RE-ANIMATOR (Special Edition)

RE-ANIMATOR (Special Edition)

Fear, laughter, and sex have been viewed as complimentary if paradoxical bedmates since man first jumped at seeing a shadow during an amorous moment and then laughed at himself. The Shaman spinning tales by firelight knew this, as did our earliest literary scribes. Filmmakers ignore it to their own detriment. Director Stuart Gordon has made a career out of combining these elements, using the friction of horror to spark eroticism and humor. In a similar vein, he specializes in interweaving genres, merging elements of science fiction, supernaturalism, and stark naturalism in efforts to depict a universe capable of anything. While Gordon's career has experienced the ups and downs inherent in any unique artist's experience -- and make no mistake about it, at heart he is an original artist -- even his lesser efforts have earned their place in the pantheon of fear classics.

From the mythic dark faerie tale sentimentality of Dolls and depressingly effective realism of Edmund to the fantastical mad obsessions of Pit and the Pendulum and gothic excesses of Castle Freak, Gordon's work never suffers from lack of originality. His visions of the dark fantastic horror are drenched in emotion and intellect, marrying the subversive and emotional with graphic excess. This has been particularly evident and effective in his acclaimed Lovecraft adaptations, wherein he has striven to join the enigmatic, philosophical based speculations of that author with modern exploitation and action required of cinema. In Re-Animator, considered his masterwork, he achieved this symbiosis of the cosmic and physically horrific with surprising (if uneven) success, capturing the sense of awe inherent in Lovecraft's fiction -- if not the restraint or subtlety!

Gordon achieved in Re-Animator a ruler by which the rest of his career will be measured. This, the movie that wasn't afraid to show heads giving head, is a draft of bloody good cheer for the fear fan sick of limp-dick remakes, horror-less 'family' fare, and films that do anything but disturb. H.P. Lovecraft's RE-ANIMATOR 2-disc Limited Edition DVD resurrects this genre classic in pristine condition. Inaugurating the "Anchor Bay Collection" brand, a label specially created to present special DVD editions of classic titles, this package is a loving tribute to the film sporting new artwork, a collectible syringe-shaped highlighter (cheesy but fun), and is limited to 50,000 copies. Of course the most pressing matter is the film itself -- in this case, a moist and meaty problem child of bad attitude, thrills, and rowdy effects that is an embodiment of the generation in which it was spawned.

Adapted from a series of short stories by H. P. Lovecraft by screen scribes Dennis Paoli and William J. Norris, the plot evokes Lovecraft's sense of cosmic menace and chaos but exchanges the suggestive, more intellectual approach of the author with a greater emphasis on gore. This is more a we-write than an adaptation. In a plot that combines tropes from the Mad Science/sci-films of the 50s with the splatter movements of the 80s, Re-Animator follows the exploits of straight-laced medical student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbot) and his girlfriend Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton), both of whom are entangled in mad experiments by new transfer student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) -- a mad genius experimenting with an agent that restores life to dead matter. Amidst romantic tangles, sexual gymnastics, campus politics, and copious body stealing, the two med students are soon up to their hips in blood, guts, and trouble! When Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), a senior member of the faculty stumbles upon their experiments, he is murdered by West, resurrected, and soon assembles own gang of undead thugs. Thirsting for vengeance (and a taste of Meg), Hill faces West in a fiery finale with the fate of Dan and Meg hanging in the middle.

No one can overestimate the effect that Howard Philips Lovecraft exerted over the horror, fantasy, and science fiction genres. Combining themes and stylistic tricks of all three genres while beholding to none, he lent a terrifying vastness and philosophic boldness to the genre. Not content to deal within the stale philosophical limitations of conservative traditional horror fiction, wherein simplistic Good and Evil drew crippling boundaries of morality by which authors had to adhere, Lovecraft bypassed the petty constructs of religious authority and mob morality. More interested in unknown forces and the dangerous allure of knowledge than in routine pulp formula, Lovecraft established an amoral universe greater than man's limited science, impervious to his religions, and unconcerned with his values. In this universe, Man is an insect, and that is precisely what his alien, cosmic entities/powers perceive us as when they bother with us at all. Awe, the unknown, and man's inability to either discern or understand the universe (or himself) was Lovecraft's primary interest, and why his fiction remains influential. It is also the chief reason why filmmakers have such difficulty bringing his visions to screen.

Whereas Lovecraft valued intellectual nightmares, cinema demands concrete pictures, action, and colorful symbols. Thus we have been subjected to movies that miss this point entirely, focusing on bug-eyed Ancient Ones and alien beings -- the trappings of Lovecraft's mythos, really only a small part of his work -- while missing the cosmic mystery that was the point of his work. Of further difficulty is our modern, desire for clearly established characters. Lovecraft himself admitted that he wasn't concerned (nor did he like) human beings. Phenomena was his primary interest, not characterization, and certainly not the cinematic graphic sex/gore that drowns so many of his concepts. This has proved troubling for genre specialists, attempting to give a face to ideas which have none. Stuart Gordon has came the closest to reaching Lovecraft's abstract ideal, capturing some of his principle ideas and moods in essence if not literally in such film s as Dagon, From Beyond, and, most recently, Dreams in the Witch House. If in Re-Animator he didn't as closely reach Lovecraft's alienated and intellectual aesthetic approach, he nevertheless brought the author much deserved attention, and lent new flesh to old ideas.

