Re-Animator: The Director’s Cut of the Original Comic Book Adaptation
In July 2017, Arrow Video released a deluxe two-disc Blu-Ray restoration package of the 1985 cult classic Re-Animator, which, among its many nifty extras, includes a nice nice nice color reprint of all three issues of the 1991 Malibu Graphics comics adaptation written by yours truly and drawn by my frequent partner-in-crime Christopher Jones (Doctor Who, Young Justice, Batman Strikes!). NOTE: Inks for Issue Three are by Terry Pallot.
Limited to 10,000 copies, the Blu-Ray quickly sold out, but seeing the comics adaptation released again got me thinking that it might be fun to share some behind-the-scene tales about the original comic.
Well, then, let me start by setting the WABAC Machine to…
When I heard through the comic book grapevine that Malibu Graphics had acquired the comic book rights to Planet of the Apes, I wasted no time calling Creative Director Tom Mason to ask if I could throw my hat in the ring as writer.
But I was too late.
Another writer had landed the gig.
Which turned out be one of the luckiest breaks in my career, because Malibu had also just signed an agreement with Full Moon Productions and Tom was looking for a writer to adapt the Stuart Gordon cult film Re-Animator.
Re-Animator turned out being step one in my long association with the works of H. P. Lovecraft, whose serial Gruesome Tales was adapted for the movie, but Tom could not just hand the assignment to me. The powers-that-be at Full Moon would have to approve me first, just as they would have to approve Chris, which they did after we submitted a proposal, a synopsis, and art samples. Dave Dorman (Star Wars) would later be commissioned to paint the notoriously famous first issue cover of a triumphant Herbert West brandishing his nemesis Dr. Carl Hill’s reanimated head.
Malibu originally planned on publishing Re-Animator in black-and-white, which was the norm for independent comics at the time, since the cost of printing comics in color was more than the average indy title could recoup in sales. The downside to this practice was that many comic book fans were prejudiced against buying black-and-white comics; so, somewhere between the tenth and eleventh hour, the powers-that-be at Malibu opted to gamble on the film’s bankable name and print Re-Animator in color. Which was great news, but Chris had just finished inking the first two issues for black-and-white and there was no time or budget to re-ink these pages for color. The result was that many of Chris’ gray tone panels ended up appearing darker than intended.
The P-T-B at Malibu also decided that the switch to color also necessitated toning down some of the adaption’s profanity, nudity, and sex. This meant touching up one page and deleting four pages in Issue One and deleting one page from Issue Three. None of these alterations or deletions hurt the narrative, although I have always felt the deleted pages from Issue One enhanced the depth of feeling between Daniel Cain and Megan Halsey, which in turn intensified the tragedies that befall the couple, while the depths of Hill’s obsession with Megan is intensified in the deleted page from Issue Three, which shows him fantasizing about Megan while she struggles coming to grips with the mysterious seizure that has struck her father, Dean Allan Halsey. That said, it remains obvious that Cain and Megan are passionate about each other and Hill is an industrial-strength pervert, but, for the sake of completeness, and to better hype this post, all the deleted pages and the original version of the altered page make their debut here in magnificent black-and-white.
Chris and my goal while we were adapting Re-Animator was to remain faithful to the movie while utilizing the advantages our medium afforded. One of those advantages is that we had a bigger budget to tell the story with than Gordon and his producer Brian Yuzna did while making the film.
Theirs was around $1 million dollars.
Ours was limited only by what Chris could draw.
For instance, we gave Hill, Miskatonic’s “grant machine,” an upgrade in wardrobe as well as provide the lecture hall where he teaches with a technological makeover. We also decorated Hill’s office with ancient Egyptian antiquities to reflect his mammoth ego.
Our bigger budget is also one reason why we dressed West in more expensive clothes and established that his family lives on Beacon Street’s crown, but another reason is because I got to wondering why a blue-chip student like West agreed to attend tiny Miskatonic University in provincial Arkham. Could it be West grew up somewhere near Akrham and wanted to be close-yet-not-too-close to home after only recently returning from studying abroad? In Boston, perhaps, the same city Lovecraft has West meet his dénouement in Gruesome Tales? If that were the case, then perhaps West was also descended from old money, which would be in keeping with the prototypical Lovecraft hero, often a descendant of a respected but not necessarily affluent New England family.
Another reason I wanted to set West’s roots in Boston is that Malibu often followed up the properties they adapted with original sequels. During my tenure with the company I wrote sequels to my adaptations of Dracula, Invaders from Mars, and Carmilla, but, while writing Re-Animator, Tom informed me a movie sequel was in the works and Full Moon had put the kibosh on a comic book sequel, fearing it would contradict events in the upcoming film. Full Moon did agree that Malibu could publish a prequel which I was asked to write, so I decided to foreshadow the prequel by dropping a few hints about it throughout the adaptation, like in the Prologue, when West instructs his driver to go to the Old Granary Burying Ground (the site of the prequel’s climax), and in Issue Two, when West looks at the kind but cryptic message from Hans Gruber, his celebrated mentor, in the case where West keeps his extra pair of glasses.
Unlike Re-Animator, neither Full Moon nor Malibu requested a proposal or synopsis for the prequel. My only instructions were to limit my story to three issues and suggest nothing that occurs after the conclusion of the 1985 film, so I decided it might be wise to focus on Gruber rather than West, and, before long, I hit on the idea that Gruber could have been a World War II concentration camp prisoner where his experiments in reanimation began.
