Re-Animator Blu-ray Review/Comparison (originally published 2017)
When medical student Dan Cain advertises for a roommate, he soon finds one in the form of Dr. Herbert West. Initially a little eccentric, it soon becomes clear that West entertains some seriously outlandish theories – specifically, the possibility of re-animating the dead. It’s not long before Dan finds himself under West’s influence and embroiled in a series of ghoulish experiments, which threaten to go wildly out of control… (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator remains my personal favorite horror comedies of the 1980s, despite the decade being loaded with subgenre heavy-hitters, like John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (1981), George Romero’s Creepshow (1982), Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984), Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead (1985), and, yes, even Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 (1987). The story, culled from H.P. Lovecraft’s (shockingly racist) pulp serial (pub. between 1921 & 1922) and written by William J. Norris, Dennis Paoli, and Gordon himself, was whittled down from a six-part TV series into one of the most efficient narratives in movie history – any genre and any prestige level. The comedy encompasses the outrageous sex & violence that the film is famous for, as well as the clever, character-based repartee that comes from extensive rehearsal. Gordon’s simple cinematic style, which was born out of the necessity of a low budget and his experience as a stage director, puts the actors, the concepts, and the jokes front and center without sacrificing the unmitigated joy of the source material’s pulpy roots.
If you consider yourself a fan of scandalous comedy, rubbery horror violence, endlessly quotable one-liners, and genuinely heartbreaking romantic tragedy – and still haven’t seen this nearly perfect motion picture, you owe it to yourself to find a copy. Considering how many different versions are now on the market, I’m going to devote the rest of this review to discussing the advantages that this latest Blu-ray collection from Arrow has over other releases.
I’ll begin by briefly explaining the various cuts of the film. Re-Animator was released unrated to avoid the dreaded X-rating. This cut, which runs about 86 minutes, should be considered Gordon’s director’s cut. When it came time to put the film out on home video, the filmmakers had to arrange an R-rated edit for stores that refused to rent anything equivalent to an X. Unfortunately, by they had time the excised all of the offending footage, the movie was too short, so they added a previously deleted subplot that actually ended up extending the runtime beyond that of the unrated cut. In addition, more deleted scenes were included for a ‘family friendly’ TV cut. Years later, all of the footage was combined and dubbed the ‘integral cut,’ which runs about 105 minutes. Because Gordon himself admits to editing out some of the gore himself before submitting the film to the MPAA (specifically pieces of an early brain autopsy sequence), there have always been legends of a fourth cut, but this footage is most likely lost forever – not to mention the fact that Gordon wanted it gone in the first place.
Re-Animator has changed distributors and, consequently, been re-released on home video about a million times now, though each version tends to be a slight improvement over the last. In North America, Vestron Video released unrated and R-rated VHS copies, followed by a pan & scan, unrated Laserdisc from Image Entertainment, a 10th Anniversary letterboxed Laserdisc from Elite Entertainment, a DVD version of that Laserdisc, an anamorphically enhanced Millennium Edition DVD (also from Elite), a version of that DVD with better compression from Anchor Bay Entertainment, and one more barebones DVD from Image. The first RA Blu-ray was also released by Image in 2012 and that transfer was culled from the same source as their DVD. Those efforts would be blown away by a new 4K scan/2K master that first showed up on Blu-ray from German company Capelight in 2013, then from UK company Second Sight in 2014. Based on the studio’s official description of this new release, Arrow has finally brought that same 4K scan/2K master to North American shores. To reiterate, a mix of the original negative and interpositive elements of both the unrated and integral cuts were scanned at 4K resolution, then graded and restored at 2K. I have included screen caps from the Arrow and Second Sight releases here (Arrow on the left of the slider, Second Sight on the right of the slider – I originally included Capelight as well, but three can’t fit on the slider and it is very close to the Second Sight disc) and, as you can see, there are small differences in each company’s digital restoration, grading, and overall compression.
