Our reviews of Re-Animator (published September 12th, 2000), Re-Animator: Anchor Bay Collection (published March 20th, 2007), and Re-Animator (Blu-ray) (published September 14th, 2012) are also available.
Herbert West has a very good head on his shoulders…and another one in a dish on his desk.
H.P. Lovecraft's Re-Animator has long been a cult favorite of many horror fans. Now, it's been released by Elite Entertainment in a "Millennium Edition" that treats us to a digitally revamped picture and soundtrack, as well as six hours of bonus materials.
All hype or worth the investment?
Facts of the Case
Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs, The Frighteners) is a talented, young and probably psychotic doctor, obsessed with the idea of reanimating the dead. He invents a serum that does the trick. His roommate, Daniel Cain (Bruce Abbot), is dating the medical school Dean's daughter, Megan (Barbara Crampton), who is immediately suspicious of Herbert. When Daniel finds him fooling around with their cat's body parts, well, things get messy. Before he knows it, Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), a renowned brain researcher, tries to get his hands on the stuff. Despite a minor glitch when Herbert beheads him and toys with the remains, Dr. Hill revives the dead (including the school's dean, played deftly by Robert Sampson) and orders them around like slaves. Apparently, that's a side effect of the serum: Mind control. An intestine attack, zombie killings, and decapitated doctors are just a few of the many treats of this camp classic which spawned the sequel Bride Of Re-Animator and the upcoming Beyond Re-Animator.
Re-Animator is still a fine, funny, and horrific film. Campy, yes, but sincerely played by its actors. Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West, with his deliberately "just a little weird" delivery, is the delightful anchor of this comic horror ship. Plus, a special "Acting in Dismemberment" award should be given posthumously to the late David Gale. As Dr. Hill, he spends a good portion of the time as a head sitting in a tray of blood, or being held by the hands of his decapitated body. His face covered with blood and entrails is a wonderful contrast to his deep, booming, entitled voice—all this while sticking his head through a fiberglass torso. Talk about a hard day at work—and a role of a lifetime, which made him a popular horror actor.
The combo of gore, horror, and a bit of camp always makes for a good evening of entertainment. The plot flows swiftly, it has a few curve balls along the way to keep you guessing, and there are plenty out-of-left field surprises (deranged Dean Halsey bursts through the door! Rufus the cat is found in the fridge! Blood! Guts! Woo-hoo!) cued by composer Richard Band's above-average music. The obsession with bringing the dead back to life is explored in a simple, gory manner with nary a wasted moment—lean and mean. Most of all, the precisely timed moments of comedy, thanks mostly to Gale and Combs, is what makes this movie stand out from others in its genre. The horror is displayed with gusto, the comedy unforced. This is a great movie for fans of the genre and cinema buffs in general!
Most of you readers already know this one's a winner; so how about the disc itself? Rather, discs—this puppy has two discs loaded with extras. The film itself is presented in a newly transferred 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen version. Fans will swoon over how good this film finally looks (the previous release was decent, if sub-standard). While the biggest flaw in the transfer is a bit of softness in the image, overall I thought this was a great looking picture. With dark black levels, a solid amount of colors and some very even flesh tones, this is the best Re-Animator has ever looked!
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, DTS 5.1 Surround, and Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. Why anyone would ever want the 2.0 soundtrack is beyond me, but it's there in case you need it. Both the DTS and Dolby 5.1 soundtracks work very well within the confines of the film. Each of these has been remastered and remixed to give the viewer a better sense of being right there alongside the bodies and the carnage. While the bulk of these two soundtracks are mainly played in the front of the soundstage, there are a few fun directional effects and background noises coming though the two back speakers. The dialogue sometimes is a bit muddy (this is not surprising due to the film's low budget nature), though overall this is the best Re-Animator has sounded in years. Sadly, no captions or subtitles are available on this disc.
