been injecting himself with a watered-down version of the reagent in order to allow him to function continuously without sleep. Herbert attempts to inject himself with another dose as he's going through withdrawal and finds himself unable to control shaking in his limbs enough to use the hypodermic needle. He implores Dan to help him with a shaky cry of “I need it! Please!”—a statement that is easily sexualized out of context, while also being recognizable as innuendo within context. Moreover, after the injection is successfully completed, Herbert jerks to his feet, throws back his head, stiffens, shudders and then relaxes as he smiles beatifically at Dan, apparently satisfied. In effect, after being stuck with a phallic object by Dan, Herbert experiences a physical sensation that bears remarkable similarity to orgasm.



In an honest-to-god deleted scene (that is, one that was cut from the film altogether and isn't an extended scene in the R-rated version), Dan has an odd little dream in which Herbert hovers at his shoulder, they re-animate a dead Meg who writhes sexily on her gurney, and Herbert taunts him and laughs at him, nastily pointing out Meg's sexual arousal and implying that Dan should give her what she needs.



Walter Evans, in his essay "Monster Movies: A Sexual Theory," quotes Ernest Jones as stating "In the unconscious mind blood is commonly an equivalent for semen." One only has to look to the countless versions of the story of Dracula to see that blood is used and viewed in a powerful and erotic light. In a telling moment in Bride..., Herbert and Dan are at work on the Bride when blood begins to spurt from an unclamped artificial artery Herbert is at work on. Rather than clamping the leak with his customary stoicism, Herbert reacts with open-mouthed surprise [above, left] and pulls away. Dan clamps the artery, giving Herbert a sour look. The moment echoes an abrupt ejaculation, a concept that is reinforced as we see Dan trying guiltily to hide the bloodstains on his shoes [above, right] as he welcomes Francesca into the house; his mannerisms are reminiscent of a sheepish teenage boy trying to conceal the evidence of an erection or wet dream.

Such blood spurts are used frequently in Bride..., and Dan is the common target. Twice in the course of the film he is hit in the face by a splatter of blood while he or Herbert is attempting to operate. If blood is metaphorically equated to semen, these shots become erotic--very nearly obscene--cumshots, further evidence of the eroticism inherent in the subject matter.



It is interesting to note that a great many of Herbert's "morbid doodlings," as seen in Bride..., reflect a tremendous amount of inner sexual turmoil and frustration with the heterosexual model of love and romance. Frequently his creations--which he pushes out of sight into the crypt next door--are grotesquely forced conglomerates of male and female body parts. Two-Face [above, far left], Spider [above, right], and his an-arm-and-a-leg creation (noted earlier) are all prime and obvious examples of this, while creatures such as the piecemeal man [above, middle] with a breast grafted onto his shoulder are more strange and subtle. Perhaps Herbert turns to the idle creation of these creatures to work out his sexual tension, his jealousy, and--one might judge from their grotesqueness and his dismissive treatment of them--his disgust with the sexual coming together of men and women and the role of reproduction.



It's not particularly significant, but look at the size of that pole. Oh, Dan.


V. Scandalizing Lovecraft


Not a few people consider the suggestion of the homoeroticism of Re-Animator (and, to a slightly lesser extent, the Re-Animator movies themselves) to be traitorous not only to Lovecraft's short stories but to the long-deceased author himself. They are, in that special and pretentious way, completely wrong.

For one, Lovecraft himself never much liked Herbert West: Reanimator, and it's not exactly hard to see why: the concise vignettes are very different from the rest of his oeuvre, as they were originally written to order for Home Brew magazine and each had to come to a very discernible and definite 'shocking ' ending. There is little room for the esoteric, metaphysical introspection and angst that Lovecraft frequently indulges in. Instead, they are fast-paced and gruesome little macabre tales in which there is very little character development or meaningful character interaction (in fact, the most homoerotic subtext you can glean is that Herbert and the unnamed narrator spend an awful lot of time together and no female characters are prominent, but this is common in Lovecraft's stories). They are exciting in a nauseating sort of way, and were to Lovecraft what the occasional popcorn flick is to a serious actor: something to do to get paid so that you can go off and do what you're really interested in once you're finished. Stuart Gordon et al. took the framework Lovecraft laid down in these little stories and built it up into Re-Animator, one of the more sensationalist horror movies ever made and, at the time, one of the few to take the risk of being released unrated. Sure, there wasn't any cunnilingus with a severed head in Lovecraft's version, but it's hard to see why this matters if he felt no particular ties to the work in the first place. Also he's dead, and probably not capable of caring anymore.

