Herbert West has a very good head on his shoulders…and another one in a dish at his desk.
I ask you good people, is there anything better than a horror film that combines zombies, green goop in a syringe, a mad scientist, nubile co-eds and a malicious fake-rubber cat? The answer, of course, is a resounding no. Re-Animator was released in the early years of the DVD format by Elite Entertainment and was the film that I was eager to purchase when I first got my DVD player. Compared to the VHS copies of Re-Animator that have been floating around for years, this DVD is a Godsend (AND un-rated…everyone together…oooohhh…ahhhh). This DVD is why the format makes me feel like Ralphie at Christmas opening his Red Ryder BB gun! I'm revisiting Image Entertainment's original edition of Re-Animator, but it's still worth screaming about!
Facts of the Case
Herbert West. Scientist, genius, intellectual…and madman. Strange things are afoot at the local Miskatonic University where the dead just won't stay down. Dr. Daniel Cain (Bruce Abbot), a resident intern, is looking for a new roommate to share his apartment and Herbert West (the fantastic Jeffery Combs) is just the man to fit the bill. But just what is Dr. West up to in his room late at night? And why have body parts been missing from the local morgue?
Well, I'll tell you why…zombies zombies zombies! And folks, this ain't your father's Night Of The Living Dead! These zombies have more gloop and goop hanging off them than my little nephew's nose. Without giving too much away, the inevitable happens. Zombies + freedom = chaos. Finally, math equations that I can do! However, the living dead aren't the only problem with which Drs. Cain and West have to contend. First, there's Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), a fanatical doctor who will stop at nothing to get Dr. West's secret formula. Then there's Meg (Barbara Crampton), the daughter the Dean at the university. She's bumpin' ugly with Dr. Cain, and if the Dean ever found out, there'd be more trouble than a barrel of rabid monkeys!
Life and death hangs in the balance…well, actually more like death and reanimation, but who's counting? By the end of Re-Animator, you'll be thankful that you popped this treat into your player!
What can I say? I love this movie. This is the type of film my parents tried to stop me from watching as a kid, warning that they would rot your brain…and by God, they were right. I fell immediately in love with Stuart Gordon's well-directed slime fest, featuring a stellar cast of crazies and loons this side of the morgue. Jeffery Combs takes the cake as the wildly outrageous Dr. West, a cross between one of the geeks in Revenge of the Nerds and Lawrence Olivier. His over the top (and then some) performance has to be seen to be believed. Bruce Abbot as Dr. Daniel Cain makes a nice foil for Combs, always playing off his insanity with such frustration and despair that they come close to being the Chris Farley/David Spade of horror films. The late David Gale as Dr. Hill makes for such a menacing villain that he's equaled only by the slimy corpses that assume the attack position at the end of the film.
The script is loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft's original tale, and though the basic elements are there, the filmmakers have taken the liberty in making this film much wilder than Lovecraft probably envisioned. If he were to see Re-Animator on the big screen today, I'm sure that he'd hire a lawyer as soon as the credits rolled. The production is effectively gloomy, and as one of the cast comments in the audio commentary, "it's like catching lightning in a bottle." In 1989 they tried to keep that magic going with a sequel, Bride of Re-Animator, and though it was good, it still didn't hold up to the power and fun of the original. Scene after scene, Re-Animator instills in us what makes a great horror film: a mix of comedy, horror and scares. Can you imagine The Silence Of The Lambs without some of Anthony Hopkins deadpan humor? Or Halloween without that doomsday atmosphere? Re-Animator does what it does with little effort, and that's what makes it rise high above most conventional horror films.
For those of you that are squeamish, you're going to want to stay far away from Re-Animator. If you have no desire to see decapitated heads, squirting blood, attacking intestines, oral sex by the living dead, gratuitous nipples, dead cats thrown against the wall…well, by all means skip this disc. If, however, you are sick and depraved, then grab the popcorn and lock up the dog, your ship has just come in!
