Judge Mike Rubino is so glad his credits transferred from Miskatonic U.
Our reviews of Re-Animator (published September 12th, 2000), Re-Animator: Anchor Bay Collection (published March 20th, 2007), and Re-Animator: Millennium Edition (published August 5th, 2002) are also available.
Dan Cain: "He's dead?"
H.P. Lovecraft has been a traditionally difficult writer to adapt to film. His stories of mystical creatures and macabre New England cultists are usually punctuated by scenes of "indescribable horror" and "unspeakable terror." If he can't even describe it, how is a filmmaker going to do it justice? The pulp author responsible for the Cthulu mythos is seen as one of the most important horror writers in American literature, and yet Hollywood's best "Lovecraft" movies are the ones inspired by his writing rather than adapting it.
Of the few exceptions is Stuart Gordon's cult classic Re-Animator, a pitch black horror comedy based on Lovecraft's serialized short story, and newly resurrected on Blu-ray by Image Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Dan Cain (Bruce Abbot, Dark Justice) is a med student at Miskatonic University in Massachusetts. He pushes around bodies in the morgue, dates the dean's daughter, Megan (Barbara Crampton), and is just trying to make it out of that place alive. To make ends meet, he takes on a new roommate: an arrogant transfer student named Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs, The Frighteners). West's arrival at Miskatonic is felt immediately as he clashes with neurosurgeon professor Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale, Guyver) over the limits of post-mortem brain activity. Dan soon finds out his secretive new roommate is using the basement as a laboratory to conduct experiments on re-animating the recently deceased.
In the original short story, Herbert West: Re-Animator, the titular doctor and his narrating co-hort dig up recently buried corpses and perform a series of increasingly dangerous experiments in a barn. It's a riff on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, with a surprising amount of humor from a remarkably humorless writer. Of the Lovecraft I've read, it's easily one of the most accessible and adaptable, which is one of the reasons why first-time director Stuart Gordon captured the dark comedy so perfectly in his re-telling of the tale.
Re-Animator is a classic piece of camp, a goofy gory slice of midnight movie excess that still shocks to this day. It's a testament to Gordon's directing sensibilities, and the effects crew working with him, that even with a couple decades of pop culture desensitization, hundreds of zombie films, and the rise of limitless computer-generate gore, this low-budget '80s flick still manages to gross me out. Released the same year as Romero's ultra-gruesome Day of the Dead, Re-Animator uses its over-the-top effects as a source of dead-pan, disturbing humor. Whether its Jeffrey Combs wrestling around with a dead cat, or a severed head bouncing off a wall like a grapefruit, the movie treats its absurdity with the utmost seriousness. The result is a film with just enough camp so you can have fun and still remain in perpetual suspense.
Adding to the film's suspenseful tone is its earnest cast, comprised mainly of theater professionals. There's a fair amount of B-movie melodrama on display, juxtaposed nicely with scenes of actors wrestling naked, screaming corpses, and headless zombie-professors. Jeffrey Combs is great as the diminutive Herbert West: he's cocky, threatening, and ultimately likable. His status in the film shifts from villain to anti-hero, the more we learn about those around him, especially Gale's cutthroat portrayal of Dr. Hill. Combs also has good chemistry with Bruce Abbot's Dan Cain, the film's moral underdog. Abbot evolves throughout the film, from an overly affectionate boyfriend and West's unwilling sidekick, to a chivalrous hero. He's doing it all for Megan, played by the adorable Barbara Crampton, whose excessive and stereotypical objectification plays into the film's camp (and serves as a reminder this was, in fact, shot in the '80s).
Gordon, who would go on to make plenty of other B-movies and Lovecraft adaptations, does an admirable job; especially for someone who admittedly jumped into filmmaking after founding and running Chicago's famed Organic Theater Company. In the documentary that accompanies the film, Gordon says he prepared for this project by watching every schlocky horror film he could find. He wanted to outdo them, both in gore and style. While I can't say this is better than the early Romero films, Re-Animator certainly deserves its legacy.
It's a testament to the crew's special effects craftsmanship that every bloody squib, intestine, and brain that oozes on to the screen looks great in high definition. Re-Animator's 1.78:1/1080p Blu-ray treatment is solid through and through. There's an appropriate amount of grain in the film stock, and the picture looks sharp and colorful without losing any of that '80s tone. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is appropriately mixed, although there's not a lot going on in those rear channels. The film's awesome, Psycho-esque film score by Richard Band still sounds great.
Anchor Bay's 2-disc special edition DVD release from 2007 (now out of print) was packed with enough bonus material that nothing new was needed or expected here. It's a shame that none of the supplements, including the fun 70-minute documentary "Re-Animator Resurrectus," were given the high-def treatment, though I feel greedy for even asking. The Blu-ray also features two commentary tracks, a slew of interviews with the cast and crew, deleted and extended scenes, and some trailers.
Re-Animator is a funny, gruesome, and entertaining adaptation that has earned its rank as one of the best horror films of all time. The Blu-ray may not contain anything new, but the supplements and vibrant HD transfer are worth the double-dip. Just don't eat before you watch it.
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