Finally, after what seems like an eternity since its initial announcement, Second Sight's UK blu-ray of Stuart Gordon's enduring 1985 classic gets a release.
You know the film already: In an enjoyably silly prologue, we first meet student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), helping his mentor Dr Gruber with his latest experiment at a Zurich medical university. The experiment goes tits-up just as a couple of guards break into their room. They find West trying to restrain a screaming Gruber, whose eyes are exploding.
As Gruber falls to the floor limp, a nurse rushes into the room and accuses West of killing him. "No I did not!" he retorts, " I gave him life!".
From there, West relocates to Miskatonic hospital in Massachusetts where he resumes his studies into "death" while lodging with fellow student Dan (Bruce Abbott), who also just happens to be sleeping with the Dean's pretty daughter Meg (Barbara Crampton).
At the hospital, West quickly makes an enemy of his tutor Dr Hill (David Gale) when he accuses him of plagiarising Gruber's research into the brain's ability to live on after death. Little does Hill know, but West is still developing the luminous green serum pioneered by Gruber in Switzerland - a re-agent he hopes to perfect to the point that it can bring the dead back to life.
Much to Dan's initial horror, West's serum first works on his pet cat. Albeit, with violent consequences. Slowly but surely, a reluctant Dan is drawn into West's plans to sneak into the hospital morgue and see what happens when they inject the serum into a recently deceased human cadaver...
Gordon's celebrated comic-horror was, along with DAY OF THE DEAD and THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, at the forefront of the "zombie summer" of 1985.
But whereas Romero's film was a bleak affair with heavy-handed politics to wade through in order to reach Tom Savini's juicy splatter FX, and O'Bannon's movie was an enjoyable but trite lark in the park with unappealing 2-D characters, Gordon found a fine balance somewhere in the middle.
First, there's the characters. The audience is invited to identify with promising medical student Dan and his homely girlfriend Megan - a likeable, believable young pair who are very much in love.
Then we've got the bad guys: Robert Sampson convinces as Megan's disapproving father; Gale is great as the lecherous Dr Hill, leering over Megan at every opportunity.
Then, of course, there's West - snivelling, cowardly, dishonest and manipulative: a wonderful anti-hero. Combs delivers a wonderfully theatrical performance that escalates and escalates, going into overdrive once the first cadaver receives his serum and all Hell breaks loose. From this point in, Gordon goes for the throat with alarming frequency, allowing the solid character-building dialogue of the film's first third to sit back knowing it's given us characters to care about - now we can simply watch them get decapitated, lobotomised, disembowelled, re-animated and even orally raped.
One look at Gordon's track record will show you he's an inconsistent director. For every FROM BEYOND and STUCK, there's an EDMOND or DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS. But with RE-ANIMATOR he was blessed with many assets. The source material, from a short story by HP Lovecraft, was perfect for updating. Brian Yuzna acted as an enthusiastic, gore-loving producer. The cast were young, energetic and totally spirited in their performances. The FX from EFX Lead were excellent for their time (they hold up well to this day). Even Richard Band's electro-rip-off of Psycho's theme tune works well.
Setting the bulk of the action in the cold, white hospital helps lessen the age of the film too. RE-ANIMATOR hasn't dated like other films from its era have tended to. Watching it again reminds of what a fine film it really is: the balance of humour and horror works a treat, and you just don't get genre efforts this splashy anymore. Second Sight's blu-ray has taken some time to arrive. In the meantime, Capelight serviced impatient fans with a sterling 3-disc release in Germany. That release is beautifully packaged in a thick Mediabook casing boasting original iconic artwork and a nice colour booklet (with German text, alas) woven into the inside. Furthermore, the discs were packed with extras and alternate versions of the film - all of which was English-friendly - making it a very hard proposition to turn down.
So, how can the UK disc compete?
Well, this is a 2-disc blu-ray release. And, for the most part, it contains all the bonus features that the German release did - with one notable exception (read on).
