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Herbert West is obsessed with the idea of bringing the dead back to life. Experimenting with a glowing green fluid, he successfully reanimates dead tissue. Unfortunately, the dead are uncontrollable and difficult to subdue.
For more about Re-Animator and the Re-Animator Blu-ray release, see Re-Animator Blu-ray Review published by Michael Reuben on August 31, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott (I), David Gale, Barbara Crampton, Robert Sampson, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon
Director: Stuart Gordon
» See full cast & crew
Re-Animator Blu-ray Review
It's Dead! It's Alive! It's Dead! It's Alive! It's Dead AND It's Alive!
Reviewed by Michael Reuben, August 31, 2012
If Re-Animator were just an exceptionally gory film (which it is), it wouldn't have nearly the reputation it does. Director Stuart Gordon's debut feature shattered all conventions when it came to showing disgusting imagery, but there's been plenty more splatter where that came from, and very little has had Re-Animator's staying power. What accounts for this low-budget classic's longevity? Start with the source material. The H.P. Lovecraft stories on which the film is based may not have been the author's proudest moment (according to Gordon, Lovecraft wrote them for money and was ashamed of them), but they were well-crafted and provided a firm narrative backbone for the film, even as Gordon and two co-writers made substantial changes. Anyone can spew buckets of entrails and stage blood on screen, but audiences won't be scared unless it's part of a well-told story. And even though Gordon had never directed a film before, he'd been telling stories for years as the director of the Organic Theater Company in his native Chicago, a background that would serve him well. Among other things, it led him to cast actors with stage experience like Jeffrey Combs and David Gale, whose theatrically exaggerated performance style perfectly suited Re-Animator's over-the-top material. (Smart directors of horror, sci-fi and fantasy cinema often recruit stage-trained actors who know how to play "big"; it's why Peter Jackson cast so many in The Lord of the Rings.) As a good theater director, Gordon insisted on rehearsing his cast for several weeks before production began, an almost unheard-of luxury in modern filmmaking. By the time the company arrived on their dilapidated set, everyone knew what story they were telling. They were ready to make the gore count for something. As Gordon says in his commentary, actors are "the best special effect there is". Finally, there's the film's comedy, which was put there deliberately. Composer Richard Band was so taken with the film's comic elements that he deliberately parodied Bernard Hermann's famous theme from Psycho, on the theory that no one could possibly miss the joke. (Naturally, some people did.) As actress Barbara Crampton says in the accompanying documentary, parts of Re-Animator are gross (stomach-churningly so), but parts are very funny. What Crampton doesn't say, though I suspect she'd agree, is that they're often the same parts.
As star Jeffrey Combs says in the documentary Re-Animator Resurrectus, the film packs a lot of story into its 86-minute running time. The (you'll forgive the term) animating force of the narrative is a bright green potion invented by a modern day Dr. Frankenstein named Herbert West (Combs) that miraculously re-animates dead tissue. West wants to conquer death, but as is always the case with mad scientists, things never go according to plan. After a brief prologue set in Switzerland, where West's mentor, Dr. Gruber (Al Berry), perishes spectacularly, the action shifts to Miskatonic Medical School in Arkham, Massachusetts, where the rest of the film plays out. Re-Animator can best be described as an overlapping series of dramatic triangles, in each of which something's got to give. The most obvious and ordinary triangle is that involving promising med student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) and Megan Halsey (Crampton), daughter of Miskatonic's dean (Robert Sampson). With Cain, Megan is a mature and sexual woman, but with her puritanical father, who is a widower, she still plays the dutiful daughter who cooks and keeps his house. In front of the Dean, Megan and Cain comport themselves like teenagers. Not until Cain graduates to become a full-fledged doctor can they openly declare themselves an adult couple. A second and more sordid triangle lurks beneath the surface, such that Megan and Cain are barely aware of it. Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale, in a bad wig necessitated by the makeup effects, but perfectly symbolizing his false exterior) is the dean's close friend, Cain's professor of neuroanatomy and one of Miskatonic's most effective grant generators. He's also obsessed with Megan to the point of being a stalker, and he's not above insinuating to his friend Dean Halsey that the young med student in his class isn't good enough for the dean's daughter. The arrival of mad Herbert West as a transfer student creates additional triangulations, as West sublets a room from Cain and resumes his experiments in the basement, starting with Cain's cat. When Cain discovers West's work, he's repulsed but also fascinated, because he's an idealist who can't bear losing a patient and can't resist West's siren song of eternal life through re-animation. Megan senses that she's losing her lover to West, and an epic battle for Cain's soul arcs through the rest of the film, remaining unresolved until the very last shot. By then, the experiments have moved to the med school's morgue, and a lot more than a cat has been re-animated. As Gordon likes to point out, Re-Animator successfully switches villains in midstream. Initially it's West with his crazed effort to bring back the dead. But when Dr. Hill steals West's work, he becomes a much more dangerous monster. You could say that Dr. Hill loses his head over the prospect of taking credit for a discovery that could win him the Nobel Prize. (Then again, as West taunts him: "Get a job in a sideshow!") As cheesy as some of the practical make-up effects may seem, they are actually more effective than a CGI equivalent. There's substance to a live person covered in latex, gel and stage blood that a digital creation just can't match. You can feel it in the reactions of the other actors on the set. The infamous scene in which Megan is strapped to a table, stripped naked and sexually assaulted by a re-animated body part simply wouldn't be the same if Barbara Crampton had been shot against a blue screen and the attacker added after the fact.
