RE-ANIMATOR (1985) Blu-ray Limited Edition
Director: Stuart Gordon
Arrow Video USA

"Herbert West has a very good head on his shoulders... and another one in a dish on his desk," and you can see both with renewed clarity in Arrow Video's new 4K-remastered Blu-ray two-disc limited edition of Stuart Gordon's RE-ANIMATOR.

After his experiments with reanimating the brain after death come to a tragic end in Switzerland, medical student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs, THE LURKING FEAR) transfers to Miskatonic University's teaching hospital and immediately clashes with instructor Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale, SYNGENOR) whose own studies to prove that the human will resides in the brain have been plagiarized from the work of West's late mentor. Against the concerns of his girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton, PUPPET MASTER), medical student Daniel Cain (Bruce Abbott, BAD DREAMS) takes Herbert in as a roommate and is forced to keep him when they suspect he has killed their pet cat when he holds his knowledge of their relationship over their head and threatens to tell Megan's college dean father (Robert Sampson, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD). Cain soon discovers that West has made leaps and bounds in his study of brain reanimation with a chemical reagent. When the dean expels Cain for his relationship with Megan and the implications of his collaboration with West, he continues to help West in the next step in their work: reanimating a human corpse. Dr. Hill, however, has stumbled upon West's work and decides that he wants to take credit for the discovery, causing West to take drastic steps against the equally mad doctor.

An overnight success critically and financially upon its unrated theatrical release, Stuart Gordon's feature film debut RE-ANIMATOR pushed the boundaries of genre film sex and violence as well as reinvigorating mainstream cinema's interest in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft (with Gordon's follow-up FROM BEYOND, Jean-Paul Ouellette's THE UNNAMABLE, David Keith's THE CURSE, Dan O'Bannon's THE RESURRECTED, and David McCormick's lesser-seen DARK HERITAGE following soon after). Boasting an ambitious amount of impressively-realized special make-up effects by Anthony Doublin (NIGHT TRAIN TO TERROR), John Naulin (MANIAC COP), and John Carl Buechler's Magical Media Industries (THE PREY) – the latter furnished by Empire Pictures' Charles Band who provided no funding – the film is a thrill-ride that aptly balances horror, grue, tragedy, and humor into a fast-moving eighty-odd minute package carried along by Richard H. Band's PSYCHO-homage/rip-off orchestral score. It still impresses with repeat viewings, but one does become aware of the narrative leaps the film makes through dialogue and some unexplained subplots like Hill's use of mesmerism. Gordon planned the adaptation initially as a multi-episode PBS adaptation of Lovecraft's serialized story and screenwriter Dennis Paoli (SPELLCASTER) was tasked with expanding and modernizing the original episode one teleplay by William Norris while integrating the content of the other installments of the story, and Gordon's original cut ran over two hours before it was trimmed down by producer Brian Yuzna and editor Lee Percy (THE KILLING OF AMERICA). Over twenty minutes of deleted scenes would work themselves into the severely-pruned R-rated and television versions of the film that would shed light on some of the subplots and provide greater character depth, but it is perhaps the mark of inexperience on the parts of Gordon and Paoli, as well as Gordon's lack of involvement in the fine-turning editing due to work obligations with his theatre company, that the necessary content was not better finessed into a workable length at the scripting and assembly edit stages. Yuzna would direct the sequel BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR as part of a two-picture deal that also included SOCIETY. Gordon also developed THE LURKING FEAR and DAGON for Empire Pictures but they were unrealized, with C. Courtney Joyner mounting the former for Full Moon Pictures in the nineties and Gordon returning to DAGON with Brian Yuzna in 2006 as part of a co-production deal with Spanish company Filmax.

Released unrated theatrically by Empire Pictures, RE-ANIMATOR was made available in unrated and an R-rated version – the latter created without Gordon's or Yuzna's input – on video by Vestron and on laserdisc as the R-rated version (labeled unrated) by the label, with the censored version actually longer as it replaced violence and nudity with deleted scenes. Image released the unrated version on laserdisc in 1991, and that was followed in 1995 by Elite Entertainment's special edition laserdisc featuring a new transfer, two commentaries on the analog tracks, and a selection of the deleted scenes for the R-rated version. In 1998, Elite carried over the transfer and extras – including a rediscovered dream sequence – to non-anamorphic DVD followed by a 2002 Millennium Edition two-disc set with an anamorphic transfer, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS remixes, Band's score isolated in Dolby Digital 5.1, and a host of new video extras. Anchor Bay would follow this up in 2007 with the same extras as well as a new seventy-minute documentary "RE-ANIMATOR: Resurrectus", all of which would be carried over to Image Entertainment's 2012 Blu-ray, but the dated HD master received criticism including some claiming that it was an upscale (which at the time was not hard to buy given the quality of Image's early Blu-rays). Five years later, Arrow Video's US arm has the rights, is derived from the German 4K restoration put out on Blu-ray in that country by Capelight and the UK by Second Sight by the same firm that restored Yuzna's BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR and SOCIETY. The new transfer reveals more picture on all sides of the frame over the Image disc and is considerably sharper without out seeming oversharpened, as well as sporting healthier hues and grain. Audio tracks include the original mono in LPCM 1.0, a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio remix that spreads the score and some directional sound effects, and an LPCM 2.0 stereo downmix. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided.