Disc one contains the unrated version of the film. Uncut and uncensored, this is Gordon's original vision and is the ultimate way to watch the film.
Speaking of which, there's no better to watch it than here. This 1080p HD transfer comes from a 4k restoration of the original negative and looks superb. It's the same restoration job as enjoyed by Capelight's release, but seemingly Second Sight have employed additional tweaking to further enhance an already incredible presentation. Now, images are slightly brighter and detail appears marginally more intricate. There's a fine layer of grain evident throughout; colours are bold and true; the organic texture of images in each scene breathes new life into a low budget film from three decades ago that really has no right to look this vibrant and fresh. The film is presented as a generously sized MPEG4-AVC file in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions.
Upon side-by-side comparison, it seemed to me that Second Sight's transfer appeared to have blacks that were a fraction more grey than the Capelight presentation, but was overall stronger. Either way, they're both stunning propositions.
Audio-wise, there's no room for complaint with brilliant English mixes being proffered in stereo PCM and DTS-HD MA 5.1. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read at all times.
Disc one also contains two audio commentary tracks. These have been available before - the first is from Gordon and is fairly informative but quite sombre. The second - and less informative - track is from Yuzna, Combs, Abbott, Crampton and Sampson. It's a more jokey chat, and easier to listen to as a result.
An animated main menu page leads to pop-up menus, including a scene selection menu allowing access to the film via 16 chapters.
Over on disc two, we get the so-called "integral cut" of RE-ANIMATOR. This was also on the German release and is something of a scoop for fans, offering as it does a composite of the film's unrated version - all the blood and guts are intact - plus additional expositional scenes that Gordon shot to pad out the much truncated TV version of the film in the US.
This isn't Gordon's intended version, it's basically been created for these releases for the sake of completion. As such, it's a fascinating inclusion on any release and the additional scenes are fun to watch. The best is an extended dinner scene which makes more of Dr Hill's ability to hypnotise people (an underused plot device in the unrated cut). However, overall this version suffers in terms of pacing; it's a good 50 minutes before the aforementioned cadaver in the morgue crops up, thanks to lots of new or extended early scenes of storyline.
Again, the film comes in 1080p HD and with a nice 16x9 enhancement of the original ratio. It's another excellent transfer, identical to the one offered by Capelight. English DTS-HD Master Audio is once more impressive, although there are no subtitles available for this version of the film.
Bonus features kick off with the superbly produced 70-minute documentary entitled "Re-Animator Resurrectus". Presented in 16x9 widescreen, this offers new onscreen interviews with all the principal cast and crew members (minus the late Gale) in talking-head-style interviews, while various images and film clips appear superimposed behind them. Interesting, fun, invaluable.
A 48-minute onscreen discussion between Gordon and the self-satisfied Yuzna follows; then we get a 10-minute interview with co-screenwriter Dennis Paoli; two featurettes with composer Richard Band; a short interview with former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone; a 2-minute deleted scene; 23 minutes of extended scenes (which you'll recognise from the integral cut ...); the film's original trailer and TV spots; two galleries - one offering Behind-The-Scenes stills, the second offering production snaps.
It's all stuff we've seen before as fans, but would moan about if it wasn't included here. In fact, the only thing this release lacks (aside from the foreign-text booklet) from the Capelight release is the US TV version, which the German release presented as a ropy-looking standard definition Easter Egg.
Do you really need RE-ANIMATOR in a heavily censored version? Maybe, for completion, you do. If so, you need to pay through the nose for the German 3-disc release.
Anyone else should be content in the knowledge that Second Sight's 2-disc blu-ray release gives UK fans a sublime presentation of the main feature and just about everything a fan could want in terms of bonus material. I'm even warming to Graham Humphrey's new cover artwork...
Released in limited edition Steelbook packaging.
By Stuart Willis
|Released by Second Sight|
|see main review|