Since a certain lauded distributor dropped anchor and began crafting fan-friendly special editions of obscure genre faves, there's been a pervasive, yet baseless notion wafting around out there that no other outfit is capable of producing truly superior niche-market DVDs. Well, among others, Elite Entertainment boldly challenges that myth by revisiting two of its flagship titles with spectacular "Millennium Series" releases of Night of the Living Dead and now the two-disc, extras-oozing Re-Animator (1985, 86 minutes). If these twin triumphs alone aren't enough to reaffirm Elite's standing with fans, they're also developing an enhanced version of the immortal revenge classick I Spit On Your Grave with an astounding array of commentaries, interviews and other goodies GUARANTEED to make CineSchlockers slobber like Saint Bernards. But more on that later, let's drool over something already on the shelves of discerning emporiums.
First time director Stuart Gordon and his Organic Theater pals thought it'd be a swell idea to make a cheap (and hopefully marketable) horror movie. So, he fished up a series of weird short stories written by H.P. Lovecraft called "Herbert West, Re-Animator" and 800 buckets of blood later they made horror history. But once the MPAA got a hold of the flick, there wasn't much left but the credits, so the distributors just hauled off and released it "Unrated," which was hardly ever done at the time. Actually, there IS an R-rated cut of the film that somehow runs LONGER than the original. Instead of all the gore and zany zombie love, the cast take turns pitching horseshoes and telling lawyer jokes for a half hour. Doesn't have quite the same oomph at all.
The movie: In a moment of post-coital bliss, med student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) attempts to coax his girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton) into agreeing to move in with him. Being the good little girl she is, it's no dice. Instead, he opts for a platonic roommate and the bizarre Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) arrives with cash and luggage in tow and refuses to take "No" for an answer. West has wholly unconventional theories on medicine, and specifically, on the finality of death itself. He's immediately at odds with everyone he encounters: Dan, Megan and especially Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), who he treats with rabid contempt. Among sets filled with cadavers and other mad-scientist trappings, this odd tale marches into the macabre with its tongue planted firmly in its cheek and leaves a trail of crimson footprints behind. West has developed some glowing ooze that re-animates dead tissue and creates quite a scene. Especially when he juices up Dan's deceased kitty cat and it zombies out and gets medieval on West in the basement. The mayhem escalates in gleefully disgusting ways. CineSchlockers will appreciate the overt odes to other horror classics, most notably The Brain That Wouldn't Die. Grue-producer Brian Yuzna directed Combs and Abbott in the sequel Bride of Re-Animator (also available on DVD) where the fellas attempt to find a perfect mate with the help of that green, glowing hypo. Beyond Re-Animator is said to be on the horizon.
Notables: Six breasts. 14 corpses. Exploding eyeballs. Q-Tip to the brain. Reckless pencil breaking. Diddling. Cat calling. Finger munching. Decapitation with shovel. Severed headbutt. Axe to the arm. Gratuitous defibrillation footage. Killer intestine. Advanced heterosexual tongue rasslin'.
Quotables: Morgue security guard (Gerry Black) waxes philosophic, "Don't know why they keep locked doors around here -- nobody wants in and there ain't nobody gettin' out." Herbert has cross words for Dr. Hill, "Who's going to believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow! ... I'm very disappointed in you. You steal the secret of life and death, and here you are trysting with a bubble-headed coed. You're not even a second-rate scientist!" While Hill hisses, "Youuuuu bassssssstardddd."
Time codes: When "No! No! No!" means "Yes! Yes! Yes!" (10:00). Cat returned for 10th life is mighty purr-turbed (25:50). First re-animation of a human corpse (38:25). Detached craniums give good ... (1:09:15).
Audio/Video: Marked visual improvement with this new anamorphic (1.85:1) transfer that addresses previous shortcomings during darker scenes, as well as providing more realistic flesh tones. Audiophiles will relish the added Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks. While not overly aggressive, each provides aural depth never before experienced by fans of the film. They've also included the utilitarian Dolby Digital mono track for easy comparison to the new mixes. There's even an isolated track that showcases Richard Band's peppy, Psycho-inspired score (in Dolby Digital 5.1). Oh, and if one wishes to jive within the world of THX, an appropriate utility for that is included.
Disc One: What's immediately striking are the zippy new motion-video menus which compliment the flick's quirky flair without turning into a gaudy production unto themselves. For the latest goodies, turn to Disc Two, as what's HERE are the two commentaries from the previous release. The first features director Stuart Gordon who peppers the track with lots of details in a highly relaxed manner. The second is a bit more "fun" as producer Brian Yuzna and cast members Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, Robert Sampson (Dean Halsey) and Barbara Crampton giggle and tease each other throughout the screening. There are several gaps when the entire group gets wrapped up in the flick and forget to say anything.
Disc Two: The visual theme of the menus continues, but with a slight speed bump of an extra click to get to the "special features," which is the whole point of the second disc, right? As with the previous release there are 16 deleted scenes amounting to about 23 minutes (mostly from the R-rated version), plus an excised three-minute dream sequence (featuring an orgasmic Ms. Crampton). The big diff this time around is that they're all presented in anamorphic widescreen (with a blessed "Play All" option added). Same goes for the theatrical trailer and TV spots.
So, if terms like "anamorphic" and "DTS 5.1" don't stir your loins, why upgrade? How about a chance to witness Gordon and Yuzna reminisce about ALL aspects of the pre-production, shooting and marketing of the film in a 50-minute, wholly-engrossing conversation?! Among three other similar vignettes is a lively chat with writer Dennis Paoli who delves into the script's unusual evolution (11 mins). Fango honcho Tony Timpone -- sporting a king-sized, blood-red "Fangoria" necktie -- recalls his first seeing the movie and the fan frenzy that soon followed (5 mins). Finally, Mr. Band proudly proclaims it was HE who championed the project's camp factor early on (15 mins). Richard also has another segment where he discusses specific aspects of his score via introductions to four clips. By the way, who says the multi-angle feature is only for porn?! It's also swell for comparison to original storyboard sequences. If all THAT just isn't enough for you greedy gorehounds, well, y'all can just choke on more than ONE HUNDRED behind-the-scenes photos. Every oozing ounce of this video goodness comes in a day-glow GREEN keepcase that if properly liquefied would undoubtedly awaken the dead. Just another reason why this set will surely rank among the year's top genre releases.
Final thought: Glorious mix of wry humor and smartly executed gore sequences that thrill, repulse and amuse in unison. The severed head nookie is the stuff of B-legend. An absolute must-have for any self-respecting CineSchlocker. Collectors Series.
G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.