Disc One features four sound options and a THX-approved digital transfer. It has two commentary tracks brought from the original DVD release (see Judge Naugle's review of Re-Animator for another opinion)—one with director Stuart Gordon and another with producer Brian Yuzna and actors Combs, Robert Sampson (Dean Halsey), Barbara Crampton (Megan Halsey), and Bruce Abbott (Daniel Cain). Definitely stick with the Gordon commentary—though he sounds like he's ready to take a nap, he's full of information, giving extensive background to the movie. His original inspiration in Lovecraft's series of stories, his research at morgues, how certain effects were achieved—lots of juicy stuff, including the surprising fact that he has a weak stomach. Not entertaining, per se, but fascinating nonetheless. The actors and Yuzna mostly joke through theirs, without much detail ("We shot this late at night" is a vague example of the rare bit of production tidbits) and making fun of the movie. It's okay but it gets old, and doesn't reveal much detail about the film.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. On Disc Two, you'll find interviews with Gordon and Yuzna, writer Dennis Paoli, composer Band, and an interview with Fangoria magazine editor Tony Timpone. The joint interview with Gordon and Yuzna is a snore—informative but pretty boring. Paoli's fares better—this guy doesn't seem like he'd be the writer of such a fun horror flick, with his distinguished beard and academic background, but it's obvious he relished writing the film. He is an enthused interviewee, telling us how he adapted Lovecraft's literature ("and it IS literature," he assures us).
An interview with composer Richard Band gives the usual tidbits of information. Band apparently wanted to make the score campy from the start (though it's more inspired by Hitchcock's Psycho score). It doesn't sound campy to me, but there you go. The interview with Fangoria editor Tony Timpone isn't really necessary, revealing little else but his own opinions about the film upon his first viewing, but might be fun viewing for diehard fans.
The extended scenes are a guide to good film editing—they offer a glimpse into character motives, plot details, and other minute examples that enhance the viewing of the main film, but you can understand why they were sliced. Obviously, Gordon did not forsake brevity and impact for indulging the script's interesting but disposable details.
Whew! I need to stop for some Gatorade. Okay, better.
On to more extras…also in Disc Two, we have a deleted scene, also mentioned in Paoli's interview, of a dream that Daniel Cain has. I won't reveal what it involves, but it complements the viewing of the final edit very well.
Of course, we are given the original trailer, as well as five TV spots. The trailer looks great, sounds even better—not only is it in 16x9 anamorphic, the sound has obviously been remastered. This and the five TV spots included on Disc Two exhibit the delicate blend of wit and horror that the movie so successfully realized.
Music Discussion with Richard Band is a nice extra, as he explains why he did certain things musically in particularly scenes and then showing said scenes for analysis, the dialogue muted. A fun extra—not vital, but not seen very often on discs and thus greatly appreciated. Four scenes are discussed.
Multi-angle storyboards allow you to see the scene in the movie, cut with the corresponding storyboard. A nice interactive feature that helps this disc stands apart from the rest.
ANNNNNDD finally (water! water!), cast and filmmaker bios and filmographies. Extensive and set against nice design—cool visuals of horrific scenes in the film in shadowy colors and against a nice layout—these are the final touches on Disc Two.
All of this is wrapped up in a neon green case with raised details and a note from producer Yuzna on the back.
Sometimes, a lot of extras in a DVD set can simply mean "waste of time." Interviews with filmmakers are best kept to a time minimum, as they tend to go on and on and…not really make them worth your while. Aside from these extras on the Re-Animator: Millennium Edition, the deleted scenes, interactive storyboard featurette, anamorphic trailer, and numerous other extras make this a definite keeper for any fan, of horror or movies in general.
Plus, you got a great movie with a great transfer on disc one—a horror classic. When you have extras that add a fascinating insight into the final project—such as deleted and extended scenes—you have a complete package that is a must-have for any collector, whether he or she is a horror buff or not.
Free to go—these guys must have worked in the ditches for months to put this double disc together. Go home and get some rest!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Elite Entertainment
• Commentary with Director Stuart Gordon
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