What I do find a little blasphemous is that a media tie-in novel was written to accompany Re-Animator. Yes, someone (Jeff Rovin, in fact) wrote a novel of a movie already based upon a piece of writing. The mind boggles. But it is, strangely enough, even more blatant in its references to homoeroticism than the movie is, especially when it comes to third parties speculating upon Herbert and Dan's relationship:

“Someone was talking about them—the level L guard, Jan Kelleher; Mace; and a man. No, Kelleher was saying, they hadn’t given anyone any trouble. No, Mace said, they were not troublemakers. Yes, Mace remarked, West was strange . . . but Cain was not. No, he didn’t think they were gay. At least not Cain.” – p. 136

Herbert is pretty much pegged by others as a closet case, though it is Dan who is the recipient of innuendo from a police officer in a scene that is definitely not present in the movie:

“Papa turned. ‘You two live together, right?’
Cain nodded.
‘Anything fishy going on?’
‘Fishy?’ Cain asked.
‘Sexual. You guys lovers?’
Cain snickered and West’s eyes fell to the floor.
‘No,’ Cain replied. ‘we’re not lovers. I’m engaged to be married, for Christ’s sake.’
‘So are half the guys who give Tootsie Pops to little boys in schoolyards.’” – p. 138

The detail of Herbert's eyes falling to the floor is a rather telling one. Rovin pushes in another rather queer Herbert reaction in a later meeting with this bothersome detective (again, not in the movie):

“’So, Cain? What gives?’
Cain took a deep breath and said quietly, ‘The truth is, sir, I may have AIDS. That’s what we’re going to the hospital to find out.’ He looked down at his feet. ‘And if you must know, that’s why Dean Halsey was so upset.’
Papa took a step back. At that moment, West saw in his face everything he hated about the human race: fear, prejudice, self-absorption, and ignorance….
The detective’s mouth curled wryly. ‘So I was right about you, huh?’ Cain said nothing. His voice tinged with superiority, he said, ‘You’re queer and you bullshitted me. Let’s hope that’s all you lied about….’
When they were out of earshot, West said, ‘That was very clever. I’m proud of you, Daniel.’
‘Christ, I hated to lie like that, but I was thinking about Megan.’
‘As well you should.’” – pp. 186-7

It's almost surprising that he didn't have Herbert grab Dan's hand for that, though I would think that may have been pushing character continuity just a tad. However, Herbert's reaction to the detective's disgust is an interesting one. Herbert is not exactly a philanthropist or a civil rights activist in any sense of the terms, and it is doubtful that he would ever be angered by injustice or prejudice unless it was happening to him. That he cares so deeply about this guy's reaction suggests, then, that he feels a certain degree of hostility from what he views as a direct attack. While Dan can shrug it off because he's only pretending, Herbert's reactions are authentic.

Rovin even takes pains in his writing to emphasize Herbert's jealousy and makes it clear that Dan is all too aware of Herbert's feelings:

“Cain splashed through the blood to the steps. ‘Yes. I’ve got to tell Meg.’
‘What does Meg have to do with this?’
Cain paused. He pitied West just then, less for what he’d done to Halsey and Hill than for the transparent resentment—or was it jealousy?—that he felt toward Meg.” – p.163

Two short series of comics were also done in conjunction with Re-Animator: one three comic set following the movie (not too terrible) and a four comic set depicting a "prequel" of sorts (utter dreck). From the comics' retelling the movie, after Meg interrupts Rufus' re-animation:



That just about says it all, as far as I'm concerned.


VI. The Little Monsters We Create


I will put links to fic and stuff here just as soon as I can be bothered. Feel free to leave suggestions.



[Originally posted in December 2004 on my personal website. Edited in 2009.]
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