The B-Movie Isle: Arrow Video’s Re-Aminator (Collector’s Edition)
The B-Movie Isle/Adam takes a deep dive into the demented world of Dr. Herbert West and Stuart Gordon’s seminal gross out horror comedy classic Re-Animator. Arrow Video has released a two disc limited edition that combines all the bells and whistles… and then some! Who wins in the Dr. West versus Cat? Is Herbert somehow related to Wally West? Does Re-Animator still has the gross out power it did thirty years ago? Read on to find out!
Confession time; I have only recently come to the Re-Animator party. That was in part to the film being featured on an episode of The Canon. I’ve known its reputation. I’ve known of its notorious set-piece. That is all I have known about Re-Animator and its sequel The Bride of the Re-Animator. The short answer is; I love the Re-Animator.
The simple mad scienctist concept at play here has been streamlined for maximum gore set pieces. The basic plot is spelled out in the first few minutes of the film. Herbert West (Jeffery Combs) is kicked out (and one asked why not put in prison) from University of Zurich for reasons we see but the Miskatonic University isn’t aware of. West finds a roommate in fellow MU Medical Student Dan (Bruce Abbott) who’s girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton) is creeped out by. This plot setup can only go wrong. And it does. In gloriously gory fashion with ample amounts of revived corpses, angry cats, blood and glow-stick green serums.
By setting the film in and around a University Hospital and specifically the morgue, director Stuart Gordon and writer Brian Yuzna are able to put the Make-Up FX crew to work. Much of the work is part disgusting, part fascinating and all fun. Gordon understood that artful stage trickery that informs on how well the FX shots and make-up looks. Even now three decades on the work done in Re-Animator is beautiful.
Few films are as accomplished a directorial debut as Re-Animator. It helps that Stuart Gordon spent the early part of his career solely doing theater. That theater career informs on the film, wither one realizes or not. The film has an initiate understanding of the Grand Guignol tradition in theater. There is a flare to the proceeding, a style that was not present in other films at the time. Some would say that still isn’t present. Gordon did not make Re-Animator until he was in his mid-to-late 30’s and it shows. The film is impeccably designed, shot, acted and written.
Everything in this film is intentional. The arched style of acting that Jeffery Combs pitches his performance at as Herbert West. The ample amounts of gore mixed in with truly hilarious slapstick comedy. The film also allows you to invest in Dan and Meg’s relationship. Abbot and Crampton are great as the young loving couple. They aren’t canon-fodder for West to destroy. Gordon gives the space (which is amazing considering the film is only 88 minutes, in its original unrated cut) to them to find that relationship. It’s that sort of adroit decision that makes the film smarter than its counterparts. Because one cares about Dan and Meg and their fate, one invests fully in Re-Animator. The film is as sincere as any horror film I have seen with its relationships.
That is not to say that the film isn’t funny and lives up to its reputation as a raunchy gorefest. By the time the notorious cat attack scene plays outs the film is running on all cylinders and just ups the gore quotient to a amazing level. The film occupies a very rare space; slapstick comedy horror. Even in that rarified sub-genre the film stands above; Re-Animator’s spiritual cousin (of sorts) Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. It’s not to take down the Evil Dead sequel. Not in the least. Re-Animator is more refined, Billy Wilder if you will. Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn is blunt force trauma, The Marx Brothers if you will. Both Billy Wilder and The Marx Brothers are amazing filmmakers. Just one happens to be a little bawdier, where the other is more artful. That artful refinement is thanks in large part to Gordon.
(NOTE: The review is of the original Unrated Theatrical Cut. See details below about the “Integral Cut” in The Extras portion of the review.)
The Arrow Video 4K restoration is near flawless. Having the old Blu-Ray disc as a reference, I did a comparison. There is no choice. Arrow’s version is better in every respect. There’s a remarkable uptick in quality, sharpness, contrast levels and grain structure. It looks beautiful, with those day-glow greens and the deep reds both perfectly rendered. This new 4K restoration gets one even more excited by the other restorations they have in the pipeline (specifically Carpenter’s The Thing which they’re currently restoring in 4K).
