Blu-ray Review: Re-Animator (Arrow Video Limited Edition)
Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator is one of those movies that most people in the Video Store Generation at least know of. We’ve all walked to the back of the store where the dimly lit Horror section was found, scanning through the old, faded, worn cardboard tape sleeves. It was always titles like Faces of Death, Make Them Die Slowly, and The New York Ripper that made us feel like we were treading on dangerous territory, with absolute raving madness just $1.99 away. However, the real insanity was sure to lie in movies like Maniac, Demons, and the classic Re-Animator. While the dark edge of those other movies was hinted at in their titles, these wore their salacious nature right on the cover! A knife wielding madman holding a severed scalp! Horrific monsters with glowing eyes looking as if they are going to pop right off the cover and eat us! We all knew the picture of the nerdy-looking scientist with a syringe full of glow stick juice, ready to plunge it into the decapitated head on his desk, not knowing that the headless corpse behind him has other ideas. You couldn’t look at that picture and not want to see this movie! A staple on shows like USA Up All Night and Halloween horror movie marathons, a person couldn’t truly experience the insanity of Re-Animator unless they were able to get their hands on the unrated tape (it was one of the first movies to release separate R-rated and unrated cuts simultaneously on home video) or caught it on Cinemax at 3 am.
Loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, we follow med school student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), who is on the right track with his life. He’s highly respected at his school, he’s engaged to the Dean’s beautiful daughter, Meg (Barbara Crampton), and he’s well on his way to graduating at the top of his class. Then he meets Herbert West (Jeffery Combs). West has some ideas about the idea of brain death, thinking that the brain can be revived much longer beyond the ten-minute limit. After answering Dan’s flyer looking for a roommate, he sets up a lab in the basement and immediately starts trying to prove his hypothesis. First is Dan’s pet cat, but before long he needs to re-animate the corpse of his rival, Dr. Hill (David Gale), after an accidental decapitation. The problem is that his re-agent formula isn’t quite perfected and the test subjects have a tendency to be uncontrollable. Before long, Dan and West are contending with re-animated corpses running wild and a Dr. Hill that is just as power-hungry, and lustful toward Meg, as before, culminating into a crazed, no hold barred finale.
Horror/comedy as a genre can be quite tricky. You typically get very uneven results and have a confused mess on your hands. Re-Animator sits comfortably alongside such genre classics as Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn and Return of the Living Dead as one of the pinnacles of the bunch. The performances are pretty standard for this type of movie, but the standouts are the rivals Herbert West and Dr. Hill. They have a tendency to elevate every scene that they’re in, eliciting a laugh out of even the most gruesome scene. The role of Herbert West went on to solidify Jeffrey Combs’ status as horror royalty and led to two reprisals: in 1990’s Bride of Re-Animator (with Bruce Abbott also returning as Dan Cain) and 2003’s Beyond Re-Animator. Neither was able to quite recapture what Combs brought in the original, but Bride at the very least stands up to its predecessor in overall sheer zaniness. Re-Animator has earned its place in the pantheon of modern classics. It’s not any deeper than its surface and you won’t find any truths about the nature of life and death, but you will have a coil of intestines take on a life of its own and try to strangle Herbert West independent of their host body. That’s much more entertaining.
Arrow’s Blu-ray of Re-Animator is presented in 1080p high definition for both the unrated version on disc 1 and the Integral Version, previously only released in European markets, on disc 2. The unrated version features a mono, stereo, and 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround track. All of them sound great, and modern audiophiles will love the DTS track. The purist in me keeps defaulting back to the mono and stereo tracks, however, as they would best represent how it was originally released in 1985. The real draw here is the picture. Both cuts feature completely new 4K restorations and the film hasn’t looked this great since, probably, the original theatrical exhibition. The work is almost flawless, with only a few light scratches and a shot or two with washed out black levels being evident. This truly represents Re-Animator the way it should be seen, even if you grew up with a faded pan and scan VHS tape.
Disc 2 may be the main draw for most fans. It features the Integral Version, an unofficial cut that showed up in Europe around the early-to-mid 2000s. To earn an R rating, thus ensuring that rental outlets like Blockbuster would carry the film, and to create the television-friendly cut, much of the gore was removed and the running time was stretched with alternate takes and new dialogue scenes. The integral version keeps the vast majority of that material while also reinserting the excised gore. While not approved or endorsed by director Stuart Gordon or producer Brian Yuzna, this version is an interesting look at a very familiar classic film that most fans will be thrilled to finally get the chance to see without having to find a region-free player.
