In an enjoyably silly prologue, we first meet student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs, THE FRIGHTENERS), 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!".

So begins RE-ANIMATOR, Stuart Gordon's celebrated comic-horror that, along with DAY OF THE DEAD and THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, spearheaded 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 (Bruce Abbott, BAD DREAMS) and his homely girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton, CASTLE FREAK) - a likeable, believable young pair who are very much in love.

Then we've got the bad guys: Robert Sampson (THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON) convinces as Megan's disapproving father, who also happens to be the Dean of the medical university that Dan attends; David Gale (THE FIRST POWER) 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. He moves in with Dan when the latter advertises for a tenant. Setting up a makeshift lab in Dan's basement, it's not long before we learn that West has invented a serum capable of re-animating dead tissue.

Cajoling Dan into helping him break into the university morgue one night, West pumps his serum into a fresh cadaver - and all Hell breaks loose. From this point in, Gordon goes for the throat with alarming frequency, along the solid character-building dialogue of the film's first third to sit back knowing it's giving 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 not a great director. 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 it's era tend to. Watching it for the first time in ages 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!

This 2-disc SE from Anchor Bay/Starz is one of the most comprehensive genre releases yet. If you thought the Elite Millenium edition was definitive - think again.

The film is presented uncut (for the first time in the UK) in it's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and is anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TVs. Images are bright, clear and sharp. Minimal grain is present in an otherwise spotless transfer.

Audio-wise, we have 2.0 stereo, 5.1 and 5.1 DTS mixes to choose from. All are reliable affairs, with well balanced sounds and nice loud bass where it's needed.

The animated menus are a joy to the eyes in themselves - sharp, colourful things injected with humour much like the main feature.

Extras on disc 1 include two audio commentaries, which 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.

Disc 2 kicks off with a superbly produced 70-minute documentary entitled Re-Animator Reserectus. Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1, 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.

The rest is previously available stuff, but it still adds up to a hell of a 2nd disc:

A 48-minute onscreen discussion between Gordon and the self-satisfied Yuzna; 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; the original trailer; 5 TV spots; 34 posters-and-advertising-related stills; numerous production/Behind-The-Scenes/"fun on the set" stills; a gallery of 69 images from the original storyboards; a Gordon biography and filmography; and finally, the complete screenplay and original Lovecraft short story available in PDF format, downloadable as a DVD ROM feature.

A cult classic that does not age (unlike it's sequels), RE-ANIMATOR deserves to be a part of every horror fan's collection. And this DVD is the only version to own. For a limited period, UK customers can buy the collectable packaging that the Americans got with a free "serum" pen at HMV stores ...

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Anchor Bay (UK)
Region 2 - PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review