Re-Animator was released in 1985 the same year as Nightmare on Elm Street. Both films are classics of the horror genre, but the Freddy Krueger franchise coasts along on its premise, albeit an ingenious one. While this tale of nutty Herbert West is the more inventive and brilliant of the two, it has nevertheless been overshadowed by Craven’s teen-baiting slasher.
Based on a gruesome little tale by H.P. Lovecraft, Re-Animator has it's roots deep in dependable horror tropes, most obviously Frankenstein. A strong plot supports the garish gore for which you may need a strong stomach. Plot driven horror seems to becoming more popular these days, perhaps thanks to foreign work such as that of Guillermo del Toro, himself a proponent of Lovecraftian themes. So maybe this glorious re-release will find a new, gore-hungry audience.
Jeffrey Combs is perfect as the disturbed West, embodying the typical mad scientist who has discovered how to defeat death itself. We can excuse his naivety when he re-animates a dead cat belonging to Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), which proceeds to launch it's bloody carcass at everyone, so perhaps we only understand the real depths of his insanity when... no, I won't say it. It involves a shovel and it really isn't very nice.
The gore is exceptional; ground-breaking for the time and no point taken seriously, this is no attempt to induce nightmares, like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Hostel try to do. It's silly and fun if you have the right mind-set for this kind of thing. Director Stuart Gordon keeps the balance with the story just right throughout and one of the strongest elements of the film is its ability to spin a suitably Gothic yarn. The opening credits immediately set the tone, with garish colours, detailed anatomy diagrams, and best of all, the orchestral theme: Bernard Herrmann's Psycho score sped up into an ingenious ear-worm. And of course, West's serum is a lovely bright green, as it should be in such a film.
The cast all throw themselves into it, trying not to slip in the puddles of blood gathering on the morgue floor. Aside from the brilliant Combs, Robert Sampson demands respect, even as a slavering re-animated zombie. Karloff lookalike David Gale might seem too respectable for a film like this, but he is wonderfully villainous and salacious as West’s equally bonkers rival, even if his performance almost cost him his marriage. Actually Mrs Gale may have had a point. Barbara Crampton had already suffered several gratuitous nude scenes and an outrageous visual gag with Gale puts the tattered remainder of her dignity at risk. To her credit, she recalls her role with humour, commenting on that awkward moment as her “mom’s favourite scene” during the commentary! It’s unlikely to pass unchallenged these days, you would hope.
Thankfully her role is more substantial than a screaming topless victim. Hers is a strong part for a woman even by today’s horror standards. Crampton is the only emotionally sane focus as she and Bruce Abbott’s romance is put to all sorts of terrible trials.
There's something rather innocent about the whole thing. Whereas comparable gore-hounds Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson have a real vicious streak, Stuart Gordon is just having the most fun possible. He wants the audience to be complicit and have the same fun. He definitely doesn't pull punches, but his gags are less flashy. Coming from a theatre background, it's a simple case of letting the actors play through the parts with honesty and without accentuating anything with edits and freaky compositions. Just have them fight off naked zombies, the film makes itself!
Combs steals it though. All the characters are well-rounded and the cast is brilliant, clearly having a great time, but Herbert West is something else. The franchise’s lack of success beyond cult has denied him the deserved notoriety of Freddy or Jason.
Hopefully horror fans starved of silly bloody fun will seek out this release. It’s never looked so good. The 4K transfer makes the most of the colourful violence and the effects work loses nothing in HD. Sometimes an older film was clearly hiding the seams in low quality video, but that isn’t the case here.
Re-Animator is a perfectly paced and delivered horror with a Gothic premise and a suitably and disgustingly silly execution. Unsettling, hilarious and the whole production works every advantage. And that whacky theme is the cherry on top as the plot builds to extraordinary depravity.
There's enough extras in this set to make a corpse sit up and take notice:
Integral Version (105m): The standard and recommended version of the film is the 86m Unrated Version. The gore was considered too much at one time though, so a more tame version was prepared, mainly with extra and extended scenes driven by dialogue. The Integral cut blends the two versions. You get all the gore and more story, though actually, it generally is just filler. There are no subtitles on this version.
Director's commentary: Stuart Gordon is rather serious and there’s lots of quiet moments, but nevertheless he has a lot of insight, particularly into how the film was developed from from the Lovecraft story.
Producer and actors commentary: - less to learn from than in Gordon’s commentary, but it's great fun listening to the cast and Brian Yuzna remembering a fun production.
Interview with Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna (49m): Generous, watchable and good natured chat between writer and director Gordon and producer Yuzna. Stuart leads the talk covering whole history of production. Yuzna is affectionate about it and fascinated that it’s out of date, yet somehow there is still a lot of love for it. This was down to plotting of course, thanks to the Lovecraft influence. I think Brian underestimates his own work and the film still works very well today.
Interview with Writer Dennis Paoli (11m): Dennis talks of his influences, which was the pure horror genre. The script doesn't even include the sheer level of gore!
Interview with Composer Richard Band (15m): Richard talks about borrowing from Herrman for that stunning score. Talks about his annoyance that the original credits wouldn’t include Hermann and he fought for that to be corrected prior to release. He also discusses how the score was a strong orchestral one. Another point at odds with the rest of the pack in the genre and one that gives it a timeless quality.
Music Discussion with Richard Band (16m): Brilliant dissection of score, featuring clips with no dialogue to showcase the non-diegetic sound fully. It’s great to see this release embracing the music so enthusiastically.
Interview with Fangoria editor Tony Timpone (5m): Tony talks about the first screening, the humour, plot and the ground-breaking gore. A gory film is apparently referred to as “moist”!
Re-Animator Resurrects (69m): Substantial documentary that recalls how extreme the film really was. Combs comments that it is timeless in its brashness, and the documentary is particularly good addressing the difficult female role.
Extended scenes (21m)
Deleted Scene (30s)
Photo Galleries: Behind the Scenes (6m) and Production Stills (2m)