Stuart Gordon's feature length directorial debut, 1985's Re-Animator, has been released twice before on DVD courtesy of Elite Entertainment in both single disc and double disc (as one of their Millennium Edition releases) formats. With the rights having shifted over to Anchor Bay Entertainment, the movie now receives its third uncut North American DVD release, proving that the movie remains a popular cult favorite.
The film follows the misadventures of Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), a young man studying at Miskatonic University to become a brain surgeon under the tutelage of one Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale of Syngenor). Dan's a good student and he's currently dating the daughter of Dean Halsey (Robert Sampon), the lovely Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton of From Beyond). Things are going well for Dan until he's introduced to a new student named Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs in an icon making performance) who has recently arrived after studying under Dr. Gruber in Switzerland – a position he left under unusual circumstances. West winds up renting a room from Dan and it isn't long before he's accusing Dr. Hill of stealing from Dr. Gruber, earning him a quick reputation as a trouble maker.
Soon, Dan and Megan learn that the reason West is spending so much time in the basement is because he's conducting very unorthodox experiments where he injects dead bodies with a glowing green serum he calls Re-Agent. If injected soon enough after death, the body will rise and live again. The problem being that the re-animated corpses tend to be violent and unpredictable. Dr. Hill gets wind of what West is up to he decides he wants to steal his work and claim it for his own. He's also started showing a rather unhealthy obsession with Megan. Meanwhile, Dan's involvement with West is found out by the Dean who suspends his financial aid. Unfortunately for all involved, it's too little too late as West is bound and determined to conduct his insane experiments on as many corpses as possible, and as luck would have it, he'll soon find himself surrounded by them.
Based on a script from regular Gordon collaborator Dennis Paoli (the two would also work together on From Beyond, Castle Freak, Dagon to name a few) in turn adopted from a short story from H. P. Lovecraft, Re-Animator is a gleefully insane horror film that is as amusing as it is gory. Combs is fantastic as Herbert West and his over the top performance is perfect for this completely excessive film. The effect's don't always look as fresh as they would have back in 1985 but we're still left with a well paced and freakishly funny movie that makes the most of its limited budget and quirky cast.
Alongside Combs' manic take on Herbert West is David Gale's equally insane turn as Dr. Hill. When Hill abducts Megan towards the end of the film (without spoiling it let it suffice to say that this is the film's most notorious scene) he's allowed to go right over the top and the interplay between Gale and Combs really proves to be one of the film's strongest characteristics. Abbot makes for a great straight man to Hill and Gale's lunacy, while Crampton is cute enough that you can completely understand why Dan would be in love with her and while Hill would obsess over her. Through in a very staunch, puritan turn from Robert Sampson as the very proper Dean and you've got a great cast that is very suited for the material they've been tasked with delivering.
The cinematography from Mac Ahlberg (the same man who directed Justine And Juliette!) ensures that the film always looks sufficiently creepy and the camera work does a great job of capturing the eeriness of the hospital sets and the dank and dreary aspects of the basement laboratory. Gordon keeps the movie moving along at a brisk pace but manages to do so without sacrificing character development. While not all of the characters' mysteries are revealed we certainly learn enough about Cain and West in particular that we want to know what happens to them, giving the movie just the right amount of suspense. The humor also works quite well, with the material played completely straight and with the utmost seriousness. This results in some very dry banter from Combs and Gale rather than the sort of self-referential humor that many modern horror films opt for. Some of the gore set pieces still pack a punch even now, more than two decades since the film was made. Heads are chopped off, bone saw rip through torsos, plenty of zombies run amuck and a head is squeezed until it explodes. A dead cat is brought back from the dead and a zombie smashes his head into a window until it bleeds. A certain corpse carries its own severed head around and assaults poor Megan in a very unexpected way, and it all results in a completely chaotic finale which raps everything up quite nicely without closing the doors to a sequel (of which two have been made so far at this point in the franchise's history). Everything is set to a wonderful soundtrack from Richard Band that might borrow a little too heavily from a certain Bernard Herrmann score at times but which works really well alongside the on screen insanity.
Anchor Bay's 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer of Re-Animator looks to be slightly cleaner than the previous Millennium Edition from Elite but the differences are pretty minor. For the most part, this is a strong transfer of a film that has never looked perfect. There is a bit of grain and some shimmering in a few scenes as well as some mild compression artifacts that, if you're watching on a larger set, you'll probably notice in the blacks on the picture. These are all really minor problems, however and the good definitely outweighs the bad. There's little to complain about in terms of print damage and the color reproduction, the glowing green in the 'Re-Agent' scenes in particular, looks quite good. There's a surprisingly high level of both foreground and background detail present in the picture while flesh tones look lifelike and natural.
Anchor Bay supplies three audio mixes for the feature: English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound, English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and English language DTS 5.1 Surround Sound. Both of the 5.1 tracks are quite nice with the DTS having a slightly stronger lower end than it's Dolby Digital counterpart. The surround tracks are fairly biased to the front end of the mix but the rear channels do kick in when they're needed and when they do they add some fun directional effects to a few key scenes in the movie. Dialogue remains clean and clear throughout and there are no problems with hiss or distortion on any of the three tracks. English closed captioning is provided for the feature only.
Anchor Bay has spread the extra features for this release across the two discs in this set. Here's what you'll find and where you'll find it:
Aside from trailers for a few other Anchor Bay DVD releases, static menus, an audio setup menu and a chapter stop menu, the extra features on the first disc are limited to a pair of audio commentaries, the first of which is courtesy of director Stuart Gordon. Carried over from the previous releases, this track remains an informative and educational listen as Gordon covers his involvement in the film in a fair bit of detail. In addition to covering technical details such as shooting on location and budgetary restraints, he also talks about how some of the effects were done and why certain cast members were chosen for their respective parts.