- Digipak packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Justin Erickson
- Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by writer Michael Gingold
- Re-Animator – the original 1991 comic book adaptation, reprinted in its entirety
DISC 1 – UNRATED VERSION
Unrated version [86 mins]
- Audio commentary with director Stuart Gordon
- Audio commentary with producer Brian Yuzna, actors Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott, and Robert Sampson
- Re-Animator Resurrectus – documentary on the making of the film, featuring extensive interviews with cats and crew
- Interview with director Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna
- Interview with writer Dennis Paoli
- Interview with composer Richard Band
- Music Discussion with composer Richard Band
- Interview with former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone
- Barbara Crampton In Conversation –the Re-Animator star sits down with journalist Alan Jones for this career-spanning discussion
- Deleted and Extended Scenes
- Trailer & TV Spots
DISC 2 – INTEGRAL VERSION – LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE
Integral version [105 mins]
- A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema – brand new featurette looking at the many various cinematic incarnations of writer H.P. Lovecraft’s work
Three audio commentaries, two feature length documentaries, seven interviews, one audio book, extended scenes, deleted scenes, TV spots, Trailers, still gallery and AN ADDITIONAL VERSION! Arrow has modestly put together an amazing box set that has about 13 hours of special features. Yes, 13 hours of special features.
The audio commentaries only slightly cross over each other. Each track covers different aspects of the film. Gordon by himself is a nuts and bolts commentary going over the production and a few tidbits about the film itself. The “crew commentary” with Yunza, Crampton, Combs and Abbott is freewheeling good time with each of the speakers in a chatty lively mood. The newest commentary with Gordon and Re-Animator the Musical actors Graham Skipper and Jesse Merlin is a great look back with Skipper and Merlin playing hosts of sorts prompting Gordon to discuss the film and the production. These are great put together commentaries that don’t suffer from the Arnold dilemma (e.g. when a person does a commentary and just points to things on screen like Arnold did during his infamous Conan commentary with John Milius).
The integral Version of the film is interesting, but my preference goes with the lean and mean 86 minute unrated director’s original cut. The integral version mashes up the TV version and the original unrated version to give us what’s the “best of both worlds” cut. It feels like it lacks narrative drive that is present in the original cut.
Doug Bradley’s Spinechillers: Herbert West-Reanimator is a 90 minute audio production of the actual novella written by HP Lovecraft read by Jeffery Combs. This is a lushly produced audio production of the novella that fans of the film will love.
Re-Animator Resurrectus is an insightful looks at the film’s production that was produced for another release but ported over for this disc. It’s a thorough detailed account of the production with all the major players taking part. Everyone from Stuart Gordon to Jeffery Combs to Barabra Crampton and Bruce Abbott are all game and very proud (as they should be) of this classic. A lot of the fun comes out of the anecdotes that everyone tells, especially about Cinematographer Mac Ahlberg. At 68 minutes this gives enough room to cover the making of the film.
A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema – is another documentary but this one focusing on Lovecraft adaptations themselves, including Re-Animator. The doc gives context to the Stuart Gordon film and also gives you some insight to Gordon’s follow up work post-Re-Animator. Thorough and well researched.
The Catastrophe of Success: Stuart Gordon and The Organic Theater is a featurette discussing Gordon’s early career as a theater director and the life of his much lauded Organic Theater.
Barbara Crampton In Conversation is an hour long interview with Crampton as she discusses his career and life from her life on the road with her father (who was worked in a Carnival) to her current career in the indie horror and drama world. Great piece for anyone that loves
Theater of Blood – Re-Animator: The Musical is a quick piece about the music version of the film and how Gordon’s work in the theater informed on this project.
Rounding out the set is a collection of interviews with director Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna, writer Dennis Paoli, composer Richard Band. The interviews ported over from other editions of the film on Blu-Ray/DVD cover similar topics as the making-of doc but do provide a less focused and more relaxed interview.
Trailers, TV Spots, Extended Scenes and Deleted scenes round out the disc’s extras. The deleted scenes and extended scenes are basically in the Integral version of the film. The Trailers and TV spots are equal parts awesome and hilariously dated. Trailer junkies will love these especially considering that TV Spots were for late night television, which of itself is its own kind of special awesome sauce.
As you can tell by the inclusion of a photo of the box it is a special feature onto itself. Lobby cards, a reproduction of the original Comic Book Adaptation. There’s just a wealth of information and goodies here to make this the most bang for your hard earned money.
The Bottom Shelf
Re-Animator is the real deal. A dyed in the wool classic. Arrow Video has paid tribute to its legacy by creating the definitive edition of the film with hours of supplemental material. At this point this set is the best release of 2017. Highest possible recommendations!!!