Re-Animator Blu-ray, Video Quality
The source material for Image Entertainment's 1080p, VC-1-encoded Blu-ray is in remarkably good condition, considering the age and low budget of the production. Except for occasional, minor speckling and a few random print blotches, the material is clean. (I know this sentiment isn't universally shared, but I actually enjoy the occasional print flaw; it's how I've seen film for most of my life.) The overall image is soft, which has led some internet posters to claim that the Blu-ray is a DVD "upconvert". It isn't, and any claim to the contrary bespeaks an over-reliance on screenshots. There's too much detail in faces, hair, clothing, sets and make-up for the Blu-ray to be an upconvert from a 480p image, and it's the kind of detail that isn't necessarily obvious from a still frame. (People too often forget that Blu-ray is a lossy video format and "persistence of vision" plays its part in video compression.) This isn't to say that a new scan at some future date might not reveal additional layers from the negative of Re-Animator, because the technology for translating film to the digital realm is constantly improving. But the current Blu-ray is no slouch and offers a worthy presentation of this tricky material. Black levels are generally excellent, which is essential for the many scenes that use darkness strategically. Colors, notably blood red and the peculiar green of Herbert West's re-animating "agent", are vibrant and well-saturated; this quality is also noticeable in the famous title sequence designed by Robert Dawson (Ed Wood, Point Break, The Fifth Element and many others). The film's grain structure appears natural and unfiltered, and there is no evidence of artificial sharpening. To accommodate the film and extensive extras, Image uncharacteristically stretched for a BD-50. I do not have the Elite "Millennium Edition" for direct comparison, but I have looked at a few of the screen captures that show cropping on the Blu-ray as compared to that edition. The Elite DVD has black borders on all four sides, a practice that was sometimes adopted by DVD producers when CRT sets with major overscan were still the prevailing display device. Now that overscan is much less of an issue, I suspect that Blu-ray producers are more comfortable filling the disc's entire frame. In any case, the compositions on the Re-Animator Blu-ray did not look cramped or compromised.
Re-Animator Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The film's original mono track was remixed at some point for 5.1 and is presented here as DTS-HD MA 5.1. There's nothing particularly surround-worthy about the mix, but the format does give Richard Band's lively score room to breathe, and it sounds great. Dialogue is so clear that you can immediately detect almost every bit of looping, which only adds to the film's low-budget character.
Re-Animator Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Some of the extras for Re-Animator, notably the commentaries and the deleted/extended scenes, date back to the laserdisc released by Elite Entertainment in the mid-1990s. These were included by Elite on a DVD of Re-Animator released in 1999 and a two-disc "Millennium Edition" released in 2004. The Millennium Edition also included extensive interviews and an isolated music track, among other new extras. In 2007, Anchor Bay acquired the rights and released a two-disc special edition that preserved most of the extras previously prepared by Elite, plus an all new documentary. (I don't have the Anchor Bay set, but as far as I can tell, it did not include the isolated music track.) The Blu-ray from Image preserves most of the extras found on the Anchor Bay edition.. Omitted are: various still galleries (Production; Behind-the-Scenes; Fun on the Set; Posters and Advertising) and DVD-ROM features, including the screenplay and the text of H.P. Lovecraft's "Herbert West: Reanimator" series.
Re-Animator Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Producer Brian Yuzna likes to tell the story of attending his first screening of Re-Animator at the Paramount (as it was then known) in Los Angeles, where audience members were standing and yelling at the screen, and some of them left—and then came back. Over a quarter century later, Re-Animator still has a powerful impact, especially on first-time viewers, because Gordon and his collaborators had the courage of their convictions to pursue the story's dark themes to rigorously logical (if twisted) resolutions. Nothing was sugarcoated, and certainly nothing was held back. It's understandable that some fans are waiting for a later release. Independent horror films are prime candidates for multiple editions, because the fanbase is loyal. A U.K. release of Re-Animator is reportedly being prepared, and this Image disc certainly won't be the last version in Region A. But it's available now, it's well done, and it's a good deal. Recommended.
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Re-Animator Blu-ray, News and Updates
• This Week on Blu-ray: September 4 - 11 - September 2, 2012
This week sees the release for an enduring cult classic: Re-Animator. Based on a story from author H.P. Lovecraft, this horror film takes a graphically perverse look at medical student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) and his attempts to bring the dead back to life. ...
• Re-Animator Blu-ray - July 17, 2012
Image Entertainment will release on Blu-ray Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator (1985), starring Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott and Barbara Crampton. The Blu-ray will be available for purchase online and in shops across the United States on September 4th.
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