The second audio commentary features producer Brian Yuzna, and actors Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs and Robert Sampson. Also carried over from the previous Elite special editions, this is a very involved discussion with only a few quiet moments. There's a lot of humor and good-natured ribbing in here with the cast poking fun at one another and generally just enjoying themselves as they watch the movie. The isolated music track that was included on the previous Elite release has, unfortunately, not found its way to this Anchor Bay release.
The main reason those who already own the previous Millennium Edition will want to consider this release is the inclusion of an all new seventy-minute documentary (it's split up into twelve chapters) on the making of the picture entitled Re-Animator: Resurrectus, which was written and directed by Perry Martin. Gordon starts things off by saying that they really were trying to go beyond what people were used to seeing. He shows up here alongside Yuzna, Crampton, Combs (who refers to the film as the movie that will not die), Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (who has a supporting part as one of the doctors), Dennis Paoli, Bruce Abbott, and more. Gordon talks about the influence of Lovecraft, his background in theater, and how he originally thought of doing Re-Animator as a television series. Yuzna covers casting, and rehearsals (something which Abbott praises him for), and Gordon talks about how he brought the cast to a real morgue in preparation. They cover the controversy surrounding Band's score, and Abbott and Crampton talk about their love scene. Mac Ahlberg shows up and talks about his work on the film, and Gordon explains how he learned a lot from watching him work. Some of the effects guys cover their work, and we learn how some of the more memorable scenes were put together. This documentary covers a lot of the same ground that's already been covered in the commentaries and the interviews which were ported over from the last release, but the behind the scenes photos and clips from the movie make it entertaining and it's nice to see everyone reminiscing about the picture so fondly. At over an hour in length, this is a pretty in-depth and comprehensive piece and behind the scenes junkies will definitively enjoy this documentary.
Up next is a lengthy Interview with Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna (48:34) which finds the director/producer team strolling down memory lane and explaining how the film came together. They talk about casting, about the initial response that the film received and what it was like working together for the first time, chalking much of it up to beginners luck. From there we're treated to an Interview with writer Dennis Paoli (10:41) who talks about how he was working on a dissertation on gothic fiction when Gordon brought him on board, and how he feels everything came together when given the shot to work on a Lovecraft adaptation. He talks about Bill Norris' involvement and how he was responsible for making the film contemporary and creating the campus. An Interview with composer Richard Band (14:28) is up next, and he sits in his studio and talks about how Gordon and Yuzna brought him on board and how Empire worked as a distributor on the movie. They liked his music from past films and they got to talking with one another, and from there they decided to work together. Band talks about the funnier aspects of the movie and how they appealed to him and what he was trying to get across with his score. He admits to borrowing heavily from Psycho and goes so far as to say that he thought it was obvious he was using those cues in order to twist them. The Music Discussion with Richard Band (16:28) allows the man to talk about the music used in various parts of the movie by introducing and talking about various clips from the movie. All the key cues from the score are discussed here, including the memorable main theme. The last piece in this section is an Interview with Fangoria editor Tony Timpone (4:31). Tony talks about the first time he saw the movie in 1985, which was the first week he started at the magazine and how it was the first screening he was invited to. It took him by surprise and how he was quite taken by it. Fangoria went on to really champion the movie and Timpone's input on the merits of the film and why the magazine embraced the film are quite interesting. All of these interviews were previously available on the Elite Millennium Edition release.
Up Next is one deleted scene (2:39, Abbott wheels a very naked and rather dead Barbara Crampton into the morgue where Combs injects her with Re-Agent) and a series of extended scenes. Like the deleted scene, we've seen these before on other releases but basically, they play out like this: a discussion about Dan asking for a letter from the Dean; Dan and Meg in bed together; more of Dan and Meg in bed together talking about the Dean; Dan and Meg at the dinner table with Hill and the Dean, Dan and Meg studying and discussing West; Dan and Meg confronting West at the house; Dan and West in the basement lab; Dan and Meg talking about West's past; Dan and the Dean in his office; Dan and Meg talking about the Dean; West telling Dan the truth of what happened to the Dean; Hill talking to Meg about her father's treatment; Hill pondering the Dean's condition; Hill talking to West in the basement; Dan talking to West in the basement; Dan and West in the house awaiting a certain character's arrival. These deleted scenes run 23:27 in total.
From there we're treated to a wealth of promotional material starting with the film's theatrical trailer (1:58), a collection of five TV spots, trailers for a few other Anchor Bay DVD titles, a Production Still Gallery, a massive Behind The Scenes Still Gallery, a brand new Fun On The Set gallery, an extensive Posters and advertising gallery and finally a Storyboard gallery.
Rounding out the extras on the second disc are a Stuart Gordon text biography, some nifty menus and, for those who are DVD-Rom equipped, a PDF version of Lovecraft's original story, Herbert West: Re-Animator (the basis for this film) and the film's original screenplay.
Inside the keepcase is an insert that contains a reproduction of the original North American poster art on one side and the chapter listing on the other. The keepcase comes inside a cardboard box with some alternate cover art on the front which has a clear plastic window on the left hand side which gives the illusion of the illustrated Herbert West holding a syringe full of Re-Agent. The syringe is actually a little highlighter – a nice touch!
If you've already got the previous two disc release from Elite, then whether or not you'll want to upgrade will hinge mainly on how much you value the new documentary and the nifty packaging. For those who haven't already picked up the prior release, however, Anchor Bay's Re-Animator is a no-brainer. The film still holds up remarkably well and it's as funny and as twisted today as it was the day it was made. The transfer and the audio are top notch and the extras are extensive, interesting, and entertaining. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.