It’s aliiiiive! The Bible gave Jesus an encore after death, but Frankenstein is what really brought reanimation to the horror-movie forefront, and the genre’s been embracing it ever since. We’re not talking standard-issue zombies here—in honor of Pet Sematary, we’re counting up our favorite corpses who’ve bounced back from beyond with a little something extra.
After a teen inventor’s robot buddy is destroyed by his grumpy neighbor (played by Anne Ramsey, the mean-mama gangster from Goonies), he decides to use its microchip to revive his gal pal Samantha (played by future O.G. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Kristy Swanson) when she’s knocked into a braindead coma by her abusive father. Unfortunately for everyone, Sam 2.0 hardly resembles her former self; instead, she becomes a robotic killer with super strength that enables her to flatten anyone who gets in her way.
Wes Craven’s 1986 release famously fell victim to last-minute studio tinkering, when the powers that be decided the film needed more gore and some bizarre dream sequences—not to mention a totally nonsensical ending—to bring it more in line with A Nightmare on Elm Street and Craven’s other early horror hits. Deadly Friend is wildly uneven, to put it kindly, but Swanson is surprisingly effective, and the story’s girl-next-door/sci-fi twist on Frankenstein is still intriguing.
This riff on Flatliners (more on that one below) imagines that a group of medical researchers, including an engaged couple played by Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde, manage to create a formula that can bring the dead back to life. But their risky experimentation dips to a new level of sinister when Wilde’s character, Zoe, dies in a lab accident, and is promptly resurrected using the special sauce.
Alas, Zoe’s brief time on the other side of the veil was time enough to send her to hell; when she returns, she’s basically the superhuman equivalent of the ship in Event Horizon, using mind-fuckery to torment everyone before turning to ever-more fiendish deeds, such as squishing poor Donald Glover in a storage locker, then using an e-cigarette to choke the life out of an unfortunate Evan Peters. Points for creativity, demon lady!
Dr. Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) has already strayed into mad scientist territory before the events of 1962's The Brain That Wouldn’t Die; we know this because he has a hulking man-beast lurking around his lab. Things take an ever-more hideous turn when his fiancée, Jan (Virginia Leith), is decapitated in a car wreck—and Bill decides to use his unusual talents to revive her severed head while he prowls around looking for a suitably shapely woman to supply Jan’s new body.
The situation is further compounded by the fact that disembodied-head Jan has way more sense than rapidly-losing-his-mind Bill. She makes it very clear that she’d prefer death to being kept alive as one of Bill’s weird experiments, and she’s definitely not co-signing on his murder plan. All things considered, The Brain That Would Rather Be Dead is probably a more accurate title, though you can see why legendary B-movie studio AIP went with the more sensational choice.
Not the remake. We are strictly referring to Joel Schumacher’s 1990 sci-fi thriller with an ensemble cast led by Julia Roberts (then at the height of her post-Pretty Woman fame explosion), but also starring Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland, William Baldwin, and Oliver Platt. They play a group of med students who become fascinated with the idea of dying on purpose and then being brought back to life.
What starts off as an extreme adventure soon leads to supernatural consequences and major regrets, as unresolved traumas from their lives begin to haunt them even when they’re wide awake. Everyone realizes they have to face the deep, dark secrets that are causing them the most guilt, though some of them have done much worse things than others—especially Sutherland’s character, who’s nearly murdered in the afterlife (wait...huh?) by a kid whose death he caused thanks to some cruel bullying years prior.
You know it, you love it, you quote it in your daily life: Peter Weller plays a near-future Detroit cop who’s killed in the line of duty while pursuing a vicious gang, only to be resurrected (with a lot of cybernetic assistance) as the title character. RoboCop came out in 1987 and is still rightfully hailed as one of the defining sci-fi films of the era, delving into themes like high-level corruption and the increasing power of mega-corporations that still feel incredibly relevant today.
But there’s something else about RoboCop you might not have considered, which director Paul Verhoeven fully acknowledged when chatting with MTV back in 2010: “The point of RoboCop, of course, is it is a Christ story. It is about a guy that gets crucified after 50 minutes, then is resurrected in the next 50 minutes and then is like the super-cop of the world, but is also a Jesus figure as he walks over water at the end.” RoboChrist, everyone. (Read the entire interview here.)
Cult movie director Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case) quite obviously used Frankenstein as a loose inspiration for this ghoulish and yet weirdly sweet 1990 horror comedy, which is about an electrical whiz named Jeffrey Franken (James Lorinz) who turns to mad science to resurrect his fiancée, Elizabeth Shelley (Patty Mullen), after a tragic lawnmower accident turns her into a “tossed human salad.” But he doesn’t rob graves as part of his scheme; instead, he puzzles together body parts culled from sex workers he subdues using...his own blend of super-crack...that makes them explode.
The resurrected Elizabeth—stitched together as the purple-haired Frankenhooker—is only in the movie for the last 30 minutes, but they are glorious and include the sight of her stomping through New York City, pulling faces and yelling come-ons like “Want a date?”, zapping multiple would-be johns with her lightning-fueled fingertips, and ultimately giving Jeffrey a taste of his own medicine for meddling so much with mother nature.
A year after Eric Draven (Brandon Lee) and his fiancée are massacred by a street gang, he emerges from his grave with the help of a magical crow. Eric isn’t actually a reanimated corpse; rather, he’s more like a restless spirit who’s been given temporary re-use of his corporeal form (and some bonus superpowers) in the name of sweet revenge.
Unlike most every other movie on this list, Alex Proyas’ The Crow uses resurrection for something positive, even though it’s in the form of a murder spree, since Eric’s bloody quest for payback ends up ridding the world of some extremely evil people. When all his loose ends are tied up, he gets to head to the afterlife to reunite with his beloved—an appropriately bittersweet ending to a movie that’s forever linked to the tragic on-set accident that caused Lee’s death just days before filming was completed.
You didn’t think we’d put any other title at number one, did you? Stuart Gordon’s gruesomely hilarious 1985 film, adapted from an H.P. Lovecraft story, follows the tale of deranged medical student Herbert West, played by Jeffrey Combs in one of horror’s all-time great comedic performances. West’s fellow Miskatonic University student and flatmate Daniel Cain (Bruce Abbott) becomes his lab partner of sorts as the two bring a cat back to life using West’s glowing green serum, and then move on to human subjects from the hospital morgue—though Dan draws the line when West, who’s fiercely protective of his discovery, turns to murder.
The big reanimation in Re-Animator is West’s hated rival, Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), who becomes even more fiendish than West when his freshly-slain head and body are reanimated separately, enabling him to carry his own melon around and use it to do terrible things (like terrorize the only truly sympathetic character in the movie, Dan’s girlfriend Meg, who’s played by scream queen Barbara Crampton). “You’ll never get credit for my discovery,” sneers West. “Who’s going to believe a talking head?”
Thanks to Dr. Hill and his mind-control lobotomies, Re-Animator ends with a good old-fashioned rampage of the recently dead that sees most of the major players wiped out—except Daniel, who despite all he’s seen doesn’t hesitate to pick up that glowing green syringe and step right into West’s shoes.
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