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Herbert West: Reanimator

By: H. P. Lovecraft

"Herbert West–Reanimator" is a horror short story by American writer H. P. Lovecraft. It was written between October 1921 and June 1922. It was first serialized in February through July 1922 in the amateur publication Home Brew. The story was the basis of the 1985 horror film Re-Animator and its sequels, in addition to numerous other adaptations in various media.

Lovecraft originally serialized the story in Home Brew Vol. 1 #1–6, an amateur magazine published by his friend George Julian Houtain.  


From the Dark  


The narrator recounts his history with the title character, who has recently disappeared. As a medical student at Miskatonic University, the narrator becomes fascinated by West's theories, which postulate that the human body is simply a complex, organic machine which can be "restarted." West eventually realizes he must experiment on human subjects. The two men spirit away supplies from their medical school and set up their lab in an abandoned farmhouse. At first, they pay a group of men to rob graves for them, but none of the experiments are successful. West and the narrator then rob graves themselves. One night, they steal the corpse of a construction worker who died that morning in an accident. They take it back to the farmhouse and inject it with West's serum, but nothing happens. Later, an inhuman scream is heard from within the room containing the corpse. Moved by instinct, they flee into the night. West accidentally tips over a lantern on the way out, which starts a fire. West and the narrator escape. The next day, however, the newspaper reports that a grave in potter's field, violently molested the night before, displays the claws of a beast.  


The Plague-Daemon  


Some time after the fire, West's research is stunted when Dr. Allen Halsey, the dean of the medical school, refuses to allow him access to human cadavers or the university's dissection lab. West has a stroke of luck, though, when a typhoid epidemic breaks out and West and the narrator are called to help tend to the many dying victims. West begins injecting his patients with a new serum, which has no greater effect than to cause some of the bodies' eyes to open. Eventually, Halsey succumbs to typhoid, and, as a final act of twisted respect for his former rival, West steals his corpse to reanimate. West and the narrator take Halsey's body back to West's room at a boarding house, where they inject it with the new serum. Halsey does, in fact, reanimate, but, inexplicably, he is less intelligent and more violent than their previous experiment. After beating West and the narrator into unconsciousness, Halsey embarks on a killing spree, beating and murdering over a dozen people before he is apprehended by the police. The cannibal murderer is soon committed to a local mental institution. West curses the fact that too much time has elapsed and that Halsey's brain has deteriorated.  


Six Shots by Moonlight  


Now licensed doctors, West and the narrator go into practice together in the small New England town of Bolton, purchasing a house near the local cemetery to have easy access to corpses. Still intent upon successfully reanimating a human being, they claim the body of a boxing champion who died of a head wound in an illegal back-alley street fight. Gamblers betting on the fight arrange for West to dispose of the body, as it clears them of any crime. West and the narrator hurriedly take the body back to the lab and inject it with another new serum. When nothing happens, they take the corpse out to a meadow and bury it. Several days later, there are reports around town of a missing child. The child's mother dies during a fit of hysteria due to her weak heart, and the father tries to kill West in a fit of rage because West couldn't save her. That night, West and the narrator are startled by an aggressive pounding on their back door. Opening the door, West and the narrator come face to face with the boxer's corpse, covered in mildew and dirt and hunched over at the back entrance. Hanging from his mouth is the arm of the missing child. Almost instantly, West empties an entire revolver into the creature.  


The Scream of the Dead  


Some time after West's killing of the reanimated boxer, the narrator returns home from vacation to discover the perfectly preserved corpse of a man in the home he shares with West. West explains that during the narrator's absence, he perfected a type of embalming fluid that perfectly preserves a corpse as it is the moment the chemical is injected into the bloodstream; injected at the precise moment of death, the chemical prevents decomposition from even beginning. West reveals to the narrator that the dead man is a traveling salesman who had a heart attack during a physical examination; as the man died before West's eyes, he was able to preserve it with the embalming fluid and has been waiting for the narrator to return so that the two of them can reanimate the body together. West injects the body with his latest serum. Signs of life gradually begin to appear. When the narrator questions the man, he mouths words with seeming rationality and intent. Just before the man returns to the dead, he begins screaming and thrashing violently, revealing in a horrible scream that he was in fact murdered by West.  


The Horror from the Shadows  


Five years later, West and the narrator become involved in World War I as a means to procure more bodies. Serving as a medic in Flanders, West has gone beyond the point of simply trying to reanimate corpses; his experiments now include isolating parts of the body and reanimating them independently in an attempt to prove their machine-like quality. On the battlefield, West befriends his commanding officer and fellow medic, Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, and shares with him his theories and methods on reanimation. Shortly thereafter, Clapham-Lee suffers near-decapitation and dies when his plane is shot down. West immediately begins work on Clapham-Lee's body and injects the trunk of his body with his serum and places the head in a vat. The corpse comes to life and begins thrashing violently, reliving its last moments of life. Clapham-Lee's severed head begins to shout from across the room. The building is then destroyed by a bomb shell. West and the narrator survive, but there is no sign of Clapham-Lee's head or body. The two men assume that he was vaporized in the blast, although West is since known to speak fearfully of a headless doctor with the power of reanimation.  


The Tomb-Legions  


A year after returning from the war, West has moved into a house which is directly connected to an ancient system of catacombs from settler times. While reading the newspaper one night, West comes across an article detailing a series of strange, seemingly nonsensical events involving a riot at an insane asylum. A wax-headed man (Clapham-Lee) followed by a group of disturbing-looking followers carrying a box had demanded that the detained "cannibal" killer (Halsey) be released to them. When the invaders were refused exchange for the killer, they took him by force. West spends the remainder of the night in a near-catatonic state until someone comes to the door. The narrator answers only to find a group of men. One of the figures presents the narrator with the large box, which the narrator then gives to West. West refuses to open the box and insists that they incinerate it. The two men carry it to the basement and burn it. As soon as the box burns, the zombies tear through the wall of West's home via the catacombs. Leaving the narrator alone, the zombies soon attack West. Realizing that his own death is imminent, West allows the zombies to disembowel him. As a final insult, Clapham-Lee decapitates West's corpse before leading his army of zombies off into the night. The narrator does not reveal much to the police about West, and they disbelieve the information he does reveal since the catacomb wall seems intact and undisturbed. He is forever haunted, considered mad, by his knowledge of what transpired and the lack of resolution regarding the raised corpses.

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H. P. Lovecraft

United States

Forbidden, dark, esoterically veiled knowledge is a central theme in many of Lovecraft's works. Many of his characters are driven by curiosity or scientific endeavor, and in many of his stories the kn...

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