Color, 1985, 86 mins. 6 secs. / 104 mins. 56 secs.
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Starring Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson
Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Second Sight (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Capelight (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL), Image Entertainment (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Umbrella (DVD) (Australia R0 PAL), Another World (DVD) (Sweden R0 PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9), Elite Entertainment (DVD) (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1)


Re-AnimatorAfter a handful of fascinating but coolly received films like The Dunwich Horror and Curse of the Crimson Altar, Providence's most famous scribe of the uncanny and otherworldly, H.P. Lovecraft, finally became a major name in horror cinema fifty years after his death. Strangely, the film that did it wasn't adapted from one of his more famous stories or novellas; instead it was Re-Animator, an unrated, gleefully grisly adaptation of a serialized Lovecraft story, "Herbert West - Reanimator," that even the author dismissed as one of his lesser, pulpier works. That turned out to be a major advantage as first-time filmmaker Stuart Gordon, a founder of the Chicago Organic Theater Company, and producer (and sequel director) Brian Yuzna had plenty of leeway to cram the film with as many grotesque ideas and sick jokes as possible without having to worry about depicting Lovecraft's cosmic horrors, a major stumbling block in other adaptations of the author's work. Coupled with a perfect cast and a perfect slate of talent behind the camera, the film became an instant cult smash, inspiring two sequels, a comic book, action figures, a porn parody, and a stage musical. It's also one of the most perfect horror films of the 1980s.

After being sent away from medical school in Switzerland under dark circumstances, Herbert West (Combs) turns heads as New England's Miskatonic University when he locks horns with his new teacher, noted brain specialist Dr. Hill (Gale), whom he openly accuses of plagiarism. Herbert rents a room from the more mild-mannered Dan Cain (Abbott), who is secretly involved with Re-AnimatorMeg Halsey (Crampton), daughter Re-Animatorof the school's dean (Sampson). When Dan's cat ends up dead in Herbert's refrigerator, the truth about the new arrival's experiments comes out; he's developed a glowing green serum capable of reviving the dead, though not always in the best condition. Complications ensue when Hill connives to steal Herbert's discovery and puts his own designs on Meg into action, while the reanimation agent gets put to use on an ever-growing number of dead bodies in the process.

Anyone reading this is presumably familiar with the crazed delights found in this film, including some of the most perverse severed head gags in movie history, slithering innards galore, and a grand finale that proves you don't need a big finale to deliver a gore-spraying show-stopper. It's easily one of the greatest crown jewels in the short but beloved history of Empire Pictures, Charles Band's predecessor to Full Moon Pictures, and the film was tailor made for the recent VHS and cable TV craze when viewers who would normally be too young to see the unrated film (it was understandably slapped with an X rating at the time) could taste its forbidden fruits in the comfort of their own homes. Vestron made a mint with the videotape release, though confusingly, an R-rated version was also commissioned with a huge amount of discarded footage put back into the film to make up the lost Re-Animatorrunning time once the more extreme gore was removed. This is definitely a film to be viewed full-strength or not at all, but the alternate version was a welcome option as it filled in a few narrative Re-Animatorgaps like demonstrating Hill's powers of hypnotism, showing Herbert injected his own agent into his arm, and providing Meg and Dan with some extra pillow talk. The film quickly made Stuart into a notable name in genre circles, and he went on to a remarkably high-quality career including four future Lovecraft adaptations (such as From Beyond and Dagon) as well as such other favorites as Fortress and Dolls. Though Abbott went a more legitimate acting route and ended up marrying Kathleen Quinlan, Combs and Crampton have both become bona fide horror stars in their own right and remain in demand today. Not to be overlooked are the evocative cinematography by Mac Ahlberg (Hell Night) and the hilariously brazen score by Richard Band (brother of Charles), which openly pilfers from Bernard Herrmann's Psycho but somehow turns it into a macabre, comic achievement in its own right.

The home video history of Re-Animator is long and complicated with many editions over the years around the world, so let's just hit the basics. After the initial Vestron releases on VHS and laserdisc, the unrated cut bowed on laserdisc and later DVD from Elite Entertainment in a flat letterboxed transfer with extras including two great commentaries, one with Gordon solo and another with Yuzna, Combs, Crampton, Abbott, and Sampson, as well as an isolated score track, 20 minutes of deleted scenes (basically all of the material added to the R-rated cut plus a Re-Animatorwisely excised but nudity-filled dream sequence), the trailer, and TV spots. In 2002, Elite repackaged the film as a Millennium Edition while adding on video interviews with Gordon and Yuzna together (48m27s), Paoli (10m41s), two segments with Richard Band (14m43s and 16m31, the latter basically a Re-Animatorwalk through some of his favorite moments), and former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone (4m34s), plus a side-by-side storyboard comparison.

