Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Blu-ray Review: RE-ANIMATOR (1985)

Label: Image Entertainment 
Region: A
Rating: R
Duration: 95 minutes

Video: 16:9 Widescreen (1.85:1)
Audio: DTS HD Master Audio 5.1

Cast: Jeffrey CombsBruce AbbottBarbara CramptonDavid Gale
Director: Stuart Gordon

Synopsis: The strange tale of medical student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbot) and his girlfriend Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), both of whom are drawn to odd new student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) conducting secret experiments involving the re-animation of dead tissue. When one of the instructors, Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), stumbles upon their activities, West murders him -- but is brought back to life, now thirsting for revenge as well as lusting after Megan. 

The Film: Through the years there have been many films I grew  to love after an initial viewings that left me luke-warm but precious few films were able to make a visceral impression on me the way Stuart Gordon's take on H.P. Lovecraft's story "Herbert West - Reanimator" did right away, it was a game changer. It's a title I saw on the shelf of my local  mom n' pop video store as a youth in the late-80's the wonderfully macabre green-tinted artwork on the Vestron Video VHS just drew me in like a moth to a flame. My first late-night viewing of Re-Animator left an indelible mark  which surely is the film that set the watermark high and firmly cemented the criteria by which I would judge all other horror films: great characters, an abundance of nudity and grotesque amounts of gore. 

The movie opens with a great pre-credit sequence by which we are introduced to Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs, From Beyond) a medical student at the Zurich University Institute of Medicine in Switzerland where he's been studying under his mentor, Dr. Hans Gruber (Al Berry, Halloween III) whom dies suddenly from reasons unknown and we are thrown directly into the fray as West injects Gruber with a chartreuse liquid which apparently re-animates the dead but not without some truly grotesque consequences which are witnessed by staff and security of the institute whom break into the lab after hearing the commotion inside. It's great stuff and it's just a taste of what's to come, exquisite 80's gore and madcap horror!

Somehow West is not prosecuted in Zurich for the bizarre event and winds up in New England at Miskatonic University where he studies under Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale, RITUALS), it's an acrimonious student-professor relationship from the start when West claims that Hill stole the theory of brain death from Dr. Gruber and dramatically snaps a pencil in defiance of his teachings. 

Shortly after West meets-up with a promising medical student named Dan Cain (Bruce Abbot, Bad Dreams) whom is looking for a roommate and against the wishes of his girlfriend Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton, Brian De Palma's Body Double) rents the room to the very strange West. Megan is creeped out by the strange, stiff and awkward West who has an unhealthy fascination with the basement of the house. It turns she might be onto something for it's not long before before Dan awakens one night to the unearthly shrieking of his cat Rufus whom he discovers dead, sorta.  West has reanimated the dismembered feline in the make-shift basement laboratory. The cat is ravenous and attacking West relentlessly, Combs really sells the rather shitty stuffed cat as a menacing clawed demon-cat, it's great schlocky stuff. Dan's of course is quite shocked by the entire unnerving event but when West shows him the re-agent fluid and it's effects Cain is hesitantly on-board and joins West in his quest for life after death leading to all manner of fucked-up hi-jinx. 

Jeffrey Combs' mad-scientist character of Herbert West is one for the ages and s is his arch nemesis, Dr. Hill,  who has it out for him from the get-go. Hill manages to turn the school's dean of student, Dr. Halsey (Robert Sampson, Robot Jox), against West and Cain, the latter whom is dating Halsey's daughter whom Hill is a total perv for.

West and Cain are barred from the med-school for their bizarre experimentations but that doesn't stop them from breaking into the morgue to try the re-agent on cadavers which not unlike the pre-credit sequence with Dr. Gruber goes horribly awry when the muscle bound cadaver, in a scene that brought to mind The Return of the Living Dead (1985), goes ape shit and attacks Cain and West killing Dean Halsey whom stumbles onto the scene before West can gruesomely incapcitate the cadaver with a bone-saw through the heart. West who is ever determined doesn't skip a beat and takes advantage of the freshest corpse in the room, Dean Halsey is injected and re-animated leaving him in a zombie-like state and committed to the psychiatric ward under the watch of Dr. Hill who soon links the bizarre case to West's research into brain-death. When confronted by Hill in his laboratory West sweetly decapitates the megalomaniacal professor with a shovel and still unable to curb his macabre curiosity uses his re-agent to resuscitate his disembodied head. 

Amping up the story even more is that Hill can somehow telepathically control his headless body which knocks the distracted West unconscious and stealing his life's work continuing on to wreaks havoc of it's own including kidnapping Megan to exact a bizarre act of disembodied cunnilingus - one of horror cinema's greatest and most-tasteless moments which leads to a sweet showdown in the morgue wherein we discover the bizarre extent of Hill's (not very well explained) telekinetic control over the undead.

There's some truly great 80's gore here for the gorehounds to enjoy; we get a gorgeous face-peel, a brain exposed after having the skull removed, animated intestines, a talking decapitated head that resides in a pan full of blood and a dismembered cat that gets it's brains smashed against the wall, those seeking the grotesque shall not be disappointed.

Stuart Gordon doesn't quite get the recognition of his peers Wes Craven, John Carpenter or George A. Romero but he is definitely in the same league in my opinion. This film is a masterwork of horror cinema that's loaded with macabre atmosphere, blood-soaked gore and a unique black humor - it really stands the test of time and if you are not familiar with the works of Gordon please check out his filmography beginning with these; From Beyond (1986) Dolls (1987), The Pit and the Pendulum (1990) and Castle Freak (1995) and I guarantee you too will drink the Kool-Aid at the altar of Stuart Gordon, not to mention the genius of Jefferey Combs who appears in three outta the four.   

Blu-ray: Image Entertainment's dual-layer Blu-ray offers a nice 1080p boost in image, it looks quite nice but don't expect a miracle here either. The film grain is nicely intact and black levels are strong. Fine texture is definitely improved over previous DVD editions but lacks the depth of a newer film or an older film shot on better filmstock - that said this is easily the best the film has ever looked and will probably ever get. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio sounds great with some nice use of the surrounds adding atmosphere to the proceeding. Richard Band's score sounds the best it ever has, and remains one of his finest moments. 

Extras are extensive but we do not get any new content, in fact we lose a few of what I would consider lesser extras from the previous DVD edition but the real meat and potatoes are here and in abundance. Worth the price alone is the 68 minute  Re-Animator Ressurectus documentary and the two entertaining commentaries. 

Special Features:
  • Documentary: “Re-Animator Resurrectus” (68 mins) 16x9 
  • Audio Commentary by Director Stuart Gordon
  • Audio Commentary by Producer Brian Yuzna and Actors Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton and Robert Sampson
  • Interview with Director Stuart Gordon and Producer Brian Yuzna (48mins) 
  • Interview with Writer Dennis Paoli (10 mins) 
  • Interview with Composer Richard Band (14 mins) 
  • Music Discussion with Composer Richard Band (16 mins) 
  • Interview with Fangoria Magazine editor Tony Timpone (4 mins) 
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes (26 mins) 
  • Theatrical trailer (2 mins) 
  • TV Spot (2 mins) 

Verdict: This is definitely Stuart Gordon's definitive moment - one of the finest 80's horror-comedies of all time right next to Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2 - Dead By Dawn and Dan O'Bannon's The Return of the Living Dead. It's disturbing, shocking, funny and remains a right of passage for newly inducted legions of horror fan, a macabre good time and a must have that looks mighty good in 1080p. To whomever owns the rights let me just say I would love to see Dolls or From Beyond get the Blu-ray treatment soon! 4.75 outta 5