It was almost a year earlier that I reviewed Elite Entertainment's first release of the satiric 1985 cult-horror classic, "Re-Animator." Now, they're back with yet another edition, this time a two-disc set with more bonuses than ever, THX mastered, and in Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. You think they're going make this an annual event? Next year maybe it'll be three discs and bookends. Anyway, if you've always heard about this film and thought you might want to see it, or if you love the film but have been wary of the quality of the old disc's somewhat raggedy transfer and ordinary mono sound, now's probably the time to think again. The "Re-Animator" Millennium Edition offers everything you might have ever wanted in the film and more.
Let me refresh your memory about the movie itself. Directed by Stuart Gordon and produced by Brian Yuzna, "Re-Animator" is based upon a series of stories by H.P. Lovecraft. It begins in a laboratory in Switzerland where we see a scientist's head explode. That surely sets the tone right there. Three younger stars and two older ones get almost equal screen time in the film. The first character is a certifiably committable medical student, Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), who thinks he's unlocked the secret of reviving the dead. In this respect we're looking at an archetypal Frankenstein picture ("It's alive!"), but old Frank was never like this. West was in Switzerland when the aforementioned mishap occurred, and now he's come to America to further his studies at Miskatonic University (one of Lovecraft's favorite fictional haunts). He rents a room from another young med student only a bit more together than he is, Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), whom he soon brings into his experiments. The third major participant is Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), Dan's fiancee and nubile daughter of the university's puritanical president, Dean Halsey (Robert Sampson). The final character, and the one who makes the movie work, is Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), the school's specialist in brain surgery. He has the distinction of not only being obsessed with Megan but of wearing what appears to be the worst rug in Hollywood history. What do I know; in a movie so-bad-it's-good, it's probably his own hair. Anyway, the movie made a cult figure of Mr. Gale, and before his death in 1991 he was starting to build quite a reputation for himself in horror circles.
Moving on, we have the old missing-cat ploy used to get the ball rolling, with the cat leading Megan to places she shouldn't have been getting into. Cat lovers beware. West has apparently conquered death, but he hasn't worked out all the bugs. Seems his subjects become violent after being reanimated with his florescent green serum, and they start biting people's fingers off, among other things. The only way to stop them is to drill a hole through their heart. Among other things. When Dean Halsey finds out what the two young chaps claim to be doing, he cuts (sorry) both of them off from the university, meaning that West and Cain have to conduct their experiments in secret.
The most fascinating thing about the film is that the sillier it gets, the more increasingly enjoyable and exciting it gets, too. The further into the plot, the faster the action occurs, with a hardly a letup in the last forty minutes and getting crazier by the second. The film is jaw-droppingly awful, to be precise, but it's a scream, to be sure. By the last fifteen minutes, things go well into gross-out land, especially when Dr. Hill loses his head over Megan and attempts what has to be a first (and last) in over-the-top sexual kinkiness. Ms. Crampton braves the contest like a trouper, baring it all in the wardrobe department's least-expensive costume.
The movie is not as intentionally campy as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," but in its gruesome and gory way, it comes close. When Dr. Hill, head in hand, threatens West, West replies, "Who's going to believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow!" The music from composer Richard Band is also a kick, most of the time plundering the soundtrack of Bernard Herrmann's "Psycho." If you're going to steal, steal from the best.
Still, while it's all fun and games, a strong stomach is a requirement for the crudity of some of the behavior. Be prepared for human heads being cut open, brains being extracted, skulls being crushed, limbs being severed, eyes bursting, and much grisly maiming, crippling, and other violent deportment.
According to Elite Entertainment, their first release of the film was transferred from "a new 35mm low-contrast print struck from the original 35mm camera negative." In that edition I thought the color made the film "look older than it was--shadowy, glossy, and slightly blurred, with flesh tones appearing particularly dark and sometimes unnaturally purplish." This new THX-certified transfer, however, changes all that. It still isn't as sharp and clear as I would have liked it to be, but it's remarkably more natural-looking in matters of color balance and skin tone than the older version. Now the only faces looking purplish are the ones that are supposed to look that way, usually folks choking just before death...and after. Like the old transfer, the new one is quite clean, free of digital artifacts like grain or dancing pixels, and its anamorphic screen size again measures about 1.72:1 in ratio across a standard television screen.
About all I could say of the original audio was that it came via "very ordinary Dolby Digital monaural, somewhat soft and restricted but having the virtue of quietness." That, too, is changed. Now, the viewer has the choice of not only the original 2.0 mono track but two new surround tracks, one in Dolby Digital 5.1, the other DTS 5.1. The remix in DD 5.1 is much improved over the old mono and provides, if not spot-on directional clues, at least a good, detailed signal from the surround channels and a more all-encompassing sound field. When the wanton havoc begins, it's befitting to have it around.
Many of the bonus items on this new two-disc release are the same ones found on the old single disc, but the few new additions are worthwhile. The first disc contains the widescreen presentation of the film, the Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, and original 2.0 monaural soundtracks, with again only English as a spoken language, and no subtitles. As before the disc also contains an audio commentary with director Stuart Gordon and a second audio commentary with producer Brian Yuzna and actors Jeffrey Combs, Robert Sampson, Barbara Crampton, and Bruce Abbott. Further supplements are an isolated music score and a THX Optimizer set of audiovisual calibration tests. The disc concludes with twenty-four animated chapter selections.
The second disc is mainly loaded with interviews. To start there's an interview with Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna, who discuss the filmmaking for forty-eight minutes. Another interview is with writer Dennis Paoli, eleven minutes. A third is with composer Richard Band, fourteen minutes (who in another segment discusses the music in four example scenes). Yet a fourth interview is with Tony Timpone, the editor of "Fangoria" magazine, who reminisces about his first experiences seeing the film. After the interviews, there are again sixteen extended scenes and one deleted scene, this time all nicely done up in anamorphic widescreen. Next, there are several multi-angle storyboards one can pursue via remote by going back and forth between the storyboard and the live action. While this item worked perfectly using the "Angle" button on my Sony 7700 player, it would not work at all on my older Panasonic machine, which I keep in another room and another system. Finally, there are cast and filmmaker bios and filmographies, an extensive behind-the-scenes photo gallery, a theatrical trailer, and five TV spots.
As I said a year ago of Elite's first release of "Re-Animator," the movie is clearly junk food at its best. There is no other reason to watch it than to revel in its excesses, and the more excessive it gets, the more fun it is. Additionally, this new Millennium Edition makes the whole enterprise more entertaining by presenting it in better picture and sound than ever before. The movie's ending still begs for that sequel, though, the one Yuzna and company provided in their 1990 follow-up, "Bride of Re-Animator." Although equally or even more gory than its progenitor, the "Bride" could not top its predecessor for originality and was something of a disappointment. "Re-animator" comes to us unrated, thanks to its extravagant use of blood, gore, mayhem, blood, nudity, blood, violence, blood, and more blood. Have fun.