Based on a six-part, serialized 1922 story by H.P. Lovecraft, Stuart Gordon's blood-soaked directorial debut Re-Animator (1985) is a certified horror classic originally conceived as a stage production and, later, a television series. Eventually, the pilot was re-written for the big screen with Gordon now attached as director; quite a gamble, considering his only related experience was in live theater. Produced by Brian Yuzna with outstanding cinematography by the prolific Mac Ahlberg (who, by Gordon's own account, served as a mentor during production), this graphic spin on the classic Frankenstein still manages to repulse and attract new viewers more than three decades after its theatrical debut.
Our story follows one Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), a gifted young scientist who's managed to conquer brain death by inventing a glowing green serum that can resurrect the dead. Returning from Switzerland to New England's Miskatonic University for further research, West clashes with his professor (Dr. Carl Hill, played by David Gale) and, not surprisingly, feels like an outsider in every situation. He rents a room from fellow student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), who's engaged to Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), and eventually uses the basement as a laboratory to further his experiments. It's not long before West's behavior angers the school's dean---and Megan's father---Dr. Alan Halsey (Robert Sampson), and his future at the school is put in jeopardy. Never one to give up easily, West dives deeper into his experiments and Dan, with Megan reluctantly at his side, must decide how far down the rabbit hole he's willing to follow.
Produced for less than $1M and owing a great deal to films like The Evil Dead, Re-Animator was shot in less than a month and used plenty of creative solutions to get around budget constraints. It's a bloody, extremely well-paced little film that maintains a wicked streak of black comedy---and though it strays quite a bit from Lovecraft's original story, Re-Animator stands tall as a supremely entertaining and smartly crafted production with plenty of heart. Jeffrey Combs is fantastic as West and strikes a perfect balance between unhinged drama and awkward humor, while the tight editing keeps things moving quickly from start to finish. Equally important---if not more so---is the outstanding makeup and effects work by John Naulin, whose team was largely comprised of his students that worked for free. All things considered, Re-Animator is one of those "little films that could" where the whole is even greater than the sum of its parts.
Surprisingly enough, Re-Animator landed with a pretty big splash back in 1985, intriguing those with strong stomachs and even performing well with critics; support came from the likes of Roger Ebert, Pauline Kael, and Janet Maslin, while it even took home a prize at that year's Cannes Film Festival. Even so, most of Re-Animator's success has come from its growing cult following---big enough to spawn two sequels (Bride of Re-Animator and Beyond Re-Animator, both directed by producer Brian Yuzna and starring Jeffrey Combs), at least one comic book series, and even a musical adaptation that opened in 2011. Not a bad legacy for this scrappy, low-budget production, considering Lovecraft only wrote the source story for a paycheck and was never fond of movies in general. He might have liked it.
I wasn't old enough to see Re-Animator theatrically...and thank goodness, because I might've had nightmares for weeks. In fact, my first introduction to the film was less than 20 years ago when an VHS copy caught my eye at a local mom-and-pop video store that now sells church supplies. The film's deft mixture of gross-out gore and black comedy immediately left an impression on yours truly, and Re-Animator has held up to many repeat viewings since then on a handful of different home video formats. Up until now, the most recent edition I owned was Image's 2012 Blu-ray, sourced from an outdated 2002-era master but armed with an assortment of old and new extras. Time marches on.
Limited to 10,000 copies---which, according to multiple sources, are tough to get already---this new brick-sized Blu-ray edition of Re-Animator is Arrow Video's 100th US release, and will likely thrill fans with its top-notch A/V presentation, impressive packaging, and jaw-dropping collection of extras (including many from older home video releases, naturally). Perhaps its most notable asset is the US home video premiere of the film's Integral Version, which adds in roughly 20 minutes of content from the alternate R-rated cut created for rental outlets. Featuring one major subplot whose ripples can only be felt during the original version (also included), its pace is bloated but still provides an interesting alternative for seasoned fans. Overall, a definitive package that will likely never be bested on this format.
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio, this 1080p presentation of Re-Animator is the result of a new 4K restoration that's been applied to both the Unrated and Integral versions (more or less identical in quality, at least to my eyes). It's safe to say that Re-Animator has never looked better than it does here: image detail is very striking at times, the many dark and dimly-lit scenes hold up quite well with solid black levels, color reproduction is superb, and natural film grain is present from start to finish. Both discs have been encoded with great care and there's no flagrant digital imperfections during the main feature...even on Disc 1, which features hours and hours of content (although film clips used for featurettes, etc., were obviously sourced from much lower quality elements). Overall, it's easily a solid step up from Image's 2012 Blu-ray and fans should consider this the definitive edition of Re-Animator from a visual standpoint.
DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
The audio is no slouch, either, as we get plenty of options (LPCM Mono, LPCM 2.0 Stereo, and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 on both cuts of the film, along with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Isolated Music Score during the Unrated version) and they all sound great. Dialogue reproduction is extremely clear during all the right moments, the background music is well-defined and rarely fights for attention, and the 2.0 / 5.1 tracks feature crisp channel separation and effective use of rear channels on a few occasions. Purists and newcomers alike will be glad to have so many options available (my favorite is the stereo track), and isolated music tracks are always a nice touch even if I'll probably never watch the whole thing. Optional English SDH subtitles are also included during both cuts of the film, but none of the extras.
Menu Design & Packaging
Arrow's clean and uncluttered interface features smooth and simple navigation, with descriptive sub-menus for the bonus features and lots of clips from the film. But of course, the packaging is the real standout here: like other Arrow Limited Editions, this is a brick-sized behemoth loaded with detail. Both discs are housed in a foldout digipak case with a sleeve holding four Art Cards
and a handsome little Booklet
featuring a new essay by Michael Gingold. If that weren't enough, a Blu-ray sized Softcover Book
also includes reprinted copies of the three-issue 1991 Adventure Comics series by Steven Philip Jones and Christopher Jones. Both the digipak case and book are tucked inside a sturdy slipcover with gorgeous new artwork by Justin Erickson. One of the most impressive looking packages in recent memory!
An almost embarrassing number of extras are on board here, making this one of the most comprehensive catalog releases to date. These are spread across two discs (the Unrated and Integral cuts) and many are sourced from DVDs and Blu-rays dating back to Elite's 1999 Special Edition DVD
and before. I'll do my best to keep everything straight.
New to this release: Leading things off is an Audio Commentary featuring director Stuart Gordon with actors Graham Skipper and Jesse Merlin (Re-Animator: The Musical) who, not surprisingly, spend more time discussing the stage version than the film they're watching. That said, some of the discussion results in a few interesting comparisons between stage and theatrical settings---and though I'll admit that this was something of a wasted opportunity, it's one of three audio commentaries (see below) so it's hard to get too upset. Similar ground is covered in "The Catastrophe of Success: Stuart Gordon and The Organic Theater" and "Theater of Blood: Re-Animator The Musical", which talk about Gordon's previous work on the stage and, of course, adapting Re-Animator to a substantially different format.
The new or exclusive goodies continue with "In Conversation: Barbara Crampton", a mid-length interview shot during London's 2015 Fright Fest and hosted by journalist Alan Jones, in which the actress discusses her career and time spent on Re-Animator. "A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema" offers an enjoyable overview of the author's work represented in film (literal and influential); hosted by Chris Lackey of the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast, there's a lot of ground covered here that fans will enjoy. Similarly, we get a six-part reading of Lovecraft's original story in "Doug Bradley's Spinechillers: Herbert West, Reanimator", narrated by Jeffrey Combs and running just over 90 minutes. Finally, a rather horrifying Still Gallery showcases about three dozen of the film's bloodier moments via candid set photos.
As a fun little throwback to DVD days of yore, there's also an Easter Egg (remember those?) hiding somewhere on Disc 1 that features a bit more face time for actress Barbara Crampton. Happy hunting!
Carried over from past releases are two old Audio Commentaries (one featuring Stuart Gordon solo, the other with producer Brian Yuzna and cast members Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, Robert Sampson, and Barbara Crampton), the not-quite-feature-length documentary "Re-Animator Resurrectus", five separate Interviews (Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna, writer Dennis Paoli, composer Richard Brand [who also discusses some of the music cues separately], and Fangoria editor Tony Timpone), a collection of 17 Deleted & Extended Scenes, and a few Trailers & TV Spots that undoubtedly caused a few nightmares back in the day. Again, this is an extremely comprehensive collection of bonus features; aside from the lack of optional subtitles, I have absolutely no complaints about Arrow's attention to detail here.
Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator is a fun, feverish, and frightening directorial debut that's aged extremely well during the last 30+ years thanks to its charming B-movie roots, excellent production values, and gallons of grossly effective gore. If for whatever reason you've never seen this one, it makes a strong first impression if you enjoy the work of directors like David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, and the like. Arrow's new Limited Edition Blu-ray is, quite simply, one of the finest catalog releases in recent memory: featuring two cuts of the film, a top-notch restoration, lots of audio options, great packaging, and hours upon hours of extras (many exclusive to this edition), this is superb treatment of a deserving horror classic and, without a doubt, worthy of our highest rating. DVD Talk Collector's Series.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.