The concept struck me as neither improbable nor inappropriate. It is no secret that the Nazis conducted bizarre, barbaric experiments on many unwilling prisoners, so what if the Nazis had experimented in reanimation? And, if they had, what if a prisoner like Gruber was able to turn the tables on those motherless scum by giving at least a few victims the chance to avenge themselves? Also, while it is common knowledge that over six million Jews were murdered in death camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau and Mauthausen-Gusen, it is sadly less well known that there were prisoner revolts at three of the camps, the most successful occurring in 1943 at Treblinka on August 2 and Sobibor on October 14. I wanted the prequel to pay tribute to these revolts, but, after reading my script for the first issue, the P-T-B at Malibu became concerned that Jewish readers would be offended and took me off the project.
I was disappointed, but Malibu was well within its rights, and I could take some solace that they had recently accepted my pitch to edit a paperback anthology of Lovecraft’s Gruesome Tales into what became became Re-Animator: Tales of Herbert West, which was later developed into the superior Reanimator Tales: The Grewsome Adventures of Herbert West. I never forgot about that prequel, however, and, when I got the chance to adapt some of Lovecraft’s stories for Caliber Comics a year or so later, I retrofitted the prequel’s concept for “The Music of Erich Zann”. For what it is worth, in the two decades since “Zann” was first published I have never heard a word of protest and “Zann” remains one of the most successful and popular Lovecraft adaptations I have worked on.
Now let’s move ahead to …
I was attending the Minneapolis Comic Con in May when I spotted a flyer posted on a pillar promoting the city’s Crypticon horror convention scheduled for that November with Dorman’s Re-Animator cover prominently displayed on it and announcing that actors Jeffrey Combs (Herbert West) and Bruce Abbott (Daniel Cain) from the film were going to be guests. I am not the sharpest crayon in the drawer, but even I could recognize that this could be a great show for Chris and I to sell some Re-Animator comics and for me to promote my Lovecraft adaptations.
A few days later I contacted the Crypticon promoter to inquire if Chris and I could attend the Minneapolis show as guests, to which the promoter said: “Okey-dokey.” Chris and I were delighted, and Chris even created a new Re-Animator print for the show, but when November rolled around and we arrived to set up no one working the show had any idea who we were. Fortunately a phone call to the promoter verified we were supposed to be guests, but the mix-up necessitated that Chris and I set up in a different room from Combs and Abbott, which sort of defeated the purpose of our attending. Nevertheless …
That first night, Chris surprised me with a copy of his print signed by Combs and Abbott. Chris had given two copies to the actors as a token of appreciation and had them sign two prints for us. I was way more than delighted with this gift, but I had brought along a three-issue set of the adaptation for the actors to sign. Being shy as well as a world-class worrywart, I was worried I would offend the actors if I went over now. “Hey, we just signed that print for you! Where do you get off asking for us to sign something else?” But Chris assured me Combs and Abbott were nice guys, so I should man up and go get my comic books signed.
Combs was alone by the time the line I was standing in reached the actors’ table. I explained who I was and what a huge fan I was of the film and how much it would mean to me if he and Abbott would sign my comics. Combs took the comics, thumbed through them, and, while I was praying he wasn’t thinking I was being a pushy geek, he asked, “Didn’t we just sign a print for you?”
Living out your nightmare is even worse than advertised, let me tell you.
I confessed that was true, but assured him again how much their signing my comics would mean and that I would gladly pay for the signatures if he wanted. Combs said nothing. Just picked up his pen and started signing as I felt my heart start beating again.
Abbot returned then, accompanied by a tall blonde I assumed was his girlfriend or wife. Combs explained what he was signing and that Abbott had to sign, too.
“I didn’t know they made the film into a comic,” Abbot said as he now began thumbing through the adaptation’s first issue. As he flipped, he good-naturedly told Combs, “All I see is you. Where the hell am I in here?”
Now, as it turns out, the blonde was not Abbott’s significant other, but actress Kathleen Kinmont from the 1990 sequel Bride of the Re-Animator. Not knowing this, I grew increasingly nervous as Abbot kept flipping. It is no secret that he appeared in some intimate scenes with Barbara Crampton (Megan Halsey), but, worrywart that I am, all I could think of was how appalled the blonde might be if she caught sight of one of these scenes in the comic.
Much to my relief, Combs (feigning indignity) took the comic from Abbot and began pointing to images of Daniel Cain on different pages. “There you are! There you are! There you are! Settle down, you whiny bitch!”
Abbott laughed, as did everyone else in earshot, and then he signed the comics. I thanked him and Combs and then got the hell out of there. Safe in the other room, I showed Chris my trophies as I beamed like a second grader. “See,” he said, “I told you they were nice guys.”
Which brings us …
BACK TO 2017
As this trip down Memory Lane shows, writing comics can be an interesting, though sometimes frustrating, experience, especially when it comes to writing licensed properties like Re-Animator. But I have no complaints. Yes, I called Tom Mason, and, yes, I had to submit a proposal and synopsis, but the Re-Animator gig practically fell into my lap. Working on a movie that I love and admire was a dream come true, and the opportunities it led me to are just as wonderful. Without Re-Animator, who knows where I’d be today?