The Film: 5/5
**This review is based on a test disc provided by Second Sight and may not reflect the final product. We will update the review if and when the final product is received.**
In the words of the great philosopher Goat Boy, hey, remember the 80's? Many of us do, and many of us would rather forget that decade ever happened. Not me, though. Sure the fashions were atrocious, the politics shameless, and the music unpleasant to the ear, but.... the movies were pretty cool. That's about it. The decade's horror movies are particularly interesting to revisit in contemporary times due to the fact that precious few contained anything that could be considered frightening and nightmare-inducing as the years wore on. They were violent and gory, of course, and mostly a ton of fun to watch on the big screen or the home viewing format of our choice. The list of horror movies made and released in the 1980's that could hold a candle to timeless classics of the genre is a slim one. I would include The Shining, the original Friday the 13th, The Evil Dead, An American Werewolf in London, Poltergeist, the remakes of The Thing and The Fly, Aliens, and the first A Nightmare on Elm Street.
And Re-Animator as well.
If you are reading this there is a 98% chance you have already seen this movie, so I'm going to forego writing a traditional review and strive for something a bit more personal instead. When I was 11 years old the USA Network (back when they were cool and not a dumping ground for bland, interchangeable dramas featuring pretty people in expensive wardrobes staring lustfully at one another) began broadcasting this strange yet amazing half-hour program on Friday nights called Shadow Theater. Robert Englund was the host. It was very short-lived, running a single season. Couldn't have been very popular then. I'm pretty sure it wasn't a favorite of the parents since it was devoted to horror entertainment and often showed gruesome scenes from the goriest fright flicks of their time. Shadow Theater wasn't aired during family hour and I was usually able to catch it by my lonesome when my parents were mysteriously not around. That show served as my introduction to many spectacular splatter films I knew only by their reputation and the artistically violent VHS box art I would gaze upon lining the shelves of my neighborhood video stores as if they were museum-quality paintings by the likes of Monet and Gauguin, but were never permitted to rent until I had matured further. That was quite a understandable reason, because when I was a kid it didn't take much to terrify me. I didn't get into horror until later in my teen years. By then I had seen enough latex monsters and stage gore to qualify as a true fan of the genre, but I still had a lot of catching up to do.
Fortunately my mom trusted me enough to let me rent whatever dark, disgusting, and depraved movies I desired to watch provided that I do so only when my younger siblings weren't around. Thus I began my ongoing mission to devour any flick involving zombies, vampires, werewolves, mad scientists, masked madmen, underdressed damsels in distress, and chainsaws used in a variety of manners with the exception of wood cutting. I loved the crazed action, over-the-top performances, shameless jump scares, gonzo make-up effects, and the spilling of enough fake blood to overflow an Olympic-size swimming pool. Everything I love about modern horror is contained withing the 86 frenzied, imaginative, and often just plain wrong minutes of Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator. Pairing up with producer Brian Yuzna and screenwriter Dennis Paoli, the former Chicago experimental theater director made his feature debut adapting an H.P. Lovecraft short story for the Reagan era and the results were unlike anything horror fans had ever seen, even in a decade dominated by films designed to leave nothing to the imagination. Gordon's direction is tight and assured and his experience working with gifted actors gives him a greater advantage than most filmmakers working in horror at the time. He was a true believer, not a carpetbagging mercenary, and in his guiding hands Re-Animator became a exploitation movie with heart, soul, and gallows wit. That's truly something you don't see happening often.
The cast is perfectly chosen. Jeffrey Combs became a horror film icon on the strength of his performance as the demented Dr. Herbert West, investing dark humor and nuanced sympathy into the screen's most lovable anti-hero lunatic since Norman Bates. Bruce Abbott is well cast as the handsome hero of the piece (because there's always at least one), while the eternally gorgeous Barbara Crampton earns her place as one of the definitive scream queens of 80's horror and provides Re-Animator with an honest emotional center all at once. The late David Gale's performance as West's loathsome rival Dr. Hill is one for the books, especially when he becomes a horrific special effects creation in the third act. The memorable FX work was accomplished by a stellar team that included Everett Burrell (Prometheus) and an uncredited John Carl Buechler, and the amazing (and deceased since 2004) Robert Burns of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame was responsible for the art direction. Richard Band's music score, often derided as sounding like the dance remix of Bernard Herrmann's iconic Psycho soundtrack, fits the action and quieter scenes of Re-Animator brilliantly. The great Swedish cinematographer Mac Ahlberg does some of the finest work of his career in this film, capturing the cold, unwelcoming interiors of Miskatonic University with nausea-inducing detail and precision.
The Region A Blu-ray released by Image Entertainment in 2012 was widely criticized for its less-than-stellar picture and sound quality. The print looked fine but it was little more than a decent 1080p upgrade of the same grainy print that had been used by other companies who distributed Re-Animator on DVD in the past. Second Sight went ahead and sprang for giving the 86-minute unrated director's cut of the film the full 4K restoration treatment. The picture has been reframed to 1:78:1 from the original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, but the framing was done correctly and and as far as I'm concerned no visual information was lost in the process. Second Sight's transfer offers a modest improvement over previous releases with smoother details and a reduction in grain, while Gordon's vibrant color scheme is sharper and brighter than ever. The disc offers two audio options for the unrated version. Though the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is clean, robust, and free of defects it isn't significantly different than the English PCM 2.0 Stereo track that replicates the film's original mono sound with sparkling clarity and depth. English subtitles have also been provided.