When the title hopped over to Anchor Bay in 2007 for a deluxe DVD reissue (as a two-disc set complete with a glowing green syringe highlighter!), a new anamorphic transfer wascommissioned; all the previous extras were carried over from th Elite releases (apart from the isolated music), and the big new addition was "Re-Animator Resurrectus" (68m36s), a terrific documentary by Perry Martin about the film with Gordon, wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (who appears in the film and has been involved in most of his films and stage productions), Combs, Abbott, Crampton, Yuzna, Sampson, Ahlberg, frequent Gordon co-writer Dennis Paoli, John Buechler, Anthony Doublin, and John Naulin. (Sadly, Gale passed away in 1991.) Also present on that release were separate galleries of storyboards (not the same as the comparison option on the Elite disc) and promotional material and DVD-Rom options for the screenplay and original story. Image Entertainment wound up inheriting the film in 2012 on Re-AnimatorDVD and Blu-ray, stripping it back down to just the commentaries, galleries, featurettes, and deleted scenes; the Blu-ray turned out to be a particular disappointment, looking soft and dull and just barely earning any value as a step up from SD.

All of those issues were rectified when the film was slated for a much-needed HD overhaul courtesy of a 4K restoration that premiered on German Blu-ray as part of a three-disc set from Capelight (two Blu-rays, plus a DVD of the unrated cut). The unrated version occupies the first disc with DTS-HD MA 7.1 German and 5.1 English options plus PCM 2.0 stereo for both, plus the two commentaries and the isolated music track; video extras include "Re-Animator Re-AnimatorResurrectus," the featurettes, deleted scenes, TV spots, multi-angle storyboards, and trailer. Significantly, the second Blu-ray offered the first legitimate release of the "integral cut," which essentially takes all of the footage from the alternate R-rated version (again scanned here in 4K and looking great) and integrates it into the unrated cut for the longest possible version. For pacing reasons this isn't the way you'd want to see the film for the first time, but for fans it's a great alternate viewing experience that digs deeper into the characters and offers a little bit more logical motivation for some of Hill and West's behavior. The first Blu-ray and DVD were later issued separately and are currently still available. Essentially the same exact configuration (minus the German language options) was later released in the UK from Second Sight, first as a limited steelbook and then standard Blu-ray and DVD with the integral cut only added on the Blu-ray version.Re-Animator

In 2017, the film made a return to American Blu-ray with Arrow Video tackling the title for the first time as a limited two-disc set. The restored 4K transfer of the unrated cut is the source here as well on disc one, not surprisingly, and it looks great. While the German and UK releases look similar, they appear to have varying degrees of very minor grain reduction applied compared to the Arrow release (more in the German case) which features a slightly more pronounced, textured film grain and a tiny bump in detail as a consequence; comparison grabs from the German releases can be seen below. It's a negligible difference frame by frame but noticeable in Re-Animatormotion if you look at them side by side. Audio options for the film (with optional English SDH subtitles) include LPCM mono and stereo and DTS-HD MA 5.1, plus choices for an isolated music track, both preexisting commentaries, and a new commentary with Gordon and new additions Graham Skipper and Jesse Merlin, who played West and Hill respectively in the stage musical version. That track essentially focuses on the process of turning the film into a live theatrical production, noting the elements of the performances and characters that had to be adapted, tweaked, and exaggerated for a new medium. The preexisting extras are all here again like old buddies, namely "Re-Animator Resurrectus," all of the feature1ttes, deleted scenes (23m5s worth), the storyboard (with the multi-angle function back again), the trailer, an upgraded HD gallery of stills and promotional material, and five TV spots.

The new "Barbara Crampton in Conversation" (36m5s) comes from her 2015 FrightFest appearance in London with Alan Jones, and anyone familiar with her knows what a smart, charming raconteur she can be as she covers everything from her childhood in a carnival through her long and impressive career in genre films with a particular focus on her Gordon collaborations and other roles like You're Next and Chopping Mall. (She also reveals she auditioned for Candyman, which would have been fascinating to see.) In the new "The Catastrophe of Success: Stuart Gordon and the Organic Theater" (13m8s), Gordon goes into more detail than the previous extras about his pioneering and Re-Animatorcontroversial theater work in Chicago, touching on everything from David Mamet to The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit. (Gordon's still busy doing theatrical productions, and if you ever get a chance, don't miss one.) Disc two (only available in the limited edition) features the integral cut (LPCM mono with Re-Animatoroptional SDH subs) and two new extras. Nucleus Films' "A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema" (54m2s) by Chris Lackey of the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast offers a primer on the fascinating and odd history of adaptations kicking off with the (uncredited) first attempt, The Haunted Palace (inspired by "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," later adapted again as The Resurrected) and going through the other uneven '60s films, the two Night Gallery adaptations, Lovecraft-inspired films like Alien, The Thing, In the Mouth of Madness, and The Evil Dead, '80s one-offs like The Curse and The Unnameable, and the modern wave of films like The Whisperer in Darkness and The Colour Out of Space. Also, "Doug Bradley's Spinechillers: Herbert West - Reanimator" is a six-part reading of the story by Combs, playable in separate chapters or as one long presentation. The Digipack packaging features new artwork by Justin Erickson, a booklet with new liner notes by Michael Gingold and a reproduction of the complete original Re-Animator comic book from 1991. In short it's the definitive release of the film so far with all the goodies from past releases included, some substantial new bonuses thrown in as well, and the strongest a/v quality to date.

German Blu-ray Frame Grabs

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Reviewed on July 24, 2017.