So few directors in the genre have earned the title ‘Master of Horror’- a crown only befitting to those who have earned their stripes by their innovative pushing of the envelop, their ability to take a risk and win; a benchmark of true quality that many can only strive to attain, but never manage to achieve. One such director who has earned his right to reign under this moniker is genre stalwart Stuart Gordon. Everyone has to start somewhere, for Gordon is was this film, the unforgettable Re-Animator– a film that appalled critics and delighted audiences in equal measure. A film that caused such contention with the BBFC it remained heavily cut in the UK until 2007. Now beautifully restored to blu-ray on this limited edition collector’s steel book by Second Sight, fans, and newcomers alike have the perfect opportunity to see Gordon’s madcap vision in all its outrageously uncut gory glory.
Adapted from an- at the time out of print- HP Lovecraft story, Re-Animator focuses on Dr. Herbert West. A modern day Dr. Frankenstein, this dubious medical professional seeks to resurrect the dead through a series of experiments. Unlike Shelley’s Frankenstein, West does not inhabit a creepy gothic castle, but instead brings his quest to the sanitised arena of a hospital setting; the morgue providing- excuse the pun- plenty of fresh meat. Gordon- who wanted to make a Frankenstein tale as he thought not enough people were doing it*- injected new life into the story. A tale Lovecraft himself hated, and one must wonder would he have changed his mind if he had lived to see what Gordon envisioned for the characters he created.
Re-Animator is one of those films that stands as a testament to just how exciting the eighties were in terms of creating new riffs on classic horror themes. Period pomp resigned and gave way to plenty of grue, guts and gratuitous nudity. Splatstick grew- this blend of horror and comedy is something that remains a strong influence on the genre even today; especially in Japan where recent filmmakers are building on the foundations set by Gordon and his peers. So few manage to reach the mind-blowing proportions of these original films; Gordon being well equipped from his background on the stage to produce something not only innovative, but outstanding in quality and class, that is hard to imitate even by today’s standards. Even to this day the effects standout as being some of the best practical effects of the decade- in fact in the genre as a whole- and the director drew from his experience of producing theatre to ensure his expectations would be met, achieving this through a rigorous stage of pre-production planning. If anyone needs a case in point as to why practical FX always win out over digital this film is a perfect example.
Likewise, a similar sober approach was taken in the casting, and the associated players were put through their paces in a rehearsal period prior to shooting. Under the guidance of producer Brian Yuzna- who himself went on to direct two Re-Animator sequels as well as 80’s cult hit Society– and with the support of long time genre producer Charles Band, it would seem Gordon had hit on a winning formula when he made this film.
While Gordon’s approach to setting up the foundations for the film was strictly serious in nature, the content in Re-Animator is anything but. The film blends, successfully, gruesome concepts, with deeply black comedy that has stood the test of time. This is pure gallows humour with nothing off limits both in its tone or graphic nature. The comedy at play works on two levels, outwardly we have the often brutal yet farcical physical imagery; this takes the form of violent zombie action, general slapstick covered in gore, decapitated heads, reanimated body parts, and some seriously gross out sexual innuendo. In contrast the performances are so understated and deadpan there is also the level of darkly dry wit. Gordon successfully mixes the two to make something unique, unflinching and distinctly avant garde that is sure to appeal to even the most hardened genre fans- it is easy to see why this film has remained such a cult favourite for over quarter of a century, and indeed why it still manages to attract new fans.
Central to the success of the film is in the casting. Jeffrey Combs heads up the cast as the misguided and suitably dangerous Dr. Herbert West. An ominous presence Combs injects such subtlety and nuance into his performance that it makes for a strong characterisation; something not usually encountered in low-budget horror. His comic timing is impeccable, and the air of authority he projects is nothing short of a marvel; providing the basis for plenty of laugh out loud moments. Supporting Combs is Bruce Abbott as Dr. Dan Cain, an equally misguided if not lighter and more morally grounded character than West, the two make for a great double act. Although it has to be said, Combs plays out some of his finest moments when it comes to the scenes in which is bounces off the egotistical and lecherous Dr. Hill played by David Gale. The dynamic between the two is exploited perfectly, and both actors pull out all the stops in creating a strong sense of energy on screen. Barbara Crampton steps in as one of the only female characters- the only other female with mentioning is Gordon’s wife Carolyn Purdy Gordon in a small role as a doctor. Barbara is put through her paces and rises to the occasion with a certain amount of gusto, playing the strong-willed girlfriend of Dr. Dan, Megan Halsey, who at times seems to be the only voice of reason on screen.
It has to be said this new edition from Second Sight is a gorgeous print. The details are beautifully rendered in high definition 4k transfer; this gives the viewer a chance to revel in the complex and fantastically composed practical effects on offer- even in high definition they still hold up. The print is flawless and does not look overly digitised; there are no remnants of restoration processes evident either; no shadowing, halos or anything else, just a clear, well defined and bold print. Likewise, the colours are rich, and the texture is magnificent. Gordon’s classic has never looked so good, and it is presented here in all its uncut gory, glory.
This blu-ray steelbook comes with two versions of the film- a newly restored unrated version, and an integral version. There are two commentaries available one with director Stuart Gordon, and the second track with producer Brian Yuzna, and actors Jeffrey Combs, Robert Sampson, Barbara Crampton, and Bruce Abbott. Adding to this there are some documentary features- Re-Animator® Resurrectus, and some video interviews with Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, writer Dennis Paoli, composer Richard Band, and Fangoria Editor Tony Timpone. Also included are additional extended scenes, deleted scenes, trailers and a gallery of stills.
For those who have yet to upgrade to blu-ray Second Sight have also released a DVD version alongside the blu-steelbook.
Check out Second Sight for more details here.
*Quoted from Kat’s interview with director Stuart Gordon which you can read in the July 2014 issue of Scream Magazine