Let's see now. I've owned Re-Animator three times on DVD - the first Elite Entertainment disc released in 1999 that ported over all of the extra features from the 1995 10th Anniversary Edition laserdisc, Elite's 2002 2-disc Millennium Edition packaged in a fluorescent green box with every extra from the previous disc plus new video interviews with major players from the production team, and the 2007 Anchor Bay Entertainment 2-disc set featuring everything from the first two releases plus a new feature-length documentary - and Image Entertainment's aforementioned Region A Blu that contained pretty much every supplement from the laserdisc and DVD editions has been in my collection since its release. Second Sight's release of Re-Animator crams just about every commentary, documentary, interview, cut scene, and trailer from the various U.S. discs onto two single-layer Blu-ray discs while throwing an interesting bonus exclusive to this release. Second Sight has also upgraded the majority of the extra features on the second disc to 1080p high-definition.
Disc 1 brings back the two laserdisc audio commentaries (which are presently almost twenty years old) to accompany the unrated version: the first has director Gordon flying solo but despite the occasional dead air he has much to talk about by his lonesome in regards to the origins of Re-Animator, making his directorial debut, dealing with a myriad of production headaches, and more. Having his wife Carolyn or screenwriter Paoli join in the fun would have made for a more listenable track, but this is still a terrific commentary for anyone interested in learning the nuts and bolts of indie horror filmmaking. The second track is the more active and enjoyable of the two and unites producer Yuzna with stars Combs, Abbott, Crampton, and Robert Sampson. As is the case with cast commentaries there's a lot of fond remembrances, wisecracks, odd conversational tangents, and sometimes everyone just hushes up and watches the movie. It's those stretches of silence that will have you tempted to switch back to one of the main audio channels because you may or may not miss a good joke or observation. Elite's Millennium Edition sported the complete Richard Band music score on an isolated Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but to that date it has not made the cut on any other home video release of the film, including Second Sight's.
The main feature of the second disc is the extended "Integral Version" cut of Re-Animator, which is available only on Second Sight's Blu-ray and runs nearly twenty minutes longer than the director's preferred unrated version. The additional material restored to this cut was deleted from the final film for very good reasons, mostly because the previously cut scenes were superfluous and disrupted the steady flow of the pacing. When the film was first released on VHS in the mid-1980's it was made available in both unrated and R-rated editions to satisfy the more family-friendly video stores and most of the cut scenes were added to the R-rated version increase the running time since the gore and nudity had to be edited down from their original uncut form. As a result the R-rated cut ended up running longer than the unrated cut. Though their inclusion is redundant some of the scenes are interesting to watch for what they could have added to the story, most notably a scene where West injects himself with a diluted version of the Re-Agent in order to keep from having to sleep. The extended confrontation between West and Dr. Hill over the reanimating serum is also worthwhile as it gives West a few additional motivations for doing away with his rival when Hill initially proposes the two of them team up - with Hill getting the lion's share of the credit for the serum's creation - and insists that Cain must be killed to protect their secret.
Second Sight has remastered the Integral Version in 1080p high-definition and supplemented it with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, so at least it looks and sounds terrific. But this version is strictly for curiosity value only. One watch and you'll appreciate the painstaking effort Gordon and editor Percy put into shaping the footage the director shot into the timeless masterpiece it exists as today.
"Re-Animator Resurrectus" (69 minutes) was produced for the 2007 Anchor Bay set and brings back most of the surviving cast and crew to talk about the making of the film, its positive reception from critics and audiences, and the cult following it garnered thanks to the video boom. It's a good combination of talking head interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. From the Elite Millennium Edition are four video interviews running a total of 81 minutes in length: Gordon and Yuzna (49 minutes); screenwriter Paoli (11 minutes); composer Band (16 minutes); and Fangoria editor Tony Timpone (5 minutes). Despite some occasional overlap with the two commentaries and the retrospective doc there is a lot more fascinating stories and production info to be learned from watching these interviews. Band also talks about the importance of his music in the film and presents four scenes with only the score to illustrate his points (16 minutes), but unlike the Elite disc this feature does not come with a multi-angle viewing option.
The extended scenes from the Intergral Version are available to watch as one 21-minute reel. There is also a deleted dream sequence (3 minutes) that was not included in the alternate cut but has been remastered in 1080p HD. Two theatrical trailers, three television spots, and two still galleries (Behind-the-Scenes and Production Stills) close out the set.
Re-Animator, baby. Not just one of the greatest horror film of the 1980's, but one of the greatest of all time. With its 30th anniversary just a year away it still has no equal in the genre. This movie is simply perfect in every conceivable way. There isn't much more I can say. If you haven't watched Re-Animator you need to rectify that pathetic lapse in judgment pronto. Second Sight's all-frills Blu-ray is just the way to go. One of the best Blus of the year for an unbeatable classic of the genre.