Re-Animator is presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen. This is an older title, so I knew it wouldn't be anamorphic, though my hopes are someday Elite will take the time and do this film justice for 16x9 TVs. Otherwise, this is a very nice transfer. Colors were very bright and bold without looking washed out, and blacks were nice and solid. Though there was a slight bit of edge enhancement, it was kept to a bare minimum. Grain and dirt were also non-present, and only the slightest shimmer was seen. Even with its small flaws, Re-Animator is a great looking disc.
The audio sounds great to my ears, considering the age and the budget it was shot on. For the DVD transfer, a 3-stripe mono audio mag used for the soundtrack. I haven't a clue what that means; I just saw it on the back of the case and thought it would make me sound much more audio savvy than I really am. A 5.1 remix would be great, but for now we'll have to live with a Dolby Digital Mono track in English. Dialogue, effects, and music were all mixed evenly. No subtitles are included.
Certain movies demand special treatment. Elite Entertainment has done the right and noble thing by not overlooking Re-Animator, and have turned it out as a special edition.
The first extra feature includes two commentary tracks, one by director Stuart Gordon and the other by Jeffery Combs (Dr. West), Bruce Abbot (Dr. Cain), Barbara Crampton (Meg Halsey), Robert Sampson (Dean Halsey), and producer Brain Yuzna. The Stuart Gordon track is the drier of the two, though it is quite informative. Stuart discusses how Re-Animator came about (the only place he could find a copy of the original story to read was at a public library), as well as casting choices and the different colors bodies take on after death (surprise! It's purple!). The second commentary, featuring the producer and the cast, is basically one big "Mystery Science Theater 3000" episode. Next to the Evil Dead commentaries, this track is one of the most entertaining in all of DVD-dom. Jeffery Combs and Bruce Abbot are especially funny while poking fun at everyone and everything that pops up on the screen. Barbara Crampton spends most of the time trying to get all the men to cover their eyes when her breasts appear on screen. Both of these tracks are a wonderful addition to this DVD edition.
As a bonus, there are even commentaries on some of the trailers and TV spots! Included are two TV spots (featuring ominous "warnings" about how terrifying Re-Animator is), as well as a theatrical trailer and an early promotional spot featuring yet another "warning." Apparently, the filmmakers were really putting their eggs into one basket even before this film opened.
Next up is a batch of sixteen deleted scenes from the original cut of the film. Many of these scenes are just extensions of other scenes already included in the film. Certainly a nice inclusion for fans like myself. A deleted "Dream Sequence" is included that gives a bit more explanation to West's behavior, and in my opinion would not have hindered Re-Animator at all if it would have been included in the final cut.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Unfortunately, Re-Animator is not presented in an anamorphic version. However, you have to consider that this was released back in 1997, so I forgive Elite Entertainment for that flaw. My only other complaint is minor, in that there is no paper insert with any liner notes or photos for the inside of the case. But you know what? I'm happy as Kate Moss eating Rice cakes to have this disc, so who cares?
Overall a wonderful disc to own with great extras and a good transfer. To my knowledge this is the only time Re-Animator has ever been offered in widescreen (except on the laserdisc). One of the top ten horror films ever made in my book, Re-Animator is a gas to watch year after year. A renter or, better yet, a buyer would be very pleased to have this in their collection. The fact that a supporting character gets his head chopped off halfway into the film and still recited his dialogue just tickles my pickles. There are only a handful of great movies in the "Living Dead Hall of Fame:" Night Of The Living Dead, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, The Return Of The Living Dead…and of course, Re-Animator.
Re-Animator, the Pink Flamingos of horror films, is acquitted and free to roam the rental shelves for unsuspecting patrons who think this will be a nice lil' horror film from the '80s. I'm sure that means we'll see him back in court soon. Elite is acquitted as well, but given a slap on the wrists for a non-anamorphic transfer.
Note: This review was published in its original version on September 12th, 2000 and updated August 3rd, 2001.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Elite Entertainment
• Deleted "Dream Sequence"
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