The special effects department went through twenty-four gallons of fake blood during the shoot, Naulin said that Re-Animator was the bloodiest film he had ever worked on. In the past, he had never used more than two gallons of blood on a film.
Actor David Gale's wife divorced from him shortly after this film's release. In the DVD's audio commentary, the rest of the cast suspects that the scene when his character, Dr. Hill, attempts to rape Megan was the cause of divorce.
Stuart Gordon and Dennis Paoli originally intended to be faithful to H.P. Lovecraft's story, but the film ultimately had little in common with the story, which was intended to be a parody of "Frankenstein."
According to "Re-animator: Ressurectus", the 70-minute featurette on the Limited edition two-disc "Re-animator" box set, glowstick liquid was used for the glowing green "Re-agent". It is the first time glowstick liquid/glowsticks have ever been used on film.
In the DVD commentary, Jeffrey Combs expressed regret over the "Who's going to believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow." quote, mentioning that the "talking head" part got such a laugh out of theater audiences that the "sideshow" part (his personal favorite) often went entirely unheard.
David Gale was made to shave his head and wear a toupee, as this was found to be in keeping with Dr. Hill's character. In the DVD commentary, it was revealed that this was also necessary for budgetary reasons, as there was no money available to match Gale's hair on a prosthetic head prop.
The "brains" in the severed head were made up of steer meat by-products, ground beef and fake blood and when they shot the scene in the autopsy room with the severed head being thrown out the door and then smashing onto the hallway wall, the crew were all behind the cameras with garbage bags over their clothes because no one knew just how much the brains would splatter.
The film loosely adapts the first half of Lovecraft's original short story, including Herbert and Dan (who is unnamed in the story) meeting in medical school, Dean Halsey's death and reanimation, and the decapitation and reanimation of an authority figure to the doctors ("Dr. Hill" in the film and "Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee" in the story). The next film, Bride of Re-Animator (1990), loosely adapts the second half of Lovecraft's story, including the two doctors reanimating corpses on a battlefield (WWI in the story and the Peruvian Civil War in the film), West's experiments with reanimating individual body parts, West going beyond just stealing cadavers and resorting to murder to get fresh corpses, an outbreak of West's former experiments from an insane asylum, the decapitated villain's head being delivered to West in a box, and finally West being dragged by his experiments into a series of cemetery catacombs through a wall in his basement. The third film of the series is named Beyond Re-Animator (2003) because it literally goes "beyond" Lovecraft's original story.
Sampson went home for the day after shooting one of his zombified scenes with his face still done up, and when he stopped for gas the only thing the attendant said to him was "Do you need any help man?"
The padded cell that Dean Halsey was confined in after being reanimated was hastily constructed and was prone to collapse. During early takes, actor Robert Sampson would dive into the walls while attempting to act insane and accidentally knock the walls over. Ultimately, Sampson was forced to not interact with the set and act out his scenes in the middle of the room, or lightly leaning against a wall. Evidence of the set's flimsiness can be seen when Halsey is fighting with two nurses. When he tosses one of them aside, the actor playing the nurse bumps into a wall which noticeably wobbles.
David felt spiritually bereft," says Sampson, regarding the scene where his head goes spelunking in Crampton's lady business. "Those were the words that he used. He said 'I feel awful doing this.'" Apparently Gale's wife thought he didn't feel awful enough, "and after the first screening she split on him," says Yuzna. "She didn't come home."
Crampton stunned the guys with a question none of them had pondered before regarding the scene where Hill's body sneaks into the morgue wearing a medical prop head. "If he placed that fake head on his shoulders, why couldn't he have placed the real head on his shoulders?"
David Gale, who plays Dr. Carl Hill, wears a wig in the film. "And a bad wig," adds Yuzna. His own hair was fine, but they needed a wig to match the dummy's,"and we couldn't afford to make hair that looked like his."
John Naulin worked on the film's gruesome makeup effects, using what he described as "disgusting shots brought out from the Cook County morgue of all kinds of different lividities and different corpses." He and Gordon also used a book of forensic pathology in order to present how a corpse looks once the blood settles in the body, creating a variety of odd skin tones.
Brian Yuzna has also planned two other sequels: Re-Animator Unbound! and Re-Animator Begins. The former involves West working in a war zone and coming across the Old Ones. The latter involves West losing his memory after his encounter with the Old Ones, reproducing his earliest experiments, and falling in love with a woman. We also see a flashback to West's childhood. But like House, these seem to be on the back-burner. A Younger and Hipper, Hotter and Sexier television series was proposed, but nothing came of it.
Combs was able to convince director Stuart Gordon to let him put his socks and shoes on during the scene where West pretends to be a corpse that Cain wheels into the morgue. Gordon thought it would take too long, but Combs proved to be a shoelace master.
There's silence on the commentary when when Megan's undead father plops her onto the gurney and removes her clothing, but it's broken by one of the guys pointing out the cool lights in the shot. "Look at those lights?" counters Crampton. "Look at those breasts!" Sampson recalls her telling Gordon that he could only have four seconds of her full body.
