Re-Animator (1985)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Documentary, Interviews, Deleted/Extended Scens, and More

Stuart Gordon's 1985 horror-comedy opus set a boundary that no one has ever quite lived up to since in the genre. Making his film debut with "Re-Animator, " Gordon mixed bits of classic and contemporary horror elements, including a healthy twist on the "Frankenstein" story and over-the-top zombie gore, to create an undeniably entertaining feature that caught the critics' attention during its initial release and gained a devoted cult following in the years that followed. The movie is one of the least restrained horror films to ever hit the mainstream, going places most Hollywood directors would never dare consider. After more than 20 years, it remains remarkably fresh and, dare I say it, animated. Anchor Bay Entertainment now breathes new life into it again with a special double-disc DVD set.

Based on H. P. Lovecraft's serialized novella "Herbert West, Re-Animator," the story follows Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), a bright medical student with a promising future. With several scholarships and a romance with the dean's daughter, nothing seems to stand in his way. Nothing, that is, until he meets his new roommate. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) has just transferred from a prestigious school in Switzerland, where he was apparently involved in some shady experiments. Back in America, West finds a rival in lecherous professor Carl Hill (David Gale, a dead ringer for Frankenstein's monster), whose success is largely the result of plagiarizing the work of others. Dan stumbles upon West's deranged experiments in re-animating dead tissue, a discovery that quickly triggers a chain of frightening events.

At first terrified by West's life-giving serum, Dan slowly becomes intrigued, eventually coming to see the potential virtues of it. His girlfriend, Meg (Barbara Crampton), however, senses something wrong in West and begs Dan not to trust him. Naturally, Dan disregards her warnings and proceeds in helping his roommate find fresh corpses for experimentation. Before the night is over, two people will end up dead, one of them with a severed head – and that's only the beginning of Dan's problems.

Like so many genre flicks of the 1980s, "Re-Animator" offers literally gallons of blood and loads of unsavory images. Stuart Gordon doesn't just push the envelope of good taste with this one; he tears right through it. From the opening scene the gross factor is set at a high level, and it only escalates until it reaches a moment that has remained one of the most infamous in contemporary horror film history. The sheer audacity of this film is enough to justify its cult status, but there is much more to it that has made it one of the best entries in the splatter-film subgenre.

Violence and gore will only carry a film so far. What this movie has in its favor is a sharp and witty sense of dark humor. While sometimes campy, the comedy is played seriously by the actors, who never wink or nudge at the camera. Because they, and presumably the director, play it with such a deadpan approach, the humor is allowed to come through purely on its own. We squirm at the nastiest scenes but can't help but laugh at their outrageousness. The tightrope between laughs and scares is walked so expertly that they complement each other, and neither ever seems forced or unwelcome.

Casting is also a key element in the movie's effectiveness, and Gordon could not have chosen a better team of players. Jeffrey Combs, whose background consisted primarily of stage work, fully embodies Herbert West. His delivery and movements are mannered and theatrical, perfectly suited to a character who is almost completely out of touch with the living. He is matched by David Gale, whose imposing physicality and similar theatricality make him an ideal antagonist. Together, they conjure up memories of horror icons Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Anchor Bay's transfer on this DVD set is presumably the same one that appeared on Elite Entertainment's previous 2-disc release. Taking into consideration the low-budget quality of the source negatives, this transfer probably looks about as good as it can. It is slightly soft and sometimes murky. A negligent amount of grain shows up, and there are some infrequent speckles. Still, it is much cleaner than I would have expected, and the somewhat grimy quality suits the nature of the film. Colors are saturated nicely, and flesh tones look natural, if perhaps a tad reddish at times. The print does not suffer from digital artifacting or edge enhancement.

The audio is available in three tracks – a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, a DTS 5.1 track, and a 2.0 stereo track. The 5.1 mixes may be overshooting a little, as the sound quality – like the image – is rough. It comes off best during the more action-oriented scenes, as sound effects and zombie groans are distributed nicely around the speakers. Dialogue is clear, if a little hollow occasionally. Richard Band's memorable score, which cheerfully rips off Bernard Herrmann's "Psycho" theme, sounds just fantastic here. There are no subtitles but the disc offers closed-captions at least.

On disc 1 of this set, the film is accompanied by two audio commentaries from the previous DVD release. Director Stuart Gordon provides the first commentary, offering a straightforward and highly informative overview of the film and production. The second commentary features producer Brian Yuzna and actors Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, and Robert Sampson. While no where near as enlightening as the first commentary, the second one is fun to listen to, as the actors cut loose and spend most of their time joking about the movie. It comes dangerously close to resembling a "Mystery Science Theater 3000" track, but for a cult film as this I suppose it is appropriate. If you want something more substantial, Gordon's track is the obvious way to go.

Disc 2 is devoted mostly to a brand new documentary, "Re-Animator Resurrectus." Lasting 69 minutes and presented in anamorphic widescreen, this is about as thorough a treatment as you could hope for on this movie, featuring interviews with the director, producer, screenwriter Dennis Paoli, the four principle actors, make-up artists, the director of photography, and many more who were involved in the making of the film. Loads of behind-the-scenes photos are shown throughout, and the personal comments from so many crew members make this a tantalizing treat for fans. Although this is the only major addition to the previously available supplements, I could see many people going for the double dip on this one.

Following the documentary is a section of interviews. First up is a 49-minute conversation with Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna. Next is an 11-minute interview with writer Dennis Paoli. Composer Richard Band provides a 15-minute interview, then shows up again in a 17-minute segment that focuses on specific music cues in the film. This segment includes several scenes from the movie with a music-only track. Finally, there is a 5-minute interview with Tony Timpone, editor for Fangoria Magazine.

Next up are almost 30 minutes of deleted footage. First is a deleted dream sequence that was never included in any version of the film. We then get about 24 minutes of extended footage for 16 scenes in the film. This footage, all dramatic exposition, was included in the R-rated version of the film that was first released to home video in the 1980s in order to make up for the excised violence. It is all very interesting and adds some new dimension to the story, but ultimately the film works better without it.

Rounding out the disc are a trailer, five TV spots, several still galleries (including production stills, posters, and storyboards), and a new biography for Stuart Gordon. The screenplay for the movie and H. P. Lovecraft's original short story are included as DVD ROM features.

Also, a limited number of these sets include a nifty highlighter shaped like a hypodermic syringe, complete with green ink, just like the magic go-go juice in the film.

"Re-Animator" is a cult film for the ages. With it, Stuart Gordon twisted the horror conventions and reached new heights (or lows). Gore hounds will have a feast with the movie's buffet of grisly gags and bloody carnage. This film is definitely not for the squeamish. After all these years, "Re-Animator" is a splatter masterpiece that has not lost its ability to churn your stomach or inspire guffaws. I know this is corny, but I can't resist it. You'll die with laughter!