• Re-Animator (Umbrella Entertainment) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released on: June 6th, 2018.
    Director: Stuart Gordon
    Cast: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale
    Year: 1985
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    The Movie:

    Stuart Gordon’s feature length directorial debut, 1985’s Re-Animator, was released twice on DVD courtesy of Elite Entertainment in both single disc and double disc (as one of their Millennium Edition releases) formats and then a third time when the rights having shifted over to Anchor Bay Entertainment. The movie then received its fourth uncut North American release, its first on Blu-ray, courtesy of Image Entertainment followed by a superior looking German release and then a UK release from Second Sight Films that included not only the unrated cut (1:26:06) but the ‘integral’ cut (1:44:56) of the movie as well (on two separate Blu-ray discs). The integral cut is basically all of the gore from the unrated version combined with the story details from the R-rated version of the movie. If you want a really comprehensive breakdown of what’s different, check out the Movie Censorship article here. In 2017 the film was revisited by Arrow Video, and now Australia’s Umbrella Entertainment take a stab at it with a two-disc release including both the unrated cut and the integral cut on two separate discs.

    But before we get to that? The movie…

    The film follows the misadventures of Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), a young man studying at Miskatonic University to become a brain surgeon under the tutelage of one Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale of Syngenor). Dan’s a good student and he’s currently dating the daughter of Dean Halsey (Robert Sampon), the lovely Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton of From Beyond). Things are going well for Dan until he’s introduced to a new student named Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs in an career making performance) who has recently arrived after studying under Dr. Gruber in Switzerland – a position he left under unusual circumstances. West winds up renting a room from Dan and it isn’t long before he’s accusing Dr. Hill of stealing from Dr. Gruber, quickly earning him a reputation as a trouble maker.

    Soon, Dan and Megan learn that the reason West is spending so much time in the basement is because he’s conducting very unorthodox experiments where he injects dead bodies with a glowing green serum he calls Re-Agent. If injected soon enough after death, the body will rise and live again. The problem being that the re-animated corpses tend to be violent and unpredictable. Dr. Hill gets wind of what West is up and decides he wants to steal West’s work and claim it for his own. He’s also started showing a rather unhealthy obsession with Megan. Meanwhile, Dan’s participation in West’s experiments is discovered by the Dean who suspends his financial aid. Unfortunately for all involved, it’s too little too late as West is bound and determined to conduct his insane experiments on as many corpses as possible, and as luck would have it, he’ll soon find himself surrounded by them.

    Based on a script from regular Gordon collaborator Dennis Paoli (the two would also work together on From Beyond, Castle Freak, Dagon to name a few) and in turn adopted from a short story from H. P. Lovecraft, Re-Animator is a gleefully insane horror film that is as amusing as it is gory. Combs is fantastic as Herbert West and his over the top performance is perfect for this completely excessive film. The effects don’t always look as fresh as they would have back in 1985 but we’re still left with a well paced and freakishly funny movie that makes the most of its limited budget and quirky cast.

    Alongside Combs’ manic take on Herbert West is David Gale’s equally insane turn as Dr. Hill. When Hill abducts Megan towards the end of the film (without spoiling it let it suffice to say that this is the film’s most notorious scene) he’s allowed to go right over the top and the interplay between Gale and Combs really proves to be one of the film’s strongest characteristics. Abbot makes for a great straight man to Combs’ and Gale’s respective lunacy, while Crampton is cute enough that you can completely understand why Dan would be in love with her and why Hill would obsess over her. Throw in a very staunch, puritan turn from Robert Sampson as the very proper Dean and you’ve got a great cast that is very suited for the material they’ve been tasked with delivering.

    The cinematography from Mac Ahlberg (the same man who directed Justine And Juliette!) ensures that the film always looks sufficiently creepy and the camera work does a great job of capturing the eeriness of the hospital sets and the dank and dreary aspects of the basement laboratory. Gordon keeps the movie moving along at a brisk pace but manages to do so without sacrificing character development. While not all of the characters’ mysteries are revealed we certainly learn enough about Cain and West in particular that we want to know what happens to them, giving the movie just the right amount of suspense. The humor also works quite well, with the material played completely straight and with the utmost seriousness. This results in some very dry banter from Combs and Gale rather than the sort of self-referential humor that many modern horror films opt for. Some of the gore set pieces still pack a punch even now, more than two decades since the film was made. Heads are chopped off, bone saws rip through torsos, plenty of zombies run amuck and a head is squeezed until it explodes. A dead cat is brought back to life and a zombie smashes his head into a window until it bleeds. A certain corpse carries its own severed head around and assaults poor Megan in a very unexpected way, and it all results in a completely chaotic finale which raps everything up quite nicely without closing the doors to a sequel (of which two have been made so far at this point in the franchise’s history). Everything is set to a wonderful soundtrack from Richard Band that might borrow a little too heavily from a certain Bernard Herrmann score at times but which works really well alongside the on-screen insanity.


    Both versions are housed on their own 25GB Blu-ray disc and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. Overall the picture quality here is very strong. Detail is impressive and color reproduction is as well. Blacks are nice and solid and the image is very clean, showing very little in the way of print damage. There aren’t any serious compression artifacts and the image retains a film-like quality with natural grain. Depth and texture can often times look quite impressive, while skin tones appear lifelike and natural throughout.

