Published on July 12th, 2018 | by Pat Condliffe
Re-Animator Trilogy Blu-Ray Collection Volumes 1 and 2
Summary: Re-Animator has been reanimated, but maybe it should have been left buried in the last millenia...
The Re-Animator Series is one of the classics of the horror genre and it’s receiving the updated rerelease treatment. Re-Animator, released in 1983, was followed by Bride of Re-Animator in 1990 and Beyond Re-Animator in 2003. For the first film, Director Stuart Gordon and, producer turned director, Brian Yuzna began a partnership that created some of the best HP Lovecraft adaptations to make it to the screen.
Their first outing together was a modern adaptation of Lovecraft’s Frankenstein parody – Herbert West: Re-Animator. Lovecraft’s short-story was initially serialised over 6 issues in his mate’s pulp magazine “Home Brew”. Set at the turn of the century and then later during and after World War One, Herbert West tells the narrative of the eponymous doctor and his monomaniacal quest to end death. The entire sequence of shorts has been adapted into these three films, only the setting has been updated to the late 20th century.
The original adaptation, on its release in 1983 it received surprising critical acclaim including glowing reviews from Roger Ebert and Janet Maslin. In addition, it was critically lauded at the Canne Film Market (not to be confused with the Canne Film Festival), winning the critics prize. Re-animator set the bar for gory horror (black) comedy. For no discernable reason, Umbrella Entertainment has released a two-volume blu-ray set with the films remastered into 1080P and stuffed with special features.
Volume One is a two-disc Blu-Ray including two versions of Re-Animator. One version is the original theatrical cut where some gore has been cut (86 minutes), while the second is an unrated “integral” cut (104 minutes) where the original footage has been supplemented with the gore and horror removed by the MPAA.
Re-Animator begins with a bang. Herbert West, played with crazy aplomb by Jeffery Coombs, is a med-student in Germany working at a prestigious university. The film opens as his supervisor has a catastrophic reaction to the glowing green “reagent” that they have developed to restore life to the dead. This opening scene is not for the squeamish and eschews the gradual build for explosive bloody gore.
From there, the young Herbert returns home to Arkham where he is a student at Miskatonic University. There he meets his future partner in science Dan Cain, played well by Bruce Abbott. West’s foil is the bitter and aloof neurosurgeon and professor, Dr Carl Hill. Caught in the midst of these relationships is fellow med student Megan Hasely, played bravely by Barbara Crampton. Hasely is the daughter of the faculty’s Dean and a constant fixation for Dr Hill. As Coombs’ experiments and singular desire to overcome death takes hold, carnage breaks loose in Arkham and in the morgue of Miskatonic University. The acting is surprisingly good given the B-grade fare of the film. Coombs plays a role he was born for and Abbott carries the film as the narrator. Events are largely told from his perspective, and he provides the emotional core of the film. Crampton is excellent but underused as Megan.
The sequel, Bride of Re-Animator, begins shortly after the events of the first film. In the aftermath of the carnage of West’s initial experiments, West and Cain have gone to work in Peru as field doctors. West has been using the war as an opportunity to continue his research. Their camp is overrun and the experiments go awry, leading the two medics to return to Arkham and Miskatonic University. Once returned, Cain tries to move on with his life and career, but West can’t move past his obsession. Appealing to Cain’s broken heart after Megan’s death, the two men set about building a new creature with his loves’ heart at its core. Gory comedic chaos again ensues.
The final film, Beyond Re-Animator, is set some 13 years after the events of Bride of Re-Animator. West is now in prison for his part in the murder of a young girl. One of his zombies got loose and murdered a teenager in front of her young brother. This young man has now stalked West to his position as an inmate and prison hospital assistant. Together they embark on a series of experiments to perfect the reagent and bring back the dead without the violent side-effects. The prison is run by a vicious fascist who’s obsessed with executing, and not rehabilitating inmates. As their plans collide with a snoopy reporter, gory mayhem ensues.
