Re-Animator is a cult classic for a reason.
It’s a really, really good movie on a number of levels. It’s wonderfully gory, extremely funny, and delightfully cheesy.
It’s the blueprint that so many horror-comedies try to build upon, and so very few manage to get it right. This movie, based upon H.P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West – Re-Animator,” is a lot like a Sam Raimi film in the way that it can get big laughs out of grotesque situations. Except it’s better.
The story follows West (Jeffery Combs), a medical student who has developed a serum called Re-Agent, a substance designed to bring the dead back to life. He rooms with fellow student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), who eventually becomes a willing collaborator in West’s experiments. Also involved in the fiasco is Dan’s girlfriend (and the dean’s daughter), Megan (played by Barbara Crampton) – a not-so-willing participant.
As the pair works their way up the evolutionary ladder from deceased cats (in a simultaneously hilarious and exciting scene involving Dan’s recently-dead pet cat) to cadavers, though, it becomes evident that West’s formula not only restores life but turns its recipients into mindless zombies.
But West’s discovery is enough to get the attention of his instructor, famed neuroscientist Dr. Carl Hill, (played in a marvelously sinister fashion by the late David Gale) who intends to take credit for the Re-Agent serum himself, resulting in a head-splitting (see what I did there?) series of events that culminates in one of the most deliciously gory finales ever to grace a low-budget horror flick.
As I mentioned earlier, this movie is a wonderful combination of scares and laughs, but unlike the aforementioned forays by Sam Raimi, where the humor is front-and-center in such a fashion that the audience immediately knows it’s being played for laughs, there are moments in Re-Animator where I caught myself laughing and immediately had to ask myself, “Wait. It’s okay to laugh at that, right?”
It’s a more subtle type of humor, unlike the copious amounts of gore and blood which are in no way subtle. The gore is gratuitous and plentiful, but unlike the torture porn garbage of modern horror, it’s deliciously over-the-top so as to gross the audience out, but it also leaves room for levity and enjoyment.
The film isn’t a success on its humor and horror alone, however. The story, true to Lovecraft’s original, is ultimately a tale of moral ambiguity. As in most of Lovecraft’s work (and most good horror stories), there is no hero in the film. There are opportunists (West and Hill), there are cowards (Dan) who waver on their moral obligations, and there are victims (Megan and her father). At no point does any character in the movie do what the average onlooker would consider to be “the right thing.”
The performances are brilliant across the board, particularly from Combs as West. His arrogance and pomposity are matched by his determination and thirst for knowledge, and Combs is able to balance all of these traits in such a way that we can love and hate his young, mad scientist at the same time.
And David Gale is wonderfully malevolent as Dr. Hill, an opportunist in every sense of the word. In the film, Hill has an unhealthy obsession with Megan, and while it’s telegraphed brilliantly to the audience, Gale plays his obsession so naturally that we fully believe that Megan wouldn’t notice. It’s a nice combination of subtlety and gratuitousness that truly makes me sad that Gale is no longer alive.
Image Entertainment’s remastered 1080p VC-1 encoded video transfer isn’t mind-blowing by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s about as good as you’d expect from a 27-year-old no-budget horror film. The image is grainy and splotchy at times, but that generally keeps the film’s inherent charm intact. In spite of the age of the film and the less-than-stellar presentation, black levels are fantastic and some colors – in particular the glowing green of the Re-Agent formula – are rather striking.
As for the sound, Image brings Re-Animator to Blu-ray with a 5.1 DTS-Master Audio track is a fairly run-of-the-mill presentation. There aren’t any really noticeable improvements over prior DVD releases of the film, but there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the presentation either.
All-in-all, I can say I’m generally disappointed that a little more attention wasn’t given to cleaning up the audio or visual, but if you’re familiar with the film already, there aren’t any problems with the audio or the video that will diminish your enjoyment of the film. And if you aren’t already familiar with the movie… well, what do you expect? It’s a 27-year-old low-budget horror flick.
Beyond the Feature
All bonus features on the Blu-ray have been ported over from prior releases of the film, including the original Elite laserdisc/DVD release as well as the subsequent DVD from Anchor Bay. Having said that, though, there’s an absolute wealth of bonus materials to sift through.
My personal favorite was the documentary, ‘Re-Animator Ressurectus,’ which runs about 68 minutes and includes interviews with the cast as well as director Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna. The documentary covers the entire life of the project from conception to filming, and all participants speak about the picture with nothing short of reverence and glee. For Combs and Gordon in particular, the film sparked their careers, and it’s refreshing to see them pay such respect to their respective launching pads.
The rest of the bonus features are as follows:
- Commentary with Stuart Gordon
- Commentary with Yuzna, Combs, Abbott, and Crampton and Robert Sampson
- Interview with Gordon and Yuzna
- Interview with writer Dennis Paoli
- Interview with composer Richard Band
- Music Discussion with Band
- Interview with Fangoria editor Tony Timpone
- Deleted/Extended Scenes (26 minutes)
- Theatrical trailer
- TV spots
All bonus features are presented in standard definition
Re-Animator is a classic for all the reasons that you’d expect and for a few that you wouldn’t. It delivers shocks, it delivers gross-out, it delivers laughs, and (gasp!) it even makes you think if you’ll allow it.
Shop for Re-Animator on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (September 4, 2012 release date).