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When medical student Dan Cain advertises for a roommate, he soon finds one in the form of Dr. Herbert West. Initially a little eccentric, it soon becomes clear that West entertains some seriously outlandish theories – specifically, the possibility of re-animating the dead. It’s not long before Dan finds himself under West’s influence and embroiled in a series of ghoulish experiments, which threaten to go wildly out of control… (From Arrow’s official synopsis)

 Re-Animator: Arrow Limited Edition
 Re-Animator: Second Sight Blu-ray
 Re-Animator: Capelight Blu-ray
Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator remains my personal favourite horror comedies of the 1980s, despite the decade being loaded with subgenre heavy-hitters, like John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (1981), George Romero’s Creepshow (1982), Joe Dante’s Gremlins (1984), Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead (1985), and, yes, even Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 2 (1987). The story, culled from H.P. Lovecraft’s (shockingly racist) pulp serial (pub. between 1921 & 1922) and written by William J. Norris, Dennis Paoli, and Gordon himself, was whittled down from a six-part TV series into one of the most efficient narratives in movie history – any genre and any prestige level. The comedy encompases the outrageous sex & violence that the film is famous for, as well as the clever, character-based repartee that comes from extensive rehearsal. Gordon’s simple cinematic style, which was born out of the necessity of a low budget and his experience as a stage director, puts the actors, the concepts, and the jokes front and center without sacrificing the unmitigated joy of the source material’s pulpy roots.

If you consider yourself a fan of scandalous comedy, rubbery horror violence, endlessly quotable one-liners, and genuinely heartbreaking romantic tragedy – and still haven’t seen this nearly perfect motion picture, you owe it to yourself to find a copy. Considering how many different versions are now on the market, I’m going to devote the rest of this review to discussing the advantages that this latest Blu-ray collection from Arrow has over other releases.

I’ll begin by briefly explaining the various cuts of the film. Re-Animator was released unrated to avoid the dreaded X-rating. This cut, which runs about 86 minutes, should be considered Gordon’s director’s cut. When it came time to put the film out on home video, the filmmakers had to arrange an R-rated edit for stores that refused to rent anything equivalent to an X. Unfortunately, by they had time the excised all of the offending footage, the movie was too short, so they added a previously deleted subplot that actually ended up extending the runtime beyond that of the unrated cut. In addition, more deleted scenes were included for a ‘family friendly’ TV cut. Years later, all of the footage was combined and dubbed the ‘integral cut,’ which runs about 105 minutes. Because Gordon himself admits to editing out some of the gore himself before submitting the film to the MPAA (specifically pieces of an early brain autopsy sequence), there have always been legends of a fourth cut, but this footage is most likely lost forever – not to mention the fact that Gordon wanted it gone in the first place.

 Re-Animator: Arrow Limited Edition
 Re-Animator: Second Sight Blu-ray
 Re-Animator: Capelight Blu-ray

Video


Re-Animator has changed distributors and, consequently, been re-released on home video about a million times now, though each version tends to be a slight improvement over the last. In North America, Vestron Video released unrated and R-rated VHS copies, followed by a pan & scan, unrated Laserdisc from Image Entertainment, a 10th Anniversary letterboxed Laserdisc from Elite Entertainment, a DVD version of that Laserdisc, an anamorphically enhanced Millennium Edition DVD (also from Elite), a version of that DVD with better compression from Anchor Bay Entertainment, and one more barebones DVD from Image. The first RA Blu-ray was also released by Image in 2012 and that transfer was culled from the same source as their DVD. Those efforts would be blown away by a new 4K scan/2K master that first showed up on Blu-ray from German company Capelight in 2013, then from UK company Second Sight in 2014. Based on the studio’s official description of this new release, Arrow has finally brought that same 4K scan/2K master to North American shores. To reiterate, a mix of the original negative and interpositive elements of both the unrated and integral cuts were scanned at 4K resolution, then graded and restored at 2K. I have included screen caps from all three releases here (Arrow release on the top, Second Sight release in the middle, Capelight release on the bottom) and, as you can see, there are small differences in each company’s digital restoration, grading, and overall compression.