The Umbrella “Beyond Genres” 2 volume Blu-ray release comes packed in swanky sleeved cases with some nice artwork. Inside each case is a pair of Blu-rays. For Volume 1, this is the two versions of Re-Animator – the theatrical version and the “Integral Cut”. The second volume contains Bride of Re-Animator and Beyond Re-animator. Both discs come with a plethora of extra – interviews and making-of featurettes. If you’re a fan of these films or this period of films, it’s a nice addition to your collection. But these aren’t new. The conversation between Yuzna and Gordon, for example, is from 2003 and the other featurettes have been found on other releases.
The picture and sound quality on both cuts of Re-Animator is great. The picture looks great and sounds wonderfully organic on a 4k setup with HK soundbar. The menu screens are pretty and easy to navigate. One the one hand, the Bride of Re-Animator possesses a nice grindhouse VHS direct to video grain in the picture. It suits the content, so I wasn’t too disappointed. On the other hand, Beyond Re-Animator has a picture that is crisp and flat from the use of digital cameras. It looks fine, albeit a touch like a daytime soap, until the gore comes out. The practical effects from Screaming Mad George are done a disservice by the higher grade picture.
So, are these films any good? Do they hold up over time?
Yes….and also no.
Re-Animator is well paced and well shot. Given the severe budget and time constraints that Gordon and their team worked under, it is a surprisingly well-made film. The script is a touch uneven in places and Megan’s character is woefully flat and under-utilises Crampton’s acting chops. This is likely a result of the scriptwriters collaborating by mail and telephone in the months leading up to the shoot. What started out as a 30-minute television episode morphed into a 60-minute show and then a full-blown feature. As more material has been added and the relationships developed, some aspects of narrative have been over-thought, while character development suffers.
What’s really impressive about Re-Animator is how it combines schlocky gore effects with some genuinely scary moments. While the first film has its chilling and disturbing moments, it also has some genuinely funny ones. West and Cain’s adventures with a zombie-feline are both gross and hilarious. But then things also verge into very dark territory which I’ll come to in a moment. The zombies are often simple and the hallmark green reagent was done simply and cheaply. The more complex effects in West’s early and final experiments were where they started playing with animatronics.
It’s when Yuzna took over the director’s chair after the first film, helming and writing Bride and Beyond, then the practical effects were taken up a notch. Bride of Re-Animator has some of the best practical effects you’ll find in a horror film this side of the Thing. While Rob Bottin and Stan Winston set the Benchmark on Carpenter’s masterpiece, The Thing, Yuzna’s approach to and vision of practical effects in From Beyond, Dolls, and Bride of Re-Animator pushed them in a different direction.
For Bride of Re-Animator he recruited several effects houses – Jim Davidson, Anthony Doublin VFX, Screaming Mad George SFX, John Buechler and KNB Effects, and miniature artist David Allen – were all sought for very different tasks. Each team producing a very different horror. This outsourcing produces some amazing results, from animatronic hands to the twisted nightmares that crawl out of West’s experimental mania. Screaming Mad George returns for the effects in Beyond Re-Animator, but it is a poor cousin to Bride. There is clearly a smaller budget. While Yuzna chooses again to use practical effects for most of the gore, some VFX are employed for some inner-space style brain shots. Yuzna uses body doubles for some of the gorier moments and also for the post-credit creature fight. Screaming George’s models and effects are good and entertaining, but nothing innovative.
And that’s the problem with the final film and, to an, extent the second installment. Bride looks good but lacks depth and Beyond Re-Animator doesn’t bring anything new to the trilogy. It’s poorly scripted and while the acting seems sincere, it’s a significant step down from the originals and more in line with an Asylum Pictures release. What’s more, it really brings into focus the significant misogyny across all three films.
