Re-Animator

Director: Stuart Gordon
Screenplay: Dennia Paoli, William J. Norris, Stuart Gordon (based on the short story “Herbert West, Re-Animator” by H.P. Lovecraft)
Stars: Jeffrey Combs (Herbert West), Bruce Abbott (Dan Cain), Barbara Crampton (Megan Halsey), David Gale (Dr. Carl Hill), Robert Sampson (Dean Alan Halsey), Gerry Black (Mace), Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (Dr. Harrod)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1985
Country: U.S.
Re-Animator Blu-Ray
Re-AnimatorStuart Gordon’s Re-Animator, based on a series of six stories by pulp master H.P. Lovecraft, is a giddy, gory horror-comedy filled with audaciously grotesque special effects and witty black humor. It arrived in 1985, at the height of the ’80s’ spate of horror comedies, which also include Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1982) and Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead (1985). These were all movies that irreverently stripped away the seriousness that had filled the horror genre throughout the late 1960s and 1970s, and replaced it with a willful sense of the comic, which ranged from outright slapstick in Raimi’s films to the dark, EC Comics-inspired humor of George Romero and Stephen King’s Creepshow (1982).

Re-Animator has more in common with the latter, as its humor is rarely of the strictly physical variety, relying more on verbal asides and the sheer absurdity of its situations. It is an incessantly gory movie, to the point that producer Brian Yuzna didn’t even bother to submit it to the MPAA ratings board and instead released it unrated. Yet, like the gore in the original Grand Guignol theater and the movies it inspired, the most gruesome scenes in Re-Animator are both repellent and utterly intriguing. They are so over the top that they demand your attention—it’s literally impossible not to watch.

The story involves the Frankenstein-esque activities of one Herbert West, a nerd gone terribly, horribly wrong played in deliciously deadpan manner by then then-unknown Jeffrey Combs, who is now a cult figure beloved by horror fans around the world. West’s nondescript suits and oversized square glasses are appropriately geekish, but the narrow, devious eyes and furrowed brow are those of someone hanging precariously at the edge of insanity, held back only by his sheer will and arrogance. Holed up in his basement laboratory, injecting glowing green re-agent fluid into a dead cat, he is the perfect epitome of science gone bad.

West is a brilliant young medical student who is bent on defeating death by finding a way to beat the “6- to 12-minute barrier” after which someone cannot be successfully revived. However, he is so resolute and calculating in his desire that any sense of moral purpose is left in the dust of his mad, ego-centered pursuit. He immediately gets on the wrong side of the fictional Miskatonic Medical School’s resident genius, Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), whose ideas West openly disputes in class. West is so sure of himself that he can’t help but verbally (and, later, physically) assault those who might stand in his way, intellectually or otherwise.

Another medical student, the squeaky clean Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), becomes involved in West’s experiments, despite the pleadings of his girlfriend, Megan (Barbara Crampton), who also happens to be the daughter of the straight-laced dean of the medical school, Alan Halsey (Robert Sampson). Dan is the movie’s conscience, although as played by Abbott, he is something of a dullard, too plain and nondescript to truly engage our sympathies. If we feel for him, it is only because he is the only “normal” character in the movie. We might feel the urge to sympathize with Megan, but she spends so much of the movie being traumatized in various ways that we are almost forced to view her from a distance.

Of course, character sympathies are not at the heart of what makes Re-Animator work so well. Rather, it is first-time director Stuart Gordon’s refusal to let anything be off limits. Yet, at the same time, he doesn’t simply open the floodgates. Rather, everything shocking in Re-Animator is carefully arranged and stylishly directed in the manner of a gaudy horror comic book. Gordon, whose background was as an art director and founding member of Chicago’s infamous Organic Theater (which was the first to stage David Mamet’s Sexual Perversity in Chicago), was working on a tiny budget (every single scene takes place indoors), but he made every bit count.

Like a deranged musician, Gordon keeps increasing the pitch of his movie, piling on ludicrous situation after ludicrous situation. Things begin to reach a fever pitch when West decapitates Dr. Hill with a shovel after Hill tries to steal his re-agent formula, then reanimates his head and headless body. This leads to the movie’s most ghoulishly comedic moments, as the decapitated Dr. Hill, filled with pipe dreams of fame, combines West’s re-agent research with his own development of a laser drill used for lobotomies to create an army of reanimated corpses under his control.

No review, of course, can go without mentioning the movie’s most deliriously sick moment—the ne plus ultra of mixing sex and horror—as Dr. Hill’s body holds out his disembodied head in an attempt to sexually assault Barbara, who is naked and strapped to a gurney. The scene is heightened all the more by the fact that Barbara has been kidnapped by her own father, who is himself a reanimated corpse that has been lobotomized by Dr. Hill and is under his control, thus injecting a weird Freudian twist as the father delivers his own daughter to a lascivious head. The sheer audacity and tastelessness of this scene demands a kind of awe, and Gordon and the actors pull it off with such comic aplomb that it becomes hilarious rather than repulsive—or perhaps both.

Needless to say, Re-Animator is not for everyone. The easily offended, those with weak stomachs, and anyone who is unable to find humor in gruesome scenarios need not apply. Yet, those who appreciate both horror and humor and recognize when the two have been seamlessly intertwined into grisly black comedy will find much to enjoy in Stuart Gordon’s twisted near-masterpiece of the horror absurd.