THE SPECIAL FEATURES
Also included on disc 1 in Arrow’s impressive package are an isolated score track and three commentary tracks. The first two commentaries are archival tracks from previous releases. Die-hard fans have likely heard them both before, but they are so full of terrific information, particularly the track with the cast, that they are well worth a re-listen for old fans and a fresh look for new ones. The third is a new track with director Stuart Gordon and two actors from Re-Animator: The Musical. I honestly turned this one off about two thirds of the way through. It focuses on the transition of the story from film to stage and is almost entirely about the musical adaptation. Having never seen the musical, it mostly felt like a conversation between three people about a private joke that I wasn’t in on. Fans of the show might find something to like, but for everyone else it’s just not going to hold any interest. The isolated score features Richard Band’s Bernard Herrmann-inspired soundtrack. While isolated scores are fantastic for fans of the music, I can’t imagine anyone watching the entire movie this way instead of simply putting the readily available soundtrack album on instead. I’m glad it’s there, but it’s not a feature I’ll be likely to revisit any time soon.
Ported over from Anchor Bay’s 2007 special edition DVD set had already brought over most of the special features from the earlier Elite DVD, and those are preserved here as well. Interviews with director Stuart Gordon, producer Brian Yuzna, writer Dennis Paoli, composer Richard Band, and Fangoria Magazine editor Tony Timpone, along with deleted and extended scenes, TV spots, and a theatrical trailer were all carried over. The only original feature that Anchor Bay produced, the full-length making-of documentary Re-Animator Resurrectus, was also brought over by Arrow and is the highlight of the bunch. Exhaustive and informative, the documentary largely renders the interviews moot, but anyone really interested in digging in as deep as possible to the behind the scenes stories will find plenty to chew on with the whole package. For my money, one could simply watch the doc and skip the rest. The deleted and extended scenes aren’t particularly interesting and easily demonstrate why they were cut or trimmed in the first place. I’m a sucker for TV spots and trailers, so they are a fun inclusion and worth checking out at least once.
The new Arrow material starts with Barbara Crampton in Conversation, a career-spanning interview that will be sure to delight fans of this quintessential scream queen. The Catastrophe of Success: Stuart Gordon and the Organic Theater is a quick look at director Stuart Gordon’s start in theater. It’s fun, but inconsequential. Theater of Blood – Re-Animator: The Musical is an interview with lyricist Mark Nutter about adapting the movie for the stage and suffers from the same problem as the new commentary: if you haven’t seen the play, it’s not likely to hold much interest. There are also three storyboards that allow the viewer to compare and contrast between the artwork and the final scene. It’s a fun feature for anyone who is really into the filmmaking process, but the highlight of this area is an Easter egg featuring a certain frequent Gordon collaborator that everyone had/has a crush on. Rounding out the disc is a still gallery (meh) and the screenplay on PDF that is accessible through the Blu-ray drive on a computer.
The second disc contains only two extras, both brand new for this release: A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema, which is an excellent hour long overview of filmed Lovecraft adaptations by Chris Lackey, host of The HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast and Doug Bradley's Spinechillers: Herbert West, Reanimator, which is essentially an audiobook of Jeffrey Combs reading the original short story that inspired the film. It’s an odd, but welcome, feature for the Blu-ray, but I can’t help but wish that it was also included as a BD-Rom feature (similar to the screenplay on disc 1) that would allow the file to be dragged and dropped into iTunes or whatever software one might use to listen to audiobooks. This may be chalked up to a licensing issue, but I feel like there’s a slight missed opportunity here.
The package is, as is usual for Arrow Video’s limited editions, amazing. The whole thing is packed in a very sturdy slipcase that makes it feel like the contents could very well outlive their owner. The discs are contained in a digipak, which also holds a booklet featuring the essay The Black (and Red) Humor of “Re-Animator” by Michael Gingold and notes about the various versions of the film and their transfers for this set. Also included are four lobby card reproductions. The capper to the set is a full color reproduction of Adventure Comics comic book adaptation of the film. When paired with Arrow’s previous Bride of Re-Animator limited edition, which featured a reproduction of the comic book prequel Dawn of the Re-Animator, we have a much more entertaining trilogy than what we have now with the mostly forgettable threequel Beyond Re-Animator.
Of important note to collectors, Arrow Video usually releases standard editions of their limited editions down the line that remove certain things from the package. In the previously mentioned Bride of Re-Animator’s case, that meant losing the slipcase, comic book, and second Blu-ray disc containing the R rated cut and placing the Unrated Blu-ray and DVD in a standard Amaray case. From certain info releases from Arrow, it sounds like the eventual standard version of this release will only contain the first disc of the set and lose the slipcase, comic book, and Integral Cut disc. If you want the complete package, now is the time to move on it, as it is almost completely sold out through the usual outlets.
Re-Animator is a seminal film in the development of horror tastes for an entire generation. It even found a new boost in popularity in the new millennium thanks to its mention in the awards magnet American Beauty. There is a reason this small, somewhat obscure film continues to find new fans and bring back old ones. Its sheer lunacy and innovative gore is matched by very few, perhaps only Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. This set is the most complete tribute possible to celebrate this charming George Romero-by-way-of-Tex Avery concoction and worthy of my highest recommendations for anyone whose curiosity is even slightly piqued by the prospect of Jeffrey Combs verbally sparring with a severed head on his desk.