Re-Animator (Blu-ray)

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).

Special Features:

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

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Anthony Arrigo

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