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Blu-ray Review: Arrow’s RE-ANIMATOR injects even more life into Stuart Gordon’s classic

Tuesday, August 29, 2017 | Blu-ray/DVD


Starring Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott and Barbara Crampton
Directed by Stuart Gordon
Written by Dennis Paoli, William J. Norris and Stuart Gordon
Arrow Video

Stuart Gordon’s RE-ANIMATOR holds a throne in the pantheon of great horror films. It has been given repeated new life through numerous DVDs and Blu-Rays, but Arrow Video’s reputation for special editions makes them seem determined to plant their flag in the ground and say, “There shall be none greater than this!” And now they’ve done it with [cue brass fanfare] RE-ANIMATOR. Arrow essentially gives genre films the Criterion treatment, and this two-Blu-ray release of the sacred H.P. Lovecraft adaptation includes everything a collector could want, save a syringe filled with cyalume.

Let’s begin our dissection of this edition with an acknowledgment of its transplanted organs. The first batch was harvested from Elite Entertainment’s special-edition (2001) and Millennium Edition (2002) releases: two audio commentaries, one by director Stuart Gordon and one by producer Brian Yuzna and cast members Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott and Robert Sampson; interviews with Gordon and Yuzna, screenwriter Dennis Paoli, composer Richard Band and former FANGORIA editor Tony Timpone; a musical discussion with Band; deleted and extended scenes; trailers; and a multi-angle storyboard. Transplanted from the Anchor Bay Limited Edition (2007), we have the 70-minute documentary RE-ANIMATOR: RESURRECTUS. Additionally, while the Integral cut (incorporating deleted/extended scenes) of the film included in Arrow’s set is wholly revitalized through a 4K restoration, it was previously seen on the German Capelight three-disc Limited Collector’s Edition (2013). Whew!

Now let’s explore the fresh parts. Obviously, we’ve got a brand new 4K restoration of the unrated release version of RE-ANIMATOR to go along with the aforementioned Integral edition. The audio for each is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Surround, with the unrated version also including 2.0 stereo, mono sound and the isolated score. The picture quality is great; given that the transfers are derived from the original 35mm negatives and interpositives, the film’s somewhat grainy look is preserved with beautiful black levels and coloration (just saturated enough). The audio mixes are very clean and dynamic; even the mono track sounds impressive).

On the subject of audio, there’s an additional commentary by Gordon and actors Graham Skipper and Jesse Merlin—Herbert West and Dr. Hill respectively from the Gordon-directed RE-ANIMATOR: THE MUSICAL—and a 12-minute interview with THE MUSICAL’s composer/lyricist Mark Nutter is also included. Both of these add fascinating dimensions to the narrative, and will inspire listeners to want to experience the show, especially from the first several rows (a.k.a. “the splash zone”).

Next, there’s “The Catastrophe of Success,” a 13-minute interview with Gordon focusing on his career in confrontational theater, leading up to the production of RE-ANIMATOR. Starting with his early stage productions at the University of Wisconsin, the director describes his journey to Chicago, where he and his wife, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, gained notoriety through their Organic Theater Company, which earned such delightful nicknames as “The take off your clothes, scream, and bleed theater.” This inspiring segment reveals Gordon’s early commitment to providing colorful original content while providing an inspiring playground for his performers, while receiving the blessing of Ray Bradbury and collaborating with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet and actors Dennis Franz and Joe Mantegna.

In the 36-minute “Barbara Crampton in Conversation,” the actress discusses her entire career with journalist Alan Jones at the 2015 London FrightFest. Revealing the unique path that led her to RE-ANIMATOR and beyond, she recalls performing as a child in a traveling carnival, as well as her experiences in soap operas and then in film. Given this diverse background and her limited experience with horror films, she recalls that she was neither particularly fazed by the extremities of the RE-ANIMATOR script nor understanding of just how distinctly edgy it was within the genre.

Running nearly an hour long, “A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema” shines a light on various filmic adaptations of the author’s works. Chris Lackey, host of the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast (and associate producer of the features THE CALL OF CTHULHU and THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS) plays host. Opening with the revelation that the author himself did not care for screen adaptations, Lackey provides brief descriptions of a number of such movies, concisely listing the merits and/or faults of each, giving particular attention to Gordon’s and his own projects. It’s not a complete survey, missing at least two films which should have merited inclusion: Gordon’s CASTLE FREAK (based on Lovecraft’s “The Outsider”) and Yuzna’s BENEATH STILL WATERS (which seems at least as Lovecraftian as ALIEN and John Carpenter’s THE THING, which are covered). Lackey concludes with a few words about elder gods and the nihilistic essence at the core of Lovecraft’s oeuvre.

Finally, DOUG BRADLEY’S SPINECHILLERS: HERBERT WEST—REANIMATOR offers viewers a chance to hear Lovecraft’s original short story in an illustrated audio presentation read by none other than Herbert West himself: actor Combs. The story is divided into six parts, each lasting about 15 minutes and beginning with colorful artwork, creepy music and introductory credits. Combs delivers a measured reading of the source material that’s as sober as it is colorful, and makes for a great listen. For those who like to get in on BD-ROM content, RE-ANIMATOR’s screenplay is included as well.

Those are the the guts, kids. Now for the skin: Once again, Arrow has commissioned fresh artwork for the Digipak packaging, with classy new designs by Justin Erickson. And talking about artwork, four lobby cards are tucked into the case, as is a 92-page graphic novel reprinting the three-issue 1991 comic-book adaptation. For the final touch, there’s a booklet containing a new essay by my esteemed colleague and editor Michael Gingold. While the bonus features’ various cast and crew recollections, filtered lovingly through lots of laughs, address how the low-budget production’s macabre nature is finely balanced with its sense of humor (with emphatic nods to Paoli’s screenplay, Combs’ performance and Band’s score), Gingold’s essay, “Yucking It Up: The Black (and Red) Humor of RE-ANIMATOR” addresses the film’s place within the sub-pantheon of comedic fright flicks, positing the complementary natures of humor and horror and tracing the lineage of films which successfully balance the two. He then focuses on RE-ANIMATOR, analyzing the various ways in which the film uses comedy—from gallows humor to slapstick—with further comments from Paoli.

The elements that make the film work so well go beyond the mix of laughs and gasps, though. It’s based on classic horror literature while being a trendsetting gorefest; it’s a zany comedy that also has heart (provided, most notably, by Abbott’s performance as Dan Cain and Crampton as Megan Halsey); and it contains a tour de force showdown between two wonderfully eccentric characters: West and Dr. Hill (David Gale). Combining old and new extras that collectively tell the tale of RE-ANIMATOR’s journey, from Gordon’s introduction to Lovecraft to the championing of the film by influential film critics Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael, coupled with terrific video and audio, this is an outstanding edition. It would be an impressive feat for anyone to release a special edition greater than Arrow’s…unless, of course, it includes that syringe.