Blu-ray essentials: Re-Animator

Rather surprisingly Stuart Gordon‘s début feature, Re-Animator, was originally conceived as a television series for PBS. The source material, H.P. Lovecraft‘s Herbert West-Reanimator, would have lent the project a certain amount of in-built respectability but it’s hard to imagine the small screen version would have been quite so splatter filled and delightfully boundary pushing. But, oh boy, what an effect this project could have had as the unprepared casually flipped through their TV channels.

In fact, so TV unfriendly was Re-Animator that it was originally cut for release in the UK, and in the US it was released in unrated and R-rated versions. Interestingly, whilst some gore was removed from the R-rated version, a number of deleted scenes were edited back in. This was presumably to pad the film out a bit, because a Re-Animator with a lot of the grue removed would be very short indeed.

For this recent Blu-ray release Second Sight have decided to include both the unrated version, which is Gordon’s preferred and uncut version, and the “Integral” version, which is essentially the R-rated version with the gore put back in. This Integral version therefore runs a great deal longer than the ‘uncut’ version and even includes a subplot involving mind control that, aside from a few faint echoes, didn’t make it into the unrated theatrical version.

Whilst this complex history of cuts for censorship and multiple versions may suggest that Re-Animator is something of a violent or nasty film, it’s actually nothing of the sort. This may seem like an unlikely appraisal of a film that includes decapitations and a sequence in which a re-animated severed head attempts to sexually assault a young woman, but the filmmakers have balanced the scenes which could otherwise be highly problematic with a great deal of wit and intelligence. On balance, Re-Animator is a good natured endeavour, and plays out without even a whiff of cynicism or meanness.

Stuart Gordon had been a theatre director for a great many years before becoming a feature filmmaker with Re-Animator, and there is a definite youthful exuberance on display, a willingness to please that bleeds onto the screen. The resulting film is just so much fun and, at eighty-six minutes, it positively gallops along with never a dull minute.

But Re-Animator isn’t simply about larks and having a good time. Working from a screenplay adaptation he wrote with Dennis Paoli and William J. Norris, Gordon has managed to weave a highly engrossing and surprisingly layered story into the film’s brief running time. Absolutely key are the multiple relationship triangles that cause friction between the characters and provide crucial motivation for behaviour that would otherwise be very difficult to swallow.

One could wax lyrical for pages about the highly impressive special effects, the excellent performances, the superb score, the wonderful jumps and the deep belly laughs that the film elicit, but it’s ultimately Gordon’s skills as a storyteller that have helped make Re-Animator a classic. He shows a real understanding of how and when to push the audience’s buttons to best to get the desired reactions, both visceral and emotional. Just like one of the film’s many tracking shots, everything in Re-Animator creeps up on you, and in the closing minutes you really won’t want it to end.

There have been multiple sequels and a great many imitators but there really is only one Re-Animator.

This new Blu-ray release from Second Sight is such a superb showcase for Gordon’s film. Derived from a recent 4K restoration, the transfer of the unrated version of the film is the best home video representation of the film to date. There are no obvious signs of digital mishandling.

Both DTS-HD 5.1 and stereo tracks are included and while the latter is more historically accurate, I particularly enjoyed the way in which the sound design opens up a little in 5.1, giving Richard Band‘s excellent score a bit more room to breathe as the various aspects of the soundtrack separate out.

The transfer of the integral version isn’t quite up to the same standard as the unrated version, with more signs of wear and a little less strength to the blacks and more vivid colours, but it is still of a high standard.

The package comes with a number of great special features that, to the best of my knowledge, are all taken from previous releases. These include two commentary tracks, one featuring Stuart Gordon, and the other featuring producer Brian Yuzna and actors Jeffrey Combs, Robert Sampson, Barbara Crampton and Bruce Abbott. The second track is fun and filled with amusing recollections but it is Gordon’s commentary in which the best content will be found. Play that one first and then throw on the other one if you’re still looking for more.

There’s also an incredibly informative documentary entitled Re-Animator Resurrectus and separate interviews with Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna, writer Dennis Paoli, composer Richard Band and Fangoria editor Tony Timpone. Plus, disc two also includes extended scenes, deleted scenes and trailers. It’s a fine package and a worthy release for such a first rate feature.

Re-Animator is available to buy now on Blu-ray.