Starring Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Distributed by Arrow Video
Somehow, someway, Stuart Gordon’s Lovecraftian splatter classic, Re-Animator (1985), managed to elude me throughout the entirety of my VHS renting glory days until 1999, when a friend popped in the old Elite DVD. I was blown away. I liken the experience to the first time I saw Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn (1987) in 1993, when Siskel & Ebert selected it as their Video Pick of the Week and I raced down to Wherehouse and had it in my VCR within the hour. Very few horror-comedies seamlessly blend the two and, most importantly, deliver on the promise of both laughs and terror. Re-Animator is not only a gore-ified classic of the practical FX era, but the gallows humor – nearly all of which comes courtesy of Jeffrey Combs – works so well because it is ridiculous but delivered with conviction. But this is not news. You’d be hard pressed to find many horror fans that haven’t seen the film at least once. And many of them are likely to own some version on home video. So, here come Arrow Video with yet another lavish presentation… but is it worth your money, again? Indeed.
After “giving life” to his old mentor Hans Gruber (Al Berry) in Switzerland, Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) heads to America to begin a promising medical education at Miskatonic University. There, he is given a tour by Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson) and introduced to prominent research professor Dr. Hill (David Gale) and fellow student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), with whom he bunks when a room opens in Cain’s house. West has trouble fitting in on campus, mainly due to his disdain for Dr. Hill’s “plagiarized” work that is derivative of Dr. Gruber’s research, and because Hill believes in “irreversible” brain death.
West, as viewers learn after the infamous “cat dead, details later” scene, has been developing his own proprietary formula that can cheat death, bringing the deceased back to life. But birth is painful; the results of his “success stories” often bring about more harm than good. Cain finds himself swept up in West’s grand vision but Dean Halsey won’t hear any of it, effectively expelling the two from medical school. While this is devastating for Cain, West sees it as a mere bump in the road, but these two should have quit while they were behind because their next foray into re-animation ushers in grave results.
Gordon’s film perfectly weaves together not only horror and comedy, but memorable characters, a chilling New England atmosphere, practical gore FX nasty enough to earn an “X” rating, and a controversial score that, while unquestionably aped from Psycho (1960), manages to complement and define this picture, too. Weird. There isn’t a weak link in any department. Jeffrey Combs, who had made his horror film debut only two years prior, delivers a career-defining performance as West, one of horror’s most ambivalent and captivating characters. Bruce Abbott delivers as the straight man med student who just wants to pass his classes, impress the Dean… and bang his daughter. And Crampton, as that daughter, began her career as a leading lady of horror who was always willing to drop her top right here in 1985. Finally, all the credit in the world goes to David Gale, who spends nearly half the film playing a rape-y head and it apparently cost him a marriage. The writing gives these characters depth and makes them relatable as humans with a goal; the development each experiences makes the substance of the script just as rich as the piles of flesh & bone.
Fans have had the option of two cuts of Re-Animator on home video for years: an unrated version, running 86 minutes, or an R-rated version, running 93 minutes. The main difference between the two being the unrated version is lean and mean, cutting down character moments in favor of a blood-soaked viewing experience. The R-rated version removes some of the most graphic FX work and adds in wonderful character extensions, such as Dr. Hill’s ability to use mind control. And if you were as much of a fan as I am, you probably alternated between both cuts because each had its merits. If only a cut with all that footage together existed…
And now it does. In 2013, an integral cut was put together, bringing the unrated and R-rated scenes together for a 105-minute feature. It has been available in Europe for a few years and now Arrow Video is finally bringing that cut to American shores. And personally, it truly is the best of both worlds. The extra character bits don’t slow the pacing of the film at all; if anything, as a viewer I feel more invested because so many attributes are fleshed out. And with all the gore intact none of the impact of those grotesque scenes is lost. Some may still prefer the breakneck pacing of the unrated cut, but for me, as a fan who enjoys spending time with these characters, the integral cut is my go-to from here on out.