The idea to make the film came from a discussion, Stuart Gordon had with friends one night about vampire films, feeling there were too many Dracula films and expressed a desire to see a Frankenstein film,a friend asked if he read Herbert West-Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft, Gordon had read most of the authors works, but not that story, which was long out of print. He went to the Chicago Public Library and read their copy.
Sampson asks whose hands are in the shot messily fondling Megan's breasts while Hill's head looks on in delight Combs suggests they belong to Gordon, "He wrote the scene!" while Crampton assumes they're Gale's. That would have been impressive as Gale is in the shot, trapped beneath the gurney with only his head sticking through a fact the guys remind Crampton of immediately.
Abbott really wanted to use a particular take of the scene where he's distraught over Megan's death. "You were really crying," recalls Crampton, "and snot was coming out of our nose, and Stuart didn't like it one bit."
The biggest makeup challenge in the film was the headless Dr. Hill zombie, Tony Doubling designed the mechanical effects and was faced with the problem of proportion once the 9-10" of the head were removed from the body. Each scene forced him to use a different technique. For example, one technique involved building an upper torso that David Gale could bend over and stick his head through so that it appeared to be the one that the walking headless corpse was carrying around.
The British Film Censors weren't impressed with the scene where the severed head Dr. Hill attempts to rape Megan. They refused to pass the film for release in the United Kingdom until the said sequence had been cut.
There have been rumors of a fourth movie entitled House of Re-Animator which has been denied by Jeffrey Combs on numerous occasions. The movie would involve Herbert West moving into the White House and reanimating the deceased vice president. Stuart Gordon has stated that while he did originally intend to create this film, he saw no need for a political satire after the end of the Bush administration. The planned film gets referenced at the end of the crossover with Hack/Slash, where West takes an emergency call from the White House.
The bald, bearded doctor at the foot of Megan's bed who gets shoved away as Dan tries to revive her is underground cartoonist Kim Deitch ("The Boulevard of Broken Dreams"), son of legendary Jazz-era cartoonist Gene Deitch ("The Cat").
Originally, Gordon was going to adapt Lovecraft's story for the stage, but eventually decided along with writers Dennis Paoli and William Norris to make it as a half-hour television pilot. The story was set around the turn of the century, and they soon realized that it would be too expensive to recreate. They updated it to the present day in Chicago with the intention of using actors from the Organic Theater company. They were told that the half hour format was not salable and so they made it an hour, writing 13 episodes. Special effects technician Bob Greenberg, who had worked on John Carpenter's Dark Star, repeatedly told Gordon that the only market for horror was in feature films, and introduced him to producer Brian Yuzna. Gordon showed Yuzna the script for the pilot and the 12 additional episodes. The producer liked what he read and convinced Gordon to shoot the film in Hollywood, because of all the special effects involved. Yuzna made a distribution deal with Charles Band's Empire Pictures in return for post-production services.
The cast collectively love the jokey inclusion of a Talking Heads poster above Cain's bed while he and Megan Halsey (Crampton) are playing doctor well, all except Abbott who claims he didn't even know it was there during the scene. "I was busy," he says.
One of the nurses seen when the doctor takes over for Cain (Abbott) is played by the production's accountant, Barbara Pieters. "She's in the movie too?" asks Crampton, to which Yuzna replies "Well everybody was. You guys were the only actors we could afford."
The head-less Hill effect was achieved in part with the use of a belt. The performer inside the fake shoulders/neck rig had a belt that he would take hold of with his mouth to keep his head pulled down and steady.
West's voice rises a bit when he introduces himself at Cain's house, and Combs attributes it to a poor looping job by someone. "Well whoever put the tone treble on that one," he replies when asked who did it, clearly not thrilled by the result. All three of the actors in this scene had to loop their dialogue as the floorboards in the room were apparently very loud and creaky.
The opening scene where Dan fails to resuscitate a dead patient and is told by one of his peers that he needs to know when to quit. He's faced with the the same scenario at the very end- this time the dead person his own girlfriend, making it much more personal- and becomes so desperate not to lose her that it drives him to use West's reagent on her. Logic suggests that this is why he continues to work with West in the sequels.
Barbara Crampton talked about doing nude scenes in this and other films during a 2014 interview: "Anything I did was always part of the film and part of the story. I don't think that anything I ever did felt like, 'I shouldn't be doing this' or 'I'm scared to do it,' or that it would hurt my career if I do it. There are a lot of people who are movie viewers who have very varying degrees on what they think and how they feel about sexuality and nudity. There's a lot of social and moral issues involved in people's minds and their upbringing. But, for me, as an actor, if it's part of the story, I'll do it and I'll probably continue to do it. I don't know if anybody's going to see a 'wrinkled-old grandmother' Barbara Crampton, but if it's part of the story, I'll do it. (laughs)"
There was originally a subplot that revealed that Dr. Hill had the ability to control minds. It was cut from the film for timing reasons but evidence of it can still be seen in the story. He is seen performing this skill on both Megan and Herbert and is the reason he is able to control all of the zombies in the film's climax.