The unrated version on disc one is accompanied by three commentary tracks: the first with director Gordon and the second with producer Yuzna and cast members Abbott, Combs, Crampton and Sampson, both ported over from the DVDs, and a new one with Gordon accompanied by RE-ANIMATOR the musical creators Jesse Merlin and Graham Skipper. Gordon discusses his initial idea to produce a film utilizing the members of his Chicago-based Organic Theatre company, and the suggestion of Bob Greenberg (THE LOST EMPIRE) that a horror film made for under a million dollars was guaranteed to make its money back even if it was not a success. After he expressed a desire to put a new twist on Frankenstein, a friend recommended that he track down the H.P. Lovecraft story "Herbert West – Re-Animator" which was out of print at that time. He initially developed the first story in the serial as a thirty-minute TV episode for PBS, and then as an hour-long script before meeting Yuzna (who had raised funding for a project that fell through) and he proposed making it into a feature film. Especially telling for the script, Gordon's initial overlong cut, and the structural issues of the final cut is Yuzna's suggestion that they work everything in the six-part serial into the script since they might not get the chance to do a sequel. Of the production, he discusses the research that went into the make-up effects realizations of the corpses, Band's providing Buechler and recommending the replacement of original DP Robert Ebinger (THE BEING) with Mac Ahlberg (HELL NIGHT), and Cain's original importance in the script and film as the relatable character. He also recalls a test screening that some of their initial attempts to push things to the extreme were more disgusting than entertaining (cutting down Hill's extraction of a medical specimen's brain from five minutes to a few cutaways during the class lecture).

The second track with Yuzna and the cast is a more raucous but just as entertaining and informative track as Combs, Crampton, Abbott, and Sampson recite lines, get jabs in, recall the atmosphere on the set while Yuzna provides such trivia as the main gurney coming from the set of Dan O'Bannon's RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD with a hole already cut in the metal for Hill's head to go through. The group also affectionately recalls working with Gale, and how the "head gives head" scene left him feeling "spiritually bereft" (it is also mentioned that his wife walked out on him after seeing this sequence during the cast/crew screening). The new track with Gordon, Merlin, and Skipper is a mix of their reactions to the original film and their discussions of how the musical differs or the ways in which it uses scenes in the original as jump off points. Whether or not rights issues prevented the use of video or audio excerpts from the actual musical, there is plenty of singing on this track as they discuss the characters as conceived for the musical version.

Also carried over from the Anchor Bay edition is the "RE-ANIMATOR Resurrectus" documentary (68:35) which covers a lot of the same ground as the commentaries with the input of more collaborators. Gordon covers the origins of the project almost verbatim from the commentary (although he has probably told the story a million times for various extras and interviews), Yuzna coming onto the project, their pre-production period in which they discovered that all of the fantastical elements in the script broke down into eighty-nine separate effects. Doublin and Naulin come on to describe their work on the film, employing students from Naulin's effects courses, and Buechler about his contributions (including an animatronic version of Hill's head). Gordon also concedes his lack of technical know-how in terms of filmmaking and that he was greatly helped by the Empire-mandated replacement of Ebinger with seasoned Ahlberg who is on hand here to discuss how Gordon's visualization and blocking of scenes may have looked good to him as a stage director but not through the eye of the camera. Combs, Crampton, Abbott, Sampson, and Gordon's wife Carolyn Purdy-Gordon (DOLLS) are on hand to discuss working with each other and Gale (who Gordon regarded as "Karloff-like") as well as commenting on the deleted scenes and the mesmerism subplot. The last part of the featurette focuses on the film's Cannes reception and the surprisingly positive American critical reviews from the likes of Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael, as well as how the success led to a three-picture deal with Empire for Gordon (DOLLS, FROM BEYOND, and ROBOT JOX).