Another major selling point: Arrow Video has done a new 4K scan restoration for both cuts of the film. The 1.78:1 1080p image trounces the previous Blu-ray by Image Entertainment, which was slightly cropped and looked poor all around. By comparison, Arrow’s release has to be the best this film has looked since theaters. The print is clean with virtually no signs of dirt or damage. Detail level is astounding, far past any previous home video release. The warmer contrast of Image’s disc has here been replaced with a cooler New England hue. Colors pop, especially all that blood red. Black levels are stable and rich. Re-Animator has never looked better and I doubt it even could.
The unrated cut offers audio options that include an English LPCM 2.0 mono or stereo track, or a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound track. The integral cut only has the option of English DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound. Since I only watched the integral cut I can’t comment on the quality of the unrated audio tracks but assuming they are similar to what I heard, viewers should be pleased with the quality. The surround sound mix on the integral cut is a little clunky at times – I don’t know whether to blame the original mix or the creation of this cut – but the overall experience is positive. Dialogue sounds clean and natural in its delivery. Band’s score sounds weighty with so much room to breathe. Subtitles are available in English SDH.
The majority of the bonus features are found on Disc 1, along with the unrated cut.
Three audio commentaries are included, featuring: Stuart Gordon; producer Brian Yuzna, actors Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott, and Robert Sampson; Stuart Gordon and Re-Animator: The Musical actors Graham Skipper & Jesse Merlin.
An isolated score option for Richard Band’s soundtrack is included.
“Re-Animator: Resurrectus” is a making-of documentary from 2007 that runs for over an hour. Similar to the pieces Scream Factory and Arrow produce, this doc gets all the right people to talk about all the right topics.
A handful of extended interviews are included, with Gordon, Yuzna, writer Dennis Paoli, Band, and Fangoria editor Tony Timpone.
“Music Discussion with composer Richard Band” is an informative, candid discussion about Band’s intentions and accomplishments with the film’s score.
“Barbara Crampton in Conversation” is a 2015 interview with the actress, wherein she discusses her entire career.
“The Catastrophe of Success” is an interview Stuart Gordon about his work in the world of theater.
“Theater of Blood” is an interview with Re-Animator: The Musical lyricist Mark Nutter.
A number of extended scenes are included, running for just over twenty minutes. There is also one deleted scene.
“Multi-Angle Storyboards” is an interactive feature that allows viewers to watch three different scenes from the film, as it was storyboarded and as it was shot.
A trailer, five TV spots, and a still gallery are also included.
On Disc 2, featuring the integral cut, there are two features to be found:
“A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema” is a nearly hour-long look at H.P. Lovecraft’s impact on filmmaking.
“Doug Bradley’s Spinechillers: Herbert West – Re-Animator” is a telling of the Lovecraft story, as read by Jeffrey Combs. It is available in six parts that can be accessed individually or listened to all at once.
If all of that isn’t enough, Arrow has also injected into this limited edition package a bound 92-page reprint of the 1991 Re-Animator comic book, four postcard-size lobby card reproductions, and a booklet with writings on the film and photographs. All of which comes housed in a sturdy case. It is on par with the lavish edition they produced last year for Bride of Re-Animator (1990).
2-DISC LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
- 4K restorations of the Unrated and Integral versions of the film
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
- Original Stereo 2.0 and 5.1 Audio
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
- Digipak packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Justin Erickson
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by writer Michael Gingold
- Re-Animator – the original 1991 comic book adaptation, reprinted in its entirety
DISC 1 – UNRATED VERSION
Unrated version [86 mins]
- Audio commentary with director Stuart Gordon
- Audio commentary with producer Brian Yuzna, actors Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott, and Robert Sampson
- Re-Animator Resurrectus – documentary on the making of the film, featuring extensive interviews with cats and crew
- Interview with director Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna
- Interview with writer Dennis Paoli
- Interview with composer Richard Band
- Music Discussion with composer Richard Band
- Interview with former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone
- Barbara Crampton In Conversation –the Re-Animator star sits down with journalist Alan Jones for this career-spanning discussion
- Deleted and Extended Scenes
- Trailer & TV Spots
DISC 2 – INTEGRAL VERSION – LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE
Integral version [105 mins]
- A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema – brand new featurette looking at the many various cinematic incarnations of writer H.P. Lovecraft’s work
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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