Anxious people pound on a door at the Institute of Medicine in Switzerland shouting for Dr. Gruber. When they hear manic screaming on the other side, two armed guards break the door down. They find Gruber lying on the floor, head bloated and discolored as Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) desperately holds on to him, shouting that he cannot leave but must make notes about his experiment. When accused of killing Gruber, West counters with “I gave him life.” Much later a re-animated, decapitated corpse holds its own head between the legs of a tied-down, completely naked, and very much alive woman and makes lewd gestures with its tongue.
Stuart Gordon’s loose adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s novella must have thrilled and freaked people out in equal droves upon its release in 1985. It is so delightfully gross, disturbing, and hilarious (often at the same time) that it's still hard to know what to make of it some 32 years after its release.
Herbert West is a medical student who has invented a serum that can re-animate a corpse into a living being again, but he can’t quite get the dose right. His patients/victims come back to life alright, but usually as hyper-violent maniacs. When he moves in with fellow med student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), he gains access to the school's morgue and plenty of fresh corpses to experiment on.
Jeffrey Combs plays West with a camp-infused seriousness that is both unnerving and loads of fun. He is so obsessed with re-animating life that he can find nothing but scorn for those who question his increasingly unethical and immoral actions. Cain begins as a sort-of moral conscience to West but as things get further and further out of hand, he finds himself following right along.
The film begins as a fairly straight science fiction film with just small bits of horror and dark comedy percolating periodically to the surface. But as it moves forward in its just-under-90-minutes run time, it slowly descends (just like Herbert West) into utter madness. By the time that decapitated head tries to perform unwanted cunnilingus, it's gone into complete gonzo territory.
It is not until Dr. Hill (David Gale) tries to claim the serum as his own that West goes into full-on mad scientist mode. It is Hill’s decapitated corpse I mentioned earlier and the naked girl is Cain’s girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton). How they got to those states is such a strange, grotesque, and wondrous ride, it's really just best to watch it unfold rather than be told.
I can no longer remember if I saw Re-Animator or Evil Dead II first, but between those two, my mind was opened up to a cinematic world of gore, guts, and laughter dolled out in equal measure. That so many films have tried and failed to combine those things with such magnificent results is a testament to what treasures they truly are.
Re-Animator, like so many other hard R-rated yet relatively successful films, has seen various versions released into the world. The film originally garnered an X rating. Several minutes of violence, gore, and nudity were cut out in order for it to receive an R rating for home-video release. In addition, several minutes of dialogue, omitted from the original cut, were added back in, giving it a longer run time than the original.
In order to show the film on TV, more gore and nudity were trimmed with even more scenes of dialogue added back in. Years later in Europe, some enterprising young fan added back all the gore and nudity, but kept the additional dialogue creating the longest version yet.
Stuart Gordon maintains that his original cut is the official version. This is now known as the Unrated version (apparently he had to officially remove the old R rating to release his final cut of the film). Yet the long version with both dialogue and explicit scenes remains very popular and is now known as the Integral Version. Both versions are included in this Limited Edition set from Arrow Video. Unfortunately, for this review I was only given the Unrated Version so I cannot comment on the Integral Version.
Re-Animator was previously released on Blu-ray by Image Entertainment with a controversial image quality. I never saw that version so I can’t comment on it, but Arrow has remastered from the original 35mm camera negative. While it doesn’t look bad, I can’t say I’m impressed. The colors look good and the detail is nice, but the grain is really quite heavy and I noticed several scratches including a persistent one through most of the first reel. My memory is too faded to remember how the print looked the last time I saw it (likely on a VHS tape) but from most accounts, Arrow did clean it up nicely. Audio quality is likewise decent, but not remarkable. It gets the job done without ever engaging the rear channels.
Extras are a-plenty, though again I did not receive the second disk containing the Integral Version or the extras included on that disk (a 54-minute overview of cinematic adaptations of Lovecraft and Doug Bradley reading the original Re-Animator story.) But there are lots of cool extra included on the disk I did receive. These include a new audio commentary with Stuart Gordon and two actors involved in the musical adaptation of the film (!) plus two archival commentaries. There is also an incredibly informative documentary about the film, plus interviews, a discussion on the music, extended scenes, deleted scenes, and much more.
Re-Animator is the very definition of a not-for-everyone film. Loaded with disturbing scenes including tons of blood-soaked gore, pitch-black humor, and full-frontal nudity, it's not a film you take home to meet the parents. (Unless your parents like that sort of thing, in which case, can I have them?) But for those twisted little horror geeks who dig this sort of thing, this is the very best at exactly that sort of thing.
Arrow Video has done a great job of creating an incredible package loaded with extras, and a full alternate cut. While I had some problems with the video presentation, it still looks good and is a must-have for fans.