Also carried over are interviews with Gordon and Yuzna (48:42), writer Paoli (10:41), former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone (4:34), as well as one with composer Band (14:43) who is also on hand for "Music Discussion with composer Richard Band" (16:31), a sort of selected scene commentary covering the scoring. New to the package is "Barbara Crampton In Conversation" (36:05) in which the actress cover her career from the soaps to BODY DOUBLE (all of her dialogue cut the night before shooting her bedroom scene), RE-ANIMATOR, CHOPPING MALL, FROM BEYOND, her return to the soaps for job security (she reveals that she did not become the "go-to girl for horror" but not for lack of trying with auditions such as CANDYMAN), her retirement and starting a family before getting a call from her agent after six years of silence for a role in YOU'RE NEXT which lead to WE ARE STILL HERE and ROAD GAMES. "The Catastrophe of Success" (13:08) is a new interview with Gordon that goes into more depth about his stage career, getting arrested along with his wife for obscenity for a production of PETER PAN in Wisconsin before making the move to Chicago and founding the Organic Theatre company, producing a string of original works including a play by Ray Bradbury and works by David Mamet including SEXUAL PERVERSITY IN CHICAGO before an expansion required the integration of a theatre board of community members who discouraged producing new work in favor of hits. In "Theatre of Blood" (12:04), musical lyricist Mark Nutter recalls first meeting Gordon in the seventies in Chicago and being contacted years later by Gordon for the musical. He discusses the genesis of various character-based musical themes and songs, the on-stage effects supervised by Doublin, and the various performances (illustrated by photographs rather than clips). Several of the extended scenes (23:05) are included along with the deleted scene (2:40) rediscovered for the Elite DVD of Dan's dream of nude Megan pawed by West and Hill which was meant to be interrupted by the reanimation of the cat, as well as three multi-angle storyboards, the film's theatrical trailer (1:57), five TV spots (2:36), and the film's screenplay as a BD-ROM extra.

The second Blu-ray disc in the package includes the film's integral cut (104:56) which first appeared on the German Capelight Blu-ray release. Arrow's notes inform us that this is not simply the R-rated version with nudity and gore restored as well as additional scenes from the TV version (which had been included as an Easter Egg on the German set), but a version that includes everything while rearranging some scenes and utilizing alternate dialogue takes to be all-inclusive without being redundant. Thankfully, the deleted footage has all been well-preserved so it had undergone the same restoration as the unrated feature. While the integral cut is interesting to watch, especially in the context of how Gordon's initial two-hour plus cut must have come across before its pruning to a workable length, I actually would have been more interested to see the R-rated version or the television cut to see how the re-integrated footage was meant to make up for the cut gore and nudity (the integral version's bedroom scene between Dan and Megan seems especially odd working together all of the footage since the cat landing on Dan's back does not work so much as a "cat scare" since this version has already had their conversation interrupted by it dropping in between them for the scene as it played in the television cut). The sole audio track is the same DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix as the unrated version. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided.

Disc's two's extras include "A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema" (54:03) in which H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast host Chris Lackey provides an overview of cinema adaptations starting with AIP's quartet THE HAUNTED PALACE, DIE MONSTER DIE, THE CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR, and THE DUNWICH HORROR (the latter two of which he speaks distastefully of the "hippie" aspects), the NIGHT GALLERY adaptations of "Cool Air" and "Pickman's Model", makes a case for ALIEN, THE EVIL DEAD, and THE THING as Lovecraft-influenced, before discussing RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, the "boring" THE CURSE, the slasher-esque THE UNNAMABLE, the "delightfully horrid" but faithful DARK HERITAGE, BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, his favorite THE RESURRECTED, the less faithful anthology NECRONOMICON: BOOK OF THE DEAD, THE UNNAMABLE II, Full Moon's THE LURKING FEAR, the favorable DAGON, IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, the 2007 film CTHULHU (in which the protagonist's sexuality is source of alienation from his cultist family), the German DIE FARBE, as well as the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society's film adaptations THE CALL OF CTHULHU and THE WHISPERER IN DARKNESS. Oddly left out is Gordon's "Masters of Horror" episode DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE for TV (especially since the NIGHT GALLERY episodes were considered cinematic enough), all of the short films which were released on DVD collections by the Lovecraft society, as well as Ivan Zuccon's English-language, Italian-produced anthology THE SHUNNED HOUSE and COLOUR FROM THE DARK. Combs is on hand for "Doug Bradley's Spine Chillers" audio reading of the source story in six parts (98:32). Arrow's RE-ANIMATOR is a limited edition digipak featuring newly commissioned artwork by Justin Erickson, a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by writer Michael Gingold, as well as a 92-page perfect-bound booklet containing the original 1991 comic book adaptation of the movie, reprinted in its entirety. Not supplied for review were the digipak packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Justin Erickson, a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by writer Michael Gingold, as well as a 92-page perfect-bound booklet containing the original 1991 comic book adaptation of the movie. (Eric Cotenas)