Wasting no time, Stuart Gordon's 'Re-Animator' jumps right into the blood-soaked mayhem. Just a few minutes in, the eyes of a rotting corpse burst at the screen and squirt gushy innards everywhere. A stout nurse stands there in astonishment while thick, bright red globs of blood spray across her face and into her mouth. Security guards restrain a young, crazy-eyed student, assuming he is the murderer, but he quickly corrects them by declaring that he, in fact, gave the man life. And just as suddenly, we switch to the animated opening credits with a musical score that blatantly but deliberately borrows from the theme to Hitchcock's indelible classic 'Psycho.' But before we yell rip-off, it becomes clear the music is only fitting, given the deranged lunacy we just witnessed.
The beginning sequence is a great way of setting the film's tone, promising barrels of laughter that ideally arise from the shock and horror of the graphic, bedlam-like gore. Gordon, who made his feature-length debut with this outrageous silliness, goes for balls-to-the-wall absurdity mixed with a funhouse sensibility, to give the often appallingly disgusting proceedings a jovial atmosphere. The bumps and thumps in the other room put viewers on edge. while unexpected scares make you jump off your seat, but it's all in raucously good humor as we see a severed head somehow still possess control of its former body. It's creepy being trapped inside the morgue with reanimated naked cadavers grabbing at you, but it's also hilariously revolting seeing the same severed head licking the naked body of a horrified young woman.
At the center of the pandemonium is the inventor of the glow-in-the-dark serum which can rejuvenate the dead as crazed, ill-tempered zombies. At the movie's opening, we meet Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) leaning over the eye-bulging corpse of his former professor. Afterwards, we find him as a medical student at the wonderfully-named Miskatonic University, at odds with the leading instructor of school's hospital, Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale), and renting a room with fellow classmate Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). It's not long before West's experiments are discovered, and the movie quickly spirals into a schlock-fest of carnage and complete insanity. Gordon guides his audience through the continuously cartoonish frivolity of blood with a giddy, manic pace that never lets up and almost leaves us wishing for more.
Reportedly, special make-up effects artist John Naulin and Gordon studied extensively about cadavers, body parts, and the process of death in order to make the movie as realistic as possible. For the most part, they did a remarkable job and it remains just as shocking as ever, making up much of the reason behind its successful cult following. Mixed with the frenzied pace of the directing and Lee Percy's editing, it's an elatedly fun thrill-ride full of screams, laughter and the outstanding performance of Jeffrey Combs. With his piercingly haunting stares of a psychotic madman, reminiscent of Vincent Price or Christopher Lee, Combs's Herbert West is also a large part of the movie's most memorable nature.
Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's serialized short story, 'Re-Animator' is a bizarre, modernized twist on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, reaching almost to the level of farce on a few occasions with declarations of giving life to the dead. Only, this mad scientist with an obsessive god-complex gives life to a severed head with demented plans for a new lobotomy procedure and his Elizabeth is the roommate who shares in his insanity rather than try to stop him. The over-the-top gore effects also turn the strain on the young couple's love life into mawkish, soap-opera melodrama, feeling like it's all part of the gag and not a distraction. With a cheeky comic flair for outrageousness, the movie is a fun 86 minutes of atmospheric spookiness, mixed with barrels of gross shock and riotous laughter.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Image Entertainment brings 'Re-Animator' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD50 disc inside an eco-vortex keepcase. At startup, the disc goes straight to an animated main menu with full-motion clips and music.
Since its initial theatrical run, 'Re-Animator' has been made available on VHS, twice on laserdisc, and twice on DVD. Comparatively speaking, this 1080p/VC-1 encode is definitely a welcome improvement in clarity and resolution. Several scenes are amazing even, exposing distinct fine details in facial complexions and various articles of clothing. The 1.78:1 frame (very lightly cropped from the OAR of 1.85:1) shows a heavy but consistent grain structure, giving the image an appreciable film-like quality.
Still, the high-def transfer is sadly not the dramatic improvement devoted fans would have hoped for. Considering its low-budget origins, the video is actually not too bad, but it nonetheless appears to be the same master used for the DVD. A majority of the picture is quite soft and blurry, and it shows many age-related issues such as dirt and white specks. Black levels are quite nice and deep with strong shadow delineation, but they also tend to appear somewhat faded and milky in many areas. Although bright and cleanly rendered for the most part, colors are not all that attractive with while primaries look artificial and overly saturated, almost bleeding in one scene where Bruce Abbott wears a red sweater. Flesh tones appear sickly and flushed. Contrast falls on the lower end of the grayscale, making the video generally flat and wanting.
Like the video, this DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is an improvement, but not in any seriously dramatic fashion. The original mono design was expanded for a 5.1 system several years ago with the Millennium Edition DVD, and like that version, it's really the music of Richard Band which benefits from the upgrade. The 'Psycho'-inspired score broadens the soundstage and bleeds into the back with terrific fidelity and is satisfyingly immersive. The mid-range is clean, displaying a great deal of warmth and excellent precision in the instrumentation. Low bass is also healthy with some appreciable impact in the music. Otherwise, the lossless mix is mostly restrained to the fronts with audible discrete effects in the center of the screen, staying in line with the audio's mono origins. The one noticeable drawback is in the dialogue sounding pretty hollow and tad muffled with an odd reverb effect on several occasions. However, this is only a minor issue as vocals are still very clear and intelligible.
Most all the special features from the previous Anchor Bay DVD release are recycled for this new Blu-ray edition of the film.
A wildly fantastic twist on the Frankenstein fable, 'Re-Animator' is a hilarious sci-fi horror fantasy about a demented scientist and his efforts to bring the dead back to life. With the memorable performance of Jeffrey Combs, in the role that made him into a minor icon of low-budget horror, the movie is an outrageously cheeky comic thrill-ride of graphic, shocking gore that tickles the funny bone. The Blu-ray arrives with middle-of-the-road picture quality, but it's still an improvement over its standard-def predecessors. The audio presentation is very good. The supplements are carried over from previous releases, but they remain just as entertaining as ever, making this high-def edition of a long-time cult favorite recommended for fans everywhere.