Anchor Bay Limited Edition
Picture: B- Sound: B Extras: A Film: B
I'm kind of ashamed to
admit it, but I didn't see Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator (1985) for the first time until recently with Anchor Bay's new
two-disc Limited Edition. I can
almost hear the film's mad scientist, Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), chastising
me by saying, "And you call yourself a movie fan."
Produced and distributed by
Empire Pictures, a small company that released mostly low-budget
horror and sci-fi flicks in the 1980s, I had always thought of Re-Animator as a gratuitous splatter fest that was strictly for gore hounds.
And it is indeed gory. In fact, like George Romero's Dawn of the Dead (1979) and Day of the Dead (1985, both reviewed elsewhere on this site), Re-Animator was released to theaters unrated with a warning that it contained scenes
of horror too intense for anyone under 18. Without substantial cuts,
Re-Animator surely would have received an X rating had it went through the MPAA
in 1985. The fact that it now seems a lot milder and nothing more than a
typical R is a sad sign of how desensitized we've become to on-screen carnage
in this day and age of torture movies and quasi-snuff films.
But what surprised me
about Re-Animator is just how
funny and witty it is. Although often labeled a horror
film, it can be more accurately described as a blood-drenched sci-fi
black comedy. But no matter how you categorize it, Re-Animator is a comically ghastly B-movie delight.
Based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft,
Re-Animator takes what's basically an old-fashioned mad scientist story
and updates it to the '80s with lots of sardonic humor and buckets of
blood. I, for one, found it much more effective than Sam Raimi's Evil Dead movies, comical gross-out movies from the same era with an
even larger cult following. Re-Animator, though, is smarter, wittier and has a joyous dementia that's more
cerebral than Evil Dead (1983) and Evil Dead II (1987) -- I would put Gordon's film up there
with the two other outstanding horror-comedies of 1985, Tom Holland's Fright Night and Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead.
Re-Animator takes place on the campus of a Massachusetts medical school
where a young medical student named Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) is shacking up with
the pretty daughter, (Barbara Crampton as Megan), of Dean Alan Halsey (Robert
Sampson). All's normal until a new student named Herbert West
enrolls and becomes Dan's new roommate.
Turns out West,
a bespectacled young psychotic of humorless intensity, has
developed a bright green serum that can regenerate dead tissue and bring dead
bodies back to life. But West's landmark discovery is
only semi-successful since those resurrected by it come back hardly
as themselves, returning instead as screaming, rampaging
zombies. Soon it's pandemonium in the campus morgue.
At the core of Re-Animator is a highly entertaining antagonistic rivalry between two egotists,
West and a pompous professor of brain research named Dr. Carl
Hill (David Gale), whose look, voice and demeanor is
strikingly similar to Massachusetts Senator and former presidential
candidate John Kerry. Amusingly, West keeps insulting Hill's
outdated, derivative work while Hill writes off West's revolutionary theories as
pure fantasy, causing them to truly despise one another. And
since Combs and Gale are both scene stealers, the interaction between
them is priceless. Another part of the fun comes from seeing members
of staid, uppity academia like Dr. Hill and Dean Halsey turn into grotesque
Richard Band's very Bernard
Herrmann-esque musical score nicely compliments the over-the-top proceedings,
and the special effects, done with a combination of animatronics, make-up
and clever camera angles, are infinitely more enjoyable than the CGI of today.
I'm truly glad that I
finally caught up to Re-Animator, and
will now make a point to see its two non-Gordon-directed sequels, Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003), as well as Gordon's subsequent film adaptation of Lovecraft, From Beyond (1986).
The Limited Edition of Re-Animator is the
latest big winner from the reliable folks at Anchor Bay. It
comes with an oversized cardboard box that contains an appropriately
green highlighter pen that's shaped like a syringe (an item most people
will be able to actually use). The film itself is presented in
1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen with sound options of 5.1 DTS, 5.1 Dolby Digital
and 2.0 Dolby Surround. The picture is good for its age, while the sound
shows the limits of its budget and fidelity of the era. This is as good as they are ever going to
look and sound on regular DVD.
The first of the two discs
contains the feature presentation and two separate audio commentaries (one
with director Gordon and the other with cast members Abbott, Combs, Crampton
and Sampson). Disc Two is absolutely loaded with extras, including a new
70-minute retrospective featurette, interviews with cast and crew, a deleted
scene plus several extended scenes (most of which, for a change,
should have remained in the film), TV spots, the theatrical trailer, a
poster gallery and several production stills.
- Chuck O'Leary