All three transfers feature fantastic detail from front to back, minimal sharpening artifacts, improved black levels, and are not ‘zoomed-in,’ unlike previous DVDs (and the Image Blu-ray), which lost picture information on all sides of the screen (despite also being framed at 1.78:1). Having personally viewed both the Arrow and Second Sight discs in motion, I can also say that there are some brief wobbly images (usually establishing shots of buildings, so this is probably related to the fact that the filmmakers used still photos in these cases) and occasional grain shimmer. Comparing the caps on this page, Arrow’s transfer appears to be the strongest in terms of compression/final authoring. Other differences are negligible, but the Capelight and Second Sight discs have notably smoother textures and ever-so-slightly mushier grain structure. Then there’s the grading/gamma/colour quality, which involves a more objective critique, considering that neither Gordon or cinematographer Mac Ahlberg seemed to have weighed in with an opinion on the matter. The Second Sight transfer has more consistent colors, but is over-cooled and a smidge too bright in my opinion.
Re-Animator comes with three audio options – its original mono and stereo, both presented in uncompressed LPCM 1.0/2.0, and the 5.1 remix that was designed during the 2012/13 restoration, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio. The 3-track master soundtracks were used when possible; though, apparently, replacement audio was necessary in some places (I honestly can’t tell where). Personally, I’d go with the stereo track for its more expressive effects work and louder volume levels, but there’s nothing wrong with the other two tracks. The 5.1 option doesn’t suffer from the awkward speaker shifts typically heard from such remixes, but the aural balance is never as tight as its 2.0 counterpart and, even though the fully centered dialogue is a plus, there’s a lack of crispness and volume. While consistent, the mono track loses a bit where Richard Band’s synth score is concerned, which benefits greatly from the stereo spread and 5.1 remix’s discrete LFE channel.
Disc One (Unrated Cut):
Commentary with director Stuart Gordon – This is another archive track was originally recorded for the Elite Entertainment Laserdisc and has been included on most North American releases ever since.
Commentary with producer Brian Yuzna and cast members Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, and Robert Sampson – Another oft-heard Elite Entertainment Laserdisc archive track.
Commentary with Stuart Gordon and actors Jesse Merlin & Graham Skipper – The only Arrow exclusive track features the director and two of the lead cast members of Re-Animator: The Musical (who also recently appeared together in Beyond the Gates). The participants mostly stick to the production of the musical itself, which is good, given the breadth of behind-the-scenes knowledge already available on the two older tracks. Sadly, Arrow wasn’t able to include actual footage from the stage production.
Re-Animator Resurrectus (68:35, HD) – This retrospective documentary was originally produced for Anchor Bay’s special edition DVD and also appeared on every Blu-ray release since.
Barbara Crampton in Conversation (36:05, HD) – A brand new, very personable, and career-spanning interview with the actress, conducted by writer/journalist Alan Jones at FrightFest London in 2015.
The Catastrophe of Success (13:08, HD) – Gordon talks about his roots in directing controversial stage plays and continuing work in theater, despite his success on film, in the second exclusive interview.
Theatre of Blood (12:04, HD) – Re-Animator: The Musical lyricist/songwriter Mark Nutter discusses meeting Gordon and adapting the film in the first disc’s final new extra.
Disc One archive extras:
Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna interview (48:42, HD)
Writer Dennis Paoli interview (10:41, HD)
Composer Richard Band interview (14:43, HD)
Former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone (4:34, HD)
Music discussion with Band (16:31, HD mix) – The composer introduces four sections of isolated score
Extended scenes (23:05, SD)
Deleted scene (2:40, SD)
Three multi-angle storyboards (0:48, 2:54, 1:20, SD)
Trailer and five TV spots
Disc Two (Integral Cut):
A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema (54:03, HD) – Chris Lackey, the host of the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast, hosts this look at the history of movie/TV adaptations of the author’s work. Lackey briefly explores the making-of each film/TV episode and compares each plot to the source material. The information is relatively exhaustive and certainly informative (at least as a primer for a larger subject), but the presentation is a little bit dry, consisting mostly of Lackey’s talking head, quick glimpses of poster/book art, and brief footage from the movies (usually borrowed from trailers).
Doug Bradley's Spine Chillers: Herbert West – Re-animator (98:32, HD stills) – A six-chapter audio version of Lovecraft’s story as read by Jeffery Combs.
The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Full-sized .jpg versions can (currently) only be accessed by right-clicking/ctrl-clicking the images and opening them in a new window/tab.