Beneath all of the splatters, autonomous limbs, and flying decapitated heads lies a disturbing anatomy of misogyny that seems unnecessarily pathological. In Re-animator, Crampton’s Megan begins the film naked and leaves it naked. This is not unusual for a horror film, but the bookending of the film with her nudity sets up the audience as willing voyeurs in some very disturbing scenes. After witnessing some of West’s horrors, including the re-animation of her father, Megan is abducted by her stalker, Dr Hill. At this point, Dr Hill has literally lost his head, both of which are re-animated separately. Hills’s first act after being re-animated? Attempting to rape Megan with his severed head, while his body holds him.
There’s a certain 80s frat boy humour at play in the set-up of what Yuzna calls a “visual pun.” But 30 years after its initial release it is disturbing rather than funny. However, hearing Gordon and Yuzna in the featurette joking about how scriptwriter Dennis Paoli was chuffed with his visual pun – “a head giving head” shines a grotesque light on the attitudes around during this period of film-making. There’s a nasty element here in this scene, and processes that developed it, that makes this sleazy and disturbing and not funny. This sexualised element of body-horror is present throughout Bride, Kathleen Kinmont’s Gloria spends her time as the bride naked under a chiffon cloth. She’s not just a stitched-together monster, but a sexualised object created by a pair of men. When she literally tears herself apart, it’s because Dr Cain has rejected her romantic advances. Her violence is turned on herself, not outwardly on the men. It’s messed up.
In Beyond Re-Animator, Warden Brando is a violent misogynist who murders and presumably rapes Elsa Pataky’s character, reporter Laura Olney. Brando tries to force her to give him oral sex before the camera cuts away, but the violence is implicit. Raquel Gribler’s Nurse Vanessa lives but not before her nipple is chewed off by a re-animated corpse. For all of the scenes, the camera is distinctly voyeuristic. When Megan is facing rape from a headless corpse, we watch from Cain and West’s perspective. Whenever we view Kinmont’s Gloria, we are viewing from Cain’s perspective and West eroticises her for Cain. The horror of her body is sexualised first and then torn apart. The same process that happens first to Megan in Re-Animator, but then again to Laura and Venessa in Beyond. This level of hyper-sexualised violence against women’s bodies detracts from the film and embellished the issues with Lovecraft’s canon rather than resolving them. In this way, the first two films are very much a product of their milieu.
What makes Beyond Re-Animator incredibly disappointing and, dare I say, boring and cliche, is that it plays the same tired hand again. Yuzna doesn’t really comment or challenge the misogyny of the original films in it, but merely adds a “dick joke” as Laura bites off Brando’s penis during a rape gone wrong. Shortly after its bitten off and spat-out, Brando’s animatronic “member” becomes a visual gag (no pun intended… well maybe a little.. This level of distaste is gag-worthy)for the final scenes and post-credit sequence. Essentially, Laura needs to be raped and murdered to get to the punch line. It’s not a righting of Re-Animator’s sexual violence, but a perpetuation of it.
Obviously, these films are a product of their time. And the first two films, at least, are considered classics of the genre. But I can’t recommend these to people without adding some pretty hefty caveats. The original films are well-made and entertaining to the point that they become unnecessarily cruel by today’s standards and values. Viewers who come for the gore and thrills will, unfortunately, be stuck with a set of horror comedies who use many of their visual gags, to set up punchlines that are outlandish rape scenes or acts of violence against women.
Director – Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna
Actors – Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson, Jeffrey Combs, Fabiana Udenio, Kathleen Kinmont, Tommy Dean Musset, Jason Barry, Bárbara Elorrieta, Elsa Pataky, Santiago Segura, Simón Andreu
Film Genre – Horror
Label – Umbrella Entertainment
Audio – English
Subtitles – English and many more
Running Time – 86/ 104 minutes, 99 minutes, 96 minutes
Aspect Ratio – 16:9
Region Coding –
TV Standard – 1080P
Rating – R
Consumer Advice – Horror, Gore, Nudity, Violence, Disturbing Themes
Year of Release – 2018
Primary Format – Movies/TV – Blu-ray