Blu-ray Review: Re-Animator (1985)

Re-Animator BR CoverDistributor: Second Sight Films

BBFC Classification: 18

Director: Stuart Gordon

Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Al Berry

Along with Evil Dead II and The Return of the Living Dead, director Stuart Gordon’s 1985 debut feature film Re-Animator stands as one of the finest examples of horror comedy from a decade that became known for madcap splatter movies.

The film opens in Switzerland, where medical student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs – From Beyond) is caught with a syringe full of green liquid in his hand and leaning over the convulsing body of his mentor Dr. Gruber (Al Berry), which then seems to implode in a gooey mess as West declares “I gave him life”.

West returns to the US where he continues his studies at the Miskatonic University under the tutelage of Dr. Hill (David Gale – The Brain), whom West despises as he feels Hill has stolen many of Gruber’s ideas on brain death. West moves in with fellow pupil Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott – Bad Dreams), a promising student who is dating the university Dean’s daughter Megan (Barbara Crampton – From Beyond/You’re Next), and continues developing his fluorescent green life-giving serum in the basement. When Dan’s cat is found dead in West’s fridge, Dan joins West in trying to perfect the serum and so begins a catalogue of disasters that end up with severed heads and mutant intestines wreaking havoc at the university as West tries desperately to prove his theories and keep Dr. Hill from stealing his ideas.

What makes Re-Animator so successful and slightly different to other horror comedies like the aforementioned Evil Dead II and The Return of the Living Dead is the fact that all the actors play it completely straight despite the sheer lunacy of the situation unfolding around them. Unlike many of his peers, director Stuart Gordon came from a theatre background and made the cast rehearse the film for a week before the cameras were even switched on, ensuring that everybody knew what to do and when to do it. Jeffrey Combs exemplifies this method with his intentionally dour and humourless performance as Herbert West, the Dr. Frankenstein of the film who, like Peter Cushing’s take on the scientist, doesn’t see the immoral implications of his work and believes he is ultimately doing good.

Barbara Crampton and Bruce Abbott also do a fine job – with Crampton going above and beyond in a certain, infamous scene – and keep totally straight faces throughout, although their characters do have a lot more humility than West and are the ones we are supposed to side with. The other notable performance is David Gale as the intimidating Dr. Hill, the actor channelling Boris Karloff with his slow-moving but authoritarian presence. He gets even closer to classic Karloff territory when his ultimate fate is telegraphed but you really need to see it to get the full effect.

So if the actors are playing it down, where does the film get its manic reputation from? Well, that would be the outrageous special effects that ensure that everybody who appears in the film gets showered in blood and guts before the end credits roll. Heads gets cut open, chopped off and carried around by re-animated corpses, eyes bulge and explode, cats get re-animated and flung around, and over-juiced cadavers open up and spew a mass of snake-like killer intestines; it’s all played out with the same frantic energy of the other titles mentioned but the actors keep it all in check. And what really shines through, especially watching it now in this digital age, is that everything is done practically and looks fantastic, except for the re-animated cat (but that’s deliberate).

This re-packaged edition contains the same shed-load of extras that Second Sight Films packed onto their Steelbook release from a couple of years back. The feature-length documentary Re-Animator Resurrectus is included on the second disc and covers the production in great detail, featuring all of the key players (except the late David Gale) who remember the shoot fondly. There are plenty of great stories, including Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna recounting the story of the film’s theme tune, which was composed by Richard Band and bore more than a passing resemblance to Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho score, but Gordon makes the valid point that the jaunty nature of the theme highlighted the comedy that Re-Animator contained, especially coming after the gloopy opening scene with Dr. Gruber’s exploding eyes. There are also commentaries from several of the cast and crew, with Stuart Gordon providing a solo commentary as Brian Yuzna, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott and Robert Sampson (Dean Halsey) provide another, and interviews with several other notable contributors.

The 4K restoration of the film looks amazing and really highlights the bright colours and excellent special effects, and as a film it is endlessly rewatchable and never boring. Although Stuart Gordon has gone on to make several notable genre films – From Beyond, The Pit & the Pendulum, Castle Freak and Stuck all have their merits – he has never quite repeated the magic that he wielded with Re-Animator, and although Jeffrey Combs always improves every film he’s in it is as Herbert West that he will always be remembered. Needless to say, this is a film that deserves its classic status and will continue to endure in the same way that the other genre staples have, and this wonderful Blu-ray package is an absolutely essential purchase (unless you already own the Steelbook).

Re-Animator

Special Features: The ‘Unrated’ Version – brand new 4K restoration, The ‘Integral’ Version, audio commentary with director Stuart Gordon, audio commentary with producer Brian Yuzna and actors Jeffrey Combs, Robert Sampson, Barbara Crampton and Bruce Abbott, Re-Animator Resurrectus documentary, interviews with Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna, writer Dennis Paoli, composer Richard Band and Fangoria editor Tony Timpone, extended scenes, deleted scene, trailers, gallery.

UK Release Date: 14th March 2016

Second Sight Films – Website

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6 thoughts on “Blu-ray Review: Re-Animator (1985)

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