Wesssssssssst – Youuuuuuuuuu – Bassssstaaaaaarrrrrd!
This week’s monster is the first for 2019’s October Monsters and since this is the month of Halloween (any horror fan’s choicest month) I’ll be converting some of my all-time favorite and more quirky horror icons for the next four weeks. And what better place to start than with one of my favorite horror-coms – Re-Animator!
Re-imagined from a story written by the master of Weird Horror himself, H.P. Lovecraft, 1985’s cult classic Re-Animator holds an endearing place of reverence in most horror fans gory red hearts. Filled with dark humor, over-the-top blood splatter and well-aged special effects, the story has an off-beat hue that nevertheless straddles the line between camp and earnestness- fully embracing and embodying a sense of gallows humor.
Dr. Herbert West is obsessed with the idea of reviving living tissue and has found a way to do so in the form of a syringe filled with his bright green re-animation formula. A worthy foil to his efforts is his elderly rival, Dr. Carl Hill, an arrogant lecturer at Miskatonic University. When Hill learns of West’s formula, the elder doctor immediately informs his upstart would-be protege that the fame and fortune will be his and not West’s. Unsurprisingly, and played by Jeffrey Combs with such forceful gravitas he became an instant horror icon, West decides to put a stop to Hill’s plagiarist desires and preemptively dispatches with the older doctor’s designs by decapitating him – and subsequently re-animated both his severed head and his torso because his obsession demands it. Hill then takes on the role of primary undead antagonist in both the original Re-Animator and, despite being squished into a bloody pulp, the sequel as well.
The film is zany and dark and filled with enough gore (and nudity) that it has remained one of horror’s most beloved films and rightly so. And for my purposes, it also has a delightfully iconic horror monster in the form of Dr. Hill’s severed head and body – so let’s get converting!
Conversion. Dr. Carl Hill was a fun creature to stat. Since he is essentially two creatures, a head and a body, he has two blocks to work with.
For his body, the basic zombie is a nice template, with some extra hit points and increased Strength granted by the film’s formula which makes Re-animator’s zombies appear much tougher than normal (able to break down metal doors for instance). Since his body lacks a head hover, it’s essentially blind and has poorer coordination (lowered Dexterity) but should also be immune to charms and deafness, which is … obvious.
Dr. Hill’s body also shares a telepathic link to his head, evidenced by the head controlling it in the film which has a nice D&D example in the form of the stat block from the neogi and their enslave ability (VGM).
Dr. Hill’s head was the more interesting creature to stat. I used the flying head from the second movie to give it some more maneuverability, otherwise PCs could just run over and squish it (like what happened in the first film). For the stats, the head appears similar to a vargouille (VGM) which has a bite attack. However, the film also gives Hill the ability to control the undead and limited control over the living. And here is where I diverged somewhat from the movie cannon, for sake of a more robust monster.
In the original Re-animator, an entire subplot about how Hill had psychic abilities and was thus able to control the zombies (and some of the living characters) was cut out because as the behind the scenes footage stated – who cares?
However, from a monster-building standpoint, giving Hill’s head’s psychic powers in the form of the suggestion and hold person spells, are fairly faithful to the original intent of Hill’s character. They are even explicitly fleshed out in the sequel, where Hill control’s another doctor to sew bat wings to his temple.
Another departure from the film is the apparent need for a lobotomy to happen before Hill is able to control his undead minions. Again, this is impractical from a D&D standpoint and would make Hill a much less threatening menace if he had to find dead bodies and lobotomize them before he could reanimate and them. So widening his power and granting him the ability to actually reanimate corpses through animate dead overall just makes him a more formidable and challenging opponent.
But what do you think, is Dr. Hill head and shoulder’s above your typical zombie? Download my rendition of Re-Animator’s Dr. Hill in JPEG or PDF format for your campaign and lobotomize their hopes of surviving another session!
Dr. Hill would of course surround himself with as many undead minions as possible. While this most likely would include zombies and skeletons, it might make for a more formidable encounter if Hill had somehow managed to charm a ghoul into his service which given his intelligence, is entirely possible.
Like any mastermind, Hill should let his minions engage in melee combat with any attackers, using his hold person and suggestion on any pesky rival spellcasters to lock them down. He would likely have his minions focus on a single opponent, hoping to finish them off quickly allowing them to move onto another creature while Hill can use his animate dead on the fallen foe and thus increasing his numbers at the expense of his rivals.
While intelligent, Hill is no master strategist and he may plan an ambush for known opponents in his domain, but could just as easily be surprised as well, working as he should be at perfecting his stolen serum and continuing his research into brain surgery.
Add DR. HILL To Your Campaign
Hill makes for a classic D&D villain. As bodies start going missing from a local graveyard or urchins start disappearing, it’s easy enough to lead your players to an underground crypt where the demented doctor and his mind-controlled corpses can be found. For a low-level campaign, he makes for a much less deadly lich that can give your player’s a neat little horrific encounter.
BONUS: Kill Count for Re-Animator!