Stuart Gordon's seminal horror-comedy splatter flick, "Re-Animator", has just been re-released on DVD by Anchor Bay UK, in a special 2-disc edition. Previously released donkey's years ago by Elite Entertainment in their region 1 Millennium Edition, this latest outing on DVD brings UK viewers all of the extras that were a part of that disc, plus an all new 70 minute documentary, "Re-Animator Resurrectus", produced by Anchor Bay for their recent region 1 re-release. The transfer has apparently also been given an extra sprucing up (although you'd be hard pressed to notice any great improvement on Elite's already rather clean and colourful offering) and the 5.1 audio sounds a little better, but the real reason UK fans can celebrate is that, for the first time, the film has been passed by the BBFC uncut!
Five years ago the prospect of this ever happening would have seemed remote indeed. But the boundaries of acceptability have certainly been pushed back in recent years, and although the strange combination of outrageous humour and sexual exploitation inherent in the film's most notorious sequence still seems as shocking and as challenging as it ever did, it now exists in a cultural atmosphere that seems to have largely assimilated the combining of humour and gore, thanks to the recent success of such high profile films as "Shaun of the Dead" (2005), "Severance" (2006) and James Gunn's excellent "Slither" (2006) -- a film which owed a very large debt to Gordon's groundbreaking essay in gross-out gore and humour. It's a testament to Gordon's vision (as well as the talented collection of largely unknown actors and the excellent technical crew) that the film still holds its own alongside these sophisticated latter-day examples, made to please a savvy audience who have, by this stage in the game, seen just about everything!
The work of H.P. Lovecraft seems an unlikely choice for such an exercise in exuberant, taboo-busting shock-tactics, and in such sly humour; the author's stories featured almost no female characters and dealt largely in ideas of impalpable cosmic terror that gradually developed a rich, self-created mythology, elements of which had already started to seep into horror cinema in Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead" (1982) with its blatant reference to the Necromonicon. But it was Gordon's genius to take the basic Frankenstein inspired details of "Herbert West, Reanimator", Lovecraft's pulpy set of tales (less otherworldly than his usual fare: they were written to a commercial formula in order to make money), and pervert it with the spirit of contemporary exploitation cinema, producing both a clever, accessible tribute to Lovecraft's tetchy genius, and a witty riposte to the many b-movie horror flicks Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna had consciously assimilated in order to find out what they needed to better if they were to make an impact on the market. Gordon's background lay in counter-cultural theatre projects he directed himself for "The Organic Theatre", while Yuzna was an upcoming producer, eager to make his name with a hit.
Somehow, the usually antithetical relationship between art and commerce was suspended combined on "Re-Animator": the two seemed to combine judiciously; the crowd-pleasing gore functions much more ambiguously here than it does in almost any other horror film -- especially when compared to everything else around back in 1985. There are moments where the special effects are so realistic -- in particular the make-up for the bodies in the morgue, which look bruised and battered and purple and yellow, rather than the cartoonish pale hues one usually sees in horror films -- that it produces an unusual discomfort when this realism rubs up against all the absurdist humour and Jeffrey Combs' over-the-top, scene stealing acting. Other times though, the effects veer into the realm of complete surrealist cartoon fantasy (although a cartoon designed by Hieronymus Bosch) full of animated entrails and sex-crazed disembodied heads (which like to give head!).
The central relationship between the well-meaning hero, played by Bruce Abbott, and the wholesome daughter of the head of the Miskatonic Medical school's faculty, Barbara (played by Barbara Crampton), is so sympathetic and realistic that when the film takes its turn into chaotic, hellish body-contorting evil, plunging Barbara into the clutches of one of the most ridiculously bizarre stalkers in cinema history, we can't help but feel slightly uncomfortable at the macabre humour at their expense. Here, "Re-Animator" has the courage of its convictions to actually go where no one would ever dare believe it would. The scene in question has always been censored in the UK before this release, and despite the fact that we're now in a position where (for now, at least -- things could always change again!) most contemporary horror films can portray the most gruesome images and often still get away with a 15 certificate, this scene still seems several leagues more squirm-inducing than anything else out there I can think of!
"Re-Animator" is still the king of horror-comedy flicks and is a must-have in every horror fan's DVD collection. If you never bought the Elite version then this is an absolutely essential addition to your library.
As well as the above mentioned documentary, the voluminous extras on this set include two commentaries, numerous interviews, trailers, TV spots, stills galleries and deleted scenes. Plus, there is lots of DVD-Rom material consisting of the film's screenplay and Lovecraft's six tales in the "Herbert West, Reanimator" series.