    English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio tracks are available for both versions of the movie. Optional English subtitles are provided for the unrated version only. The surround channels aren’t used as extensively as some remixes for older films but the audio here is pretty solid. The score has some really nice depth to it and the dialogue is always clear. There aren’t any problems with hiss or distortion to complain about and the levels are properly balanced throughout the movie.

    Extra features are spread across the two discs as follows:


    Carried over from past editions is a pair of audio commentaries, the first of which is courtesy of director Stuart Gordon. This track remains an informative and educational listen as Gordon covers his involvement in the film in a fair bit of detail. In addition to covering technical details such as shooting on location and budgetary restraints, he also talks about how some of the effects were done and why certain cast members were chosen for their respective parts. The second audio commentary features producer Brian Yuzna, and actors Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs and Robert Sampson. Also carried over from the previous Elite special editions, this is a very involved discussion with only a few quiet moments. There’s a lot of humor and good-natured ribbing in here with the cast poking fun at one another and generally just enjoying themselves as they watch the movie.

    Carried over from the 2007 Anchor Bay special edition DVD release is the seventy-minute documentary (it’s split up into twelve chapters) on the making of the picture entitled Re-Animator: Resurrectus, which was written and directed by Perry Martin. Gordon starts things off by saying that they really were trying to go beyond what people were used to seeing. He shows up here alongside Yuzna, Crampton, Combs (who refers to the film as the movie that will not die), Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (who has a supporting part as one of the doctors), Dennis Paoli, Bruce Abbott, and more. Gordon talks about the influence of Lovecraft, his background in theater, and how he originally thought of doing Re-Animator as a television series. Yuzna covers casting, and rehearsals (something which Abbott praises him for), and Gordon talks about how he brought the cast to a real morgue in preparation. They cover the controversy surrounding Band’s score, and Abbott and Crampton talk about their love scene. Mac Ahlberg shows up and talks about his work on the film, and Gordon explains how he learned a lot from watching him work. Some of the effects guys cover their work, and we learn how some of the more memorable scenes were put together. This documentary covers a lot of the same ground that’s already been covered in the commentaries and the interviews which were ported over from the last release, but the behind the scenes photos and clips from the movie make it entertaining and it’s nice to see everyone reminiscing about the picture so fondly. At over an hour in length, this is a pretty in-depth and comprehensive piece and behind the scenes junkies will definitively enjoy this documentary.

    Up next is one deleted scene (Abbott wheels a very naked and rather dead Barbara Crampton into the morgue where Combs injects her with Re-Agent) and a series of extended scenes. Like the deleted scene, we’ve seen these before on other releases but basically, they play out like this: a discussion about Dan asking for a letter from the Dean; Dan and Meg in bed together; more of Dan and Meg in bed together talking about the Dean; Dan and Meg at the dinner table with Hill and the Dean, Dan and Meg studying and discussing West; Dan and Meg confronting West at the house; Dan and West in the basement lab; Dan and Meg talking about West’s past; Dan and the Dean in his office; Dan and Meg talking about the Dean; West telling Dan the truth of what happened to the Dean; Hill talking to Meg about her father’s treatment; Hill pondering the Dean’s condition; Hill talking to West in the basement; Dan talking to West in the basement; Dan and West in the house awaiting a certain character’s arrival.


    The second disc starts off with the sixteen-minute Music Discussion with composer Richard Band allows the man to talk about the music used in various parts of the movie by introducing and talking about various clips from the movie. All the key cues from the score are discussed here, including the memorable main theme.

    Also on hand is a five-minute Interview With Fangoria Editor Tony Timpone. Tony talks about the first time he saw the movie in 1985, which was the first week he started at the magazine and how it was the first screening he was invited to. It took him by surprise and how he was quite taken by it. Fangoria went on to really champion the movie and Timpone’s input on the merits of the film and why the magazine embraced the film are quite interesting.

    A fifteen-minute interview with Richard Band is up next, and he sits in his studio and talks about how Gordon and Yuzna brought him on board and how Empire worked as a distributor on the movie. They liked his music from past films and they got to talking with one another, and from there they decided to work together. Band talks about the funnier aspects of the movie and how they appealed to him and what he was trying to get across with his score. He admits to borrowing heavily from Psycho and goes so far as to say that he thought it was obvious he was using those cues in order to twist them.

    We also get an eleven-minute interview with writer Dennis Paoli (10:40) who talks about how he was working on a dissertation on gothic fiction when Gordon brought him on board, and how he feels everything came together when given the shot to work on a Lovecraft adaptation. He talks about Bill Norris’ involvement and how he was responsible for making the film contemporary and creating the campus.

    The disc also includes a lengthy forty-eight-minute interview with Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna which finds the director/producer team strolling down memory lane and explaining how the film came together. They talk about casting, about the initial response that the film received and what it was like working together for the first time, chalking much of it up to beginners’ luck.

    Rounding out the extras on the second disc is the film’s original theatrical trailer and three-minutes’ worth of TV spots. Both discs include animated menus and chapter selection. Umbrella has packaged this release, the first in their ‘Beyond Genres’ line, with a nice slipcover and some double-sided sleeve art – it’s quite an attractive package.

    The Final Word:

    Re-Animator remains a high point in eighties horror, a legitimately great horror film with some excellent career high performances, impressive effects, loads of atmosphere and a terrific sense of black humor behind it all. Umbrella’s two-disc Blu-ray release carries a lot of the important extras from the previous releases and offers up two cuts of the film in excellent shape making this a great option for Australian fans of this genuine horror classic.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!