Re-Animator Blu-Ray

Aspect Ratio1.78:1
AudioEnglish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
SubtitlesEnglish
Supplements
  • Audio commentary by director Stuart Gordon
  • Audio commentary by producer Brian Yuzna and actors Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, and Robert Sampson
  • Re-Animator Resurrectus retrospective documentary
  • Interview with director Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna
  • Interview with writer Dennis Paoli
  • Interview with composer Richard Band
  • Music discussion with composer Richard Band
  • Interview with Fangoria editor Tony Timpone
  • Deleted and extended scenes
  • Theatrical trailer
  • TV spots
  • DistributorImage Entertainment
    SRP$17.97
    Release DateSeptember 4, 2012

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    Presented for the first time in high definition, Re-Animator looks better than I’ve ever seen it. Previous DVD releases were quite good for their time, but the 1080p transfer on this Blu-Ray, which was approved by producer Brian Yuzna, easily surpasses them with significantly enhanced detail, better contrast, and stronger color, especially when the blood starts flying. Overall the image is quite clean, with only a few bits of speckling and no significant signs of wear-and-tear on the source print (I’m not sure how much, if any, digital restoration was involved during the transfer). The original monaural soundtrack has been reworked into a nice DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel mix. While still somewhat limited by the source material, the new soundtrack sounds excellent, opening up Richard Band’s fantastic New Wave rendition of Bernard Herrmann’s classic Psycho score and making all those gushy, gross-out sound effects even, well, gushier and grosser coming from your surround channels. Unfortunately, the Blu-Ray skimps by not including the original monaural mix or the isolated track for the musical score that was included on Elite’s 2002 Millennium Edition DVD.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    The Blu-Ray of Re-Animator contains a Frankenstein-esque assembly of supplements culled from various video releases of the film dating back to a special edition laser disc from 1995. In fact, it is from that laser disc that we get the two audio commentaries, which have also been included on all of the film’s various DVD releases over the years. The first commentary, by director Stuart Gordon, is the more serious and studied of the two. Gordon discusses his own background in the theater and how he came to make Re-Animator as his first movie, including all the intensive research he did with doctors and morgue attendants to get all the details right (he also professes to having a weak stomach, which is an amusing irony). The second commentary, which includes four original cast members (Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, and Robert Sampson) and producer Brian Yuzna, is basically a cut-up from start to finish. They obviously had a great time recording this commentary, as they spend the whole time laughing, making jokes, poking fun at each other, and telling funny stories. There isn’t a great deal of information in the commentary, but it is a lot of fun to listen to. Also from the laser disc we get 16 extended scenes and one deleted scene. The 16 extended scenes amount to roughly 20 minutes of extra footage that was used in the R-rated cut of the movie. Interestingly, the R-rated version of Re-Animator is almost eight minutes longer than the unrated version because Gordon padded out the dramatic scenes to make up for the lost gore footage. All of the footage included here consists of extensions or longer alternate versions of scenes already in the unrated version. Most of it is extraneous and was originally cut for purposes of pacing, but I think the movie benefits from some of it, especially a crucial conversion between Dr. Hill and Dean Halsey that helps explain the Dean’s sudden attitude change in dealing with Dan, which is too abrupt and inexplicable in the unrated version. In addition to the R-rated footage is a brief dream sequence that was never included in any cut of the movie. From the 2007 Anchor Bay DVD, we get a 70-minute retrospective documentary that includes interviews with all the aforementioned people, as well as the film’s cinematographer and a number of make-up effects artists. The rest of the supplements all originally appeared on the now-defunct Elite Entertainment’s 2002 Millennium Edition two-disc DVD set. From that release we have video interviews with director Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna, writer Dennis Paoli, composer Richard Band, and Fangoria editor Tony Timpone. In Gordon and Yuzna’s interview, which is by far the longest, they essentially interview each other, talking about how the movie came together, who was involved when and how, and the experience of taking the film to the Cannes Film Festival, as well as laughing about the details they sweated over when making the film, such as justifying how a decapitated head could talk without any lungs. The camerawork here is atrocious, with awkward, badly timed pans and too many sudden zooms, but it is certainly worth watching. Paoli’s interview is just over 10 minutes in length, and he talks mostly about the development of the script and who wrote what. In Band’s interview, which runs about 15 minutes, the composer (who sports Herbert West-style glasses, which is a little creepy) spends much of the time defending his decision to essentially lift major motifs from Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score (most people got the joke, but apparently the Bernard Herrmann Society was none too pleased ...). At just under five minutes in length, Timpone’s interview is the shortest, although it is a hoot to watch as he discusses his memories of first seeing the film in 1985 and Fangoria’s Re-Animator make-up contest in which the winner was awarded one of the prosthetic severed David Gale heads from the movie. If you didn’t get enough of Band in the video interview, in “Music Discussion with Composer Richard Band” he briefly introduces four segments from the film and how he went about scoring each one. The Blu-Ray also includes a theatrical trailer and several TV spots, although it does not include the photo galleries and storyboards from the Elite set.

    Copyright ©2012 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © Image Entertainment

    Overall Rating: (3.5)




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