Director - Stuart Gordon
Cast - Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale
Country of Origin - U.S.
Discs - 1
Distributor - Image Entertainment
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
Date - 09/18/2012
The Film (5/5)
I have been a fan of the written work of H.P. Lovecraft since an extremely young age. His tales of cosmic horror fueled my young imagination, and being also a bit of a movie buff even at that point in time found myself renting any video with the Lovecraft name attached to it. Over the years this lead me to some truly dire films such as The Unnamable I and II, Lurking Fear, The Haunted Palace, Cthulhu Mansion, and Necronomicon. Finally, in my late teens I discovered one film that while taking liberties with Lovecraft's source material truly created something that could be described as Lovecraftian, that film was Stuart Gordon's first Lovecraft adaptation H.P. Lovecraft's Re-Animator.
Re-Animator stars Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West, the titular Re-Animator. As the film begins he is performing an experiment on Hans Gruber a medical professor who he studies under in Switzerland. It appears that Gruber has just died, and West eager to try out his Re-Agent on a human has injected Gruber with the serum. Unfortunately, it does not work as hoped and leaves Gruber an eyeless splattery mess on the floor.
An undisclosed amount of time later, West ends up at Miskatonic University (a favorite Lovecraft locale) Medical School. Here he becomes the student of Dr. Carl Hill, who he considers a plagiarist of his former mentors work. West then goes about attempting to disrespect, and discredit him at every turn. He also continues his experiments in the basement of a house, he shares with "Miskatonic Medical's best hope for the future of medicine" Daniel Cain. One night after bringing Cain's cat back from the dead the duo join forces to better work on West experiments, this time with human cadavers supplied by the Miskatonic morgue.
Unfortunately, for the pair things do not go very well, and they end up killing the Dean of the University. The Dean is also the Father of Megan, Dan's girlfriend, further complicating things. The duo quickly reanimate the Dean, but doing this gives him the appearance of an insane man, and he is locked up in the care of Dr. Hill who begins to experiment on him. He, of course, discovers that the Dean is dead, and has been re-animated. Hill then goes about attempting to steal West's secret. . Of course Herbet Weset will not make that an easy proposition, he decapitates Hill, and resurrects him. Even headless Hill makes a formidable opponent knocking West out, and stealing his Re-Agent. He then puts his plan into motion by kidnapping Meg, and reanimating a legion of zombies to take down West and Cain in one of the most memorable climaxes in 80's horror cinema.
Re-Animator came out during the period where comedy and gory horror films were first starting to meet up. It was during this period that we received such notable goodies such as Evil Dead II, Bad Taste, and Return of the Living Dead, but Re-Animator had a way of pushing the envelope just a a bit further. Even today when I show the film to newcomers, I am surprised at the reactions it incites. The offbeat atmosphere created by Stuart Gordon and company, a blend of comedy, violence, cosmic otherworldly horror, and just enough drama to keep the plot from drowning under all those buckets of blood is a truly volatile horror cocktail.
It could be said that Re-Animator has some of the greatest performances in 80's horror cinema. Jeffrey Combs takes the Herbert West character as written, and brings him to deliriously fleshed out life. Similar to Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead II, his performance dominates everything else going on in the film, and every moment he is on screen all attention is focused on said performance. We then have Bruce Abbott and Barbara Crampton as Dan Cain and Meg Halsey respectively. Bruce could have easily just played Dan as second fiddle, a sort of Robin to West Batman, but he injects the character with enough dramatics and life that you can feel the conflicts he is going through as a student who wants a greater future, and as a Doctor who wants to save millions of lives by helping West perfect the Re-Agent. Similarly, Barbara Crampton could have played Meg as a typical ditzy companion to Dan and West, but she fleshes our her character with immense depth caught between her love for her Father ,and for Cain. Finally, no truly great horror film can exist without some sort of fantastic villainous presence, and David Gale as Dr. Carl Hill definitely brings that presence in spades. He brings a disturbed menace to his performance from the moment he first appears on screen, and never lets up until the very end.
Even as a first time director Stuart Gordon seemed completely on top of his game. The Special FX for Re-Animator are some of the finest of the decade, and have excited genre fans for decades at this point, and probably will for decades to come. The script by Dennis Paoli, William Norris, and Stuart Gordon seemingly does the task of updating Lovecraft's 6 part serial into something that could be a modern, yet still Lovecraftian. And as someone who came to this film from Lovecraft, I find this to be Re-Animatorís greatest accomplishment, a true homage to the masters work.
Re-Animator has been one of my most highly desired titles since Blu-ray was first announced as a format, so when Image Entertainment announced their release of the film in High Definition I knew that I was going to have to get it almost immediately upon release. I was ready heap praise on the restoration I knew was coming, I mean Re-Animator is a seminal film of 80's horror there was no way it would just be thrown out onto the format.
Image Entertainment has released Re-Animator with a 1080p AVC encoded transfer in a 1:78:1 aspect ratio that may actually cut the film down from it's original 1:85:1 ratio. This transfer appears to be the exact same one from Elite Entertainment's decade old Millennium Edition DVD, which was probably not scanned for HD at the time of release. Now that DVD when it came out was very good to my eyes. This Blu-ray, however, had so much promise that it is nothing but a disappointment. I will admit colors, and fine detail do get a boost, but the whole thing appears very soft and washed out. The same print damage that circulated on the transfer is here, and the black levels range from solid to slightly off.
I will state that I do prefer little restoration on a title rather than too much restoration (see the Lone Wolf and Cub box set for an example of too much). Kino Lorber and Redemption have become masters of creating great transfers through little restoration, however, when it is obvious that the source you are using is not up to HD standards that is certainly a problem. Even the Lionsgate Dead Alive Blu-ray looked better than this.
As far as audio goes we gets a 5.1 Master Audio track in English. This track is completely serviceable, dialogue comes through loud and clear, as do the effects. Richard Band's famous Psycho-homaging score has honestly never sounded better than it does here.
All the extras have been ported over from the Anchor Bay DVD version of Re-Animator. There have been complaints that Image did not create any new extras, but honestly with extras as elaborate as these, there isn't many other places they could go. The disc kicks off with a commentary track by director Stuart Gordon, and a separate, and quite energetic cast and crew commentary featuring Brian Yuzna, Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, and Robert Sampson. We then have a 68 minute long documentary Re-Animator Resurrectus that gathers the cast and crew of the film for a proper discussion of the film from the ground up, this is the single greatest extra on the disc, and while some points are covered in the commentary there is more than enough new material to justify it. Following up from that we get a 49 minute sit down with both Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon, and then a 10 minute interview with Dennis Paoli, and a 2 Interviews with Richard Band (Composer). We then get a 5 minute interview with former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone. The disc is rounded off by nearly 30 minutes of deleted scenes, the theatrical trailer, and TV spots.
Re-Animator is one of the finest horror films of the 1980's, and possibly of all time. It's a smart mix of horror and comedy, with great gory set pieces that have to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately, the A/V transfer is completely lacking and not nearly what it could have been. If you have the Anchor Bay DVD, then honestly I cannot recommend an upgrade. If you don't own a copy, or have the old Elite disc and want the Resurrectus doc that was on the AB disc then pick this up because there is enough of an upgrade in that case. I cannot recommend Re-Animator the movie enough, the extras are great, the transfer is lacking I guess.... Recommended.