Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson, Gerry Black, Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, Peter Kent, Barbara Pieters, Ian Patrick Williams, Al Berry
Written by: Dennis Paoli, William J. Norris, Stuart Gordon, based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft
Directed by: Stuart Gordon
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 86
Date: 10/17/1985

Re-Animator (1985)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Heads over Squeals

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A clever, madcap mid-80s cult classic combining sinister comedy with bloody horror: an intense young scientist Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) invents a glowing green formula that can resurrect the recent dead, but with horrible side effects -- the victim goes completely insane. This doesn't stop him and his roommate Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) from using the formula over and over again, on a cat, a future father-in-law, and a professor's severed head.

Though the film has its share of gory thrills, the emphasis is squarely on the laughs. Completing the mood, composer Richard Band blatantly rips off Bernard Hermann's Psycho score, and gets away with it (it works beautifully). The film is obviously based on the Frankenstein concept that man who creates life (as opposed to woman) is monstrous. But Re-Animator goes one further by giving us the villain Dr. Hill (David Gale), an ineffective scientist unable to grasp the true nature of life and death, and an ineffective lover, whose advances toward cute student Megan Halsey (Barbara Crampton) are seen as pathetic. That's the film's biggest joke: we actually identify with the monsters and not with this "ordinary" loser.

Director Stuart Gordon and many of the cast and crew came from a Chicago theater troupe notable for performing early David Mamet plays. The 1985 theatrical release ran 95 minutes, but Gordon's director's cut -- presented here -- actually runs shorter, at 86 minutes. (The DVD includes all the outtakes and "extended scenes" for completists.) Gordon's next film was, From Beyond (1986), based on another H.P. Lovecraft tale.

Anchor Bay Entertainment has basically re-released Elite Entertainment's superb 2002 two-disc set for 2007. The digital transfer and audio are, as far as I could tell, exactly the same, as are the commentary tracks and most of the extras. However, here are a few crucial differences. Anchor Bay's new set includes a brand-new (not very interesting) documentary, close captioning (neither set comes with optional English subtitles) and a green highlighter pen inside the box. The only thing it doesn't carry over from the previous set is the music-only audio track featuring Band's score. It's a close call, but I'm choosing the new set over the old one.

In 2012, Anchor Bay issued an essential new Blu-ray release. It contains most of the extras from the DVD, except the DVD-Rom goodies (the story and the screenplay).

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