Directed by Stuart Gordon
Distributed by Image Entertainment
Before delving into a technical review of Image’s Re-Animator Blu-ray, I hope you guys will forgive a somewhat more self-indulgent approach to this article. This is one of those movies for which I feel like the bases have been covered, making my own thoughts quite repetitious. Instead of recapping the plot and praising the performances, I thought I’d iterate Re-Animator’s longevity and staying power through my own personal experiences with it.
Re-Animator is a film I was only vaguely aware of during the VHS years. I was six in 1985 and therefore much too young to recall its theatrical exhibition. I was aware of its existence because of those old Mick Martin/Marsha Porter “Video Movie Guides”, but it was almost impossible to find within the radius of Massachusetts video stores I frequented. And so Re-Animator wasn’t present during my most impressionable days - when I’d watch The Evil Dead, Halloween and Dawn of the Dead with almost endless frequency. But its legend continued to grow, and I soon became obsessed with finding this outré gorefest. Hell, even Leonard Maltin managed to lather it with faint praise. It had to be good.
I caught up to it when I was in high school. I happened upon a video store that never before offered it as a rental but suddenly had a used copy for sale. Five bucks for one of those white plastic cases with the beautiful VHS box butchered to fit beneath the plastic sleeve. Needless to say, I bought it and raced home. 86 minutes later, with wide eyes and a dopey grin, I was already thinking about showing it to every single person I knew. Wanted to see how they’d react to a myriad of different scenes: the cat, the head, cunnilingus, and all-out zombie attack! Everything. Throughout high school, whenever I’d go to a friend’s house, there were two films I carried on me at all times: Evil Dead 2 and Re-Animator. If the suggestion ever turned to ”let’s just watch a movie”, I wanted to be ready.
Re-Animator is a special film because it succeeds effortlessly and with a confidence most films never muster. It’s funny without ever winking at the audience. But the humor is never at the expense of horror, delivering plenty of scary, spooky and/or unsettling bits. The performances are fantastic. The characters terrific. The direction assured. It’s an alignment the sequels couldn’t muster. Like Raimi’s Evil Dead films, these were the perverse treasures awaiting movie buffs in a pre-Internet world. Everything was more mysterious back then, and when you found a gem like Re-Animator, it encouraged you to keep looking. After all, what other movies were out there, just waiting to be found? It’s because of films like this that we’re all still here. Waiting for the next one to come along.
But we’re here to talk about the Image Entertainment Blu-ray, aren’t we? Here’s a film that’s been released countless times on DVD. So if you’ve got it in your collection (by way of the original Elite release, Elite’s Millennium Edition reissue or, most recently, Anchor Bay’s two-disc collector’s edition), you want to know if the Image disc is worth your time. And I’ll tell you. As someone who owns the original, non-anamorphic Elite disc and Anchor Bay’s collector’s package, I spent perhaps way too much time analyzing these transfers for this write-up.
In layman’s terms, Image Entertainment’s Blu-ray does offer an upgrade in picture quality. It looks … good. And when I first sampled the transfer, I was pretty impressed with what I saw: rich black levels, reasonable texture and details (backgrounds look particularly good), film grain, etc. I know a lot of folks are writing this off as a DVD upconvert (most likely because of Image’s 2011 wave of releases), but it’s not. After reviewing the old Elite and Anchor Bay discs, it looks to me like we're dealing with an aged HD transfer. Image says this Blu-ray was approved by Brian Yuzna, and I'm sure it was. But when? Sometime in the early 2000s is most likely. But the new Blu-ray is an upgrade. Yes, the Anchor Bay DVD still looks pretty good, but side-by-side with the new disc, it’s obvious to me that Image is selling something quite a bit more substantial than a shoddy SD upconvert.
Is it worth it? Yes and no. This probably isn’t the best that Re-Animator can look, but it’s enough of an improvement to my eyes on a 60” display. The difference may be a bit more negligible on setups of 40” and lower, but I think this is a solid video presentation from Image. If you’re a fan, then it’s worth the dip, although it's a pretty safe bet that we'll be seeing this sucker offered down the line again.
The DTS HD 5.1 surround sound track is pretty fun, too. Dialogue is strong and clear while the music and sound design are plenty rich. This doesn’t flex your surround speakers very much, but it’s a solid slice of AQ.
As far as supplements, almost everything has been ported over from Anchor Bay’s previous release (some of them being carried over from the Elite discs, which were themselves carried over from the laserdisc release). Dual commentaries (one with Stuart Gordon and the other with Brian Yuzna and actors Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton and Robert Sampson), the 70-minute Re-Animator: Resurrectus documentary, and a ton of interviews: Gordon and Yuzna (nearly 50 minutes), writer Dennis Paoli (10 minutes), two pieces on composer Richard Band (14 minutes and 16 minutes, respectively) and a brisk talk with former Fango editor Tony Timpone (4 minutes). There are also deleted/extended scenes and a collection of trailers/TV spots. The stills gallery and isolated score have not been ported over to this release, for whatever reason.
This won’t be the last time Re-Animator will be released, bet on it. If you’ve never owned a copy of the 80s classic before, this purchase is a no-brainer. The supplements are awesome and Image’s technical presentation is very good. For diehard collectors, you probably already know if you’re going to double (triple?) down on this one. Me? I’m happy with this disc, even if it’s not a brilliant restoration. It's getting harder to find people who haven't seen Re-Animator before, but when it happens, you know you're giving them an experience they'll never forget. And that's exactly why we love this twisted masterpiece. A shame you can only experience it for the first time once.
5 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5