In short, the subject matter may not have been to the old author's liking, nor the emphasis on gore and humor, but in cosmic approach and the willingness to explore fresh territory, Gordon and Lovecraft met on common ground. Gordon's approach to Re-Animator is clearly his own. Replacing awe with dark humor and graphic carnage, Gordon caught something of the writer's moods of strangeness, making the ethereal more approachable, and thereby more accessible to modern audiences. The cinematic Re-Animator belongs to Stuart Gordon more than Lovecraft. And as its own independent creation, it remains a bold, scathing attack against the senses--a 'go for the gore' taboo breaker that defied (and defiled) cultural norms and what we had come to expect from genre fare.

Anchor Bay gives Re-Animator the four star respect in this newest incarnation of the cult favorite, including a mix of old and new extra features, collectible packaging, and a limited edition run of 50,000 copies. The two-disc set features a new widescreen transfer approved by director Gordon and re-mastered audio in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 sound and two audio commentaries featuring Gordon, producer Brian Yuzna, actors Jeffrey Combs (Herbert West), Bruce Abbott, (Dan Cain), and Barbara Crampton (Megan Halsey). The DVD's transfer -- in 1.85:1 -- is wonderful, with no grain or visual disruption. The picture is sharp, offering plenty of image contrast and bold colors. Audio evenly distributes dialogue and effects, rushing the wet splatter action right into your lap!

Your first reaction may be bewilderment: why do we need yet another edition of this movie? Many collectors have already shelled out for Elite's 1997 DVD and its more significant 2002 Millennium Edition. Re-Animator syringe highlighter pen aside, what makes this release different/better than the aforementioned Millennium package?

The primary reason to purchase this disk is the new 70-minute documentary Re-Animator Resurrectus. One would expect that a movie with this amount of coverage had dropped all of its secrets by now, leaving little of worth to discuss. This feature does the impossible, unearthing facets of the film and its maker's careers never before mentioned, while putting a fresh spin on matters discussed in past commentaries and interviews. While some amount of information and autobiography are unavoidably repeated, enough new information on the production, its story, and the process from page to screen is covered to make the supplement worth watching. Actors Combs, Crampton, Abbott and Sampson are appreciative of Gordon and their experiences on set, and it's simply a pleasure to hear them stroll down memory lane. Chats with Gordon, Yuzna, and Dennis Paoli are more technical and embroiled in elements of aesthetics and craft. While Yuzna, Paoli, and Gordon revisit many of the topics they have already discussed in interviews, the cast and special FX crew are finally given their moment to shine.

Some of the other extras overlap with information and interviews that appeared in the Millennium Edition but are valuable appearing in the same set as the original documentary. Extras, the frosting on this carnal cult classic of blood, breasts, and brains are plentiful and engaging, exploring Gordon's career/approach to cinema, and intimate details of the film's conception and production. For those without the former package, this is a must have edition, including interviews with Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, Dennis Paoli, Richard Band, and Tony Timpone, ranging from the film's incarnation and inspiration to its influence and controversy surrounding its musical score. A deleted scene accompanies these, as well as 16 extended scenes, a trailer, five tv spots, a generous photo gallery, storyboard gallery, and Gordon bio. Both a history and celebration of not only the film as a product but of filmmaking as a process and journey, these informative extra features help develop a social, cultural, and aesthetic context with which to better appreciate the film -- as well as the talent and skill that went into making it. Lovecraft, actors, crew and Gordon; the past and present of horror film-making; plot, structure, characterization, atmosphere, effects; planning, production, and post-production; the filmmaker's goals, the critic's reception, and the publicity -- all of these elements and more are covered in a rich multi-medial assortment of interviews, photos, and commentaries.

In Stuart Gordon's commentary track he discusses his inspiration, the difficulty of adapting the author, and technical details of the film, as well as his own colorful past in the theater, his move to exploitation movie making, and the sacrifices and pleasures he has achieved along the way. Gordon's personable approach to the subject material is both specialized, gleaned from an expert, but injected with enough fan-boy sentiment and obvious love for the genre that he avoids preaching or the stale dictates of an academic lecture. Enthusiasm is a hall-mark of each commentary, and the audio track with Producer Brian Yuzna and Actors Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton and Robert Samson manage to explore similar territory in fresh perspectives, saving us from simplistic rehashing of previously covered material. The producer and talent are approachable and friendly, and all harbor fond memories of the experience and what it did for their careers. This track also covers material left unsaid by Gordon, covering more intimate and character-related tid-bits. While not as significant, "Music Discussion with Composer Richard Band," provides a further looks into the making of this sensation. Interviews, tv spots, and unearthed production stills (from Brian Yuzna's private collection) are treat, the former offering never before seen photos separated in categories: Production Stills, Fun on the Set Stills, and Posters and Advertising Gallery. Storyboard galleries are also included. Last are the obligatory Stuart Gordon Bio, and for those with DVD-ROM, a screenplay and the original Lovecraft stories of Herbert West.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by Anchor Bay
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review