All three transfers feature fantastic detail from front to back, minimal sharpening artefacts, improved black levels, and are not ‘zoomed-in,’ unlike previous DVDs (and the Image Blu-ray), which lost picture information on all sides of the screen (despite also being framed at 1.78:1). Having personally viewed both the Arrow and Second Sight discs in motion (I only have the still caps from the Capelight release), I can also say that there are some brief wobbly images (usually establishing shots of buildings, so this is probably related to the fact that the filmmakers used still photos in these cases) and occasional grain shimmer. Comparing the caps on this page, Arrow’s transfer appears to be the strongest in terms of compression/final authoring. Other differences are negligible, but the Capelight and Second Sight discs have notably smoother textures and ever-so-slightly mushier grain structure. Then there’s the grading/gamma/colour quality, which involves a more objective critique, considering that neither Gordon or cinematographer Mac Ahlberg seemed to have weighed in with an opinion on the matter. The Arrow and Capelight discs are very similar in contrast and warmth with the Capelight transfer appearing a bit darker and redder, overall. The Second Sight transfer has more consistent colours, but is over-cooled and a smidge too bright in my opinion.

 Re-Animator: Arrow Limited Edition
 Re-Animator: Second Sight Blu-ray
 Re-Animator: Capelight Blu-ray

Audio


Re-Animator comes with three audio options – its original mono and stereo, both presented in uncompressed LPCM 1.0/2.0, and the 5.1 remix that was designed during the 2012/13 restoration, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio. The 3-track master soundtracks were used when possible; though, apparently, replacement audio was necessary in some places (I honestly can’t tell where). Personally, I’d go with the stereo track for its more expressive effects work and louder volume levels, but there’s nothing wrong with the other two tracks. The 5.1 option doesn’t suffer from the awkward speaker shifts typically heard from such remixes, but the aural balance is never as tight as its 2.0 counterpart and, even though the fully centered dialogue is a plus, there’s a lack of crispness and volume. While consistent, the mono track loses a bit where Richard Band’s synth score is concerned, which benefits greatly from the stereo spread and 5.1 remix’s discrete LFE channel.

 Re-Animator: Arrow Limited Edition
 Re-Animator: Second Sight Blu-ray
 Re-Animator: Capelight Blu-ray

Extras


Disc One (Unrated Cut):
  • Commentary with director Stuart Gordon – This is another archive track was originally recorded for the Elite Entertainment Laserdisc and has been included on most North American releases ever since.
  • Commentary with producer Brian Yuzna and cast members Bruce Abbott, Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, and Robert Sampson – Another oft-heard Elite Entertainment Laserdisc archive track.
  • Commentary with Stuart Gordon and actors Jesse Merlin & Graham Skipper – The only Arrow exclusive track features the director and two of the lead cast members of Re-Animator: The Musical (who also recently appeared together in Beyond the Gates). The participants mostly stick to the production of the musical itself, which is good, given the breadth of behind-the-scenes knowledge already available on the two older tracks. Sadly, Arrow wasn’t able to include actual footage from the stage production.
  • Re-Animator Resurrectus (68:35, HD) – This retrospective documentary was originally produced for Anchor Bay’s special edition DVD and also appeared on every Blu-ray release since.
  • Archive cast & crew interviews:
    • Stuart Gordon and producer Brian Yuzna (48:42, HD)
    • Writer Dennis Paoli (10:41)
    • Composer Richard Band (14:43)
    • Former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone (4:34)
    • Music discussion with Band (16:31, HD mix) – The composer introduces four sections of isolated score
  • Barbara Crampton in Conversation (36:05, HD) – A brand new, very personable, and career-spanning interview with the actress, conducted by writer/journalist Alan Jones at FrightFest London in 2015.
  • The Catastrophe of Success (13:08, HD) – Gordon talks about his roots in directing controversial stage plays and continuing work in theater, despite his success on film, in the second exclusive interview.
  • Theatre of Blood (12:04, HD) – Re-Animator: The Musical lyricist/songwriter Mark Nutter discusses meeting Gordon and adapting the film in the first disc’s final new extra.
  • Additional archival extras:
    • Extended scenes (23:05, SD)
    • Deleted scene (2:40, Sd)
    • Three multi-angle storyboards (0:48, 2:54, 1:20, SD)
    • Trailer and five TV spots
    • BD-ROM Screenplay

Disc Two (Integral Cut):
  • A Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema (54:03, HD) – Chris Lackey, the host of the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast, hosts this look at the history of movie/TV adaptations of the author’s work. Lackey briefly explores the making-of each film/TV episode and compares each plot to the source material. The information is relatively exhaustive and certainly informative (at least as a primer for a larger subject), but the presentation is a little bit dry, consisting mostly of Lackey’s talking head, quick glimpses of poster/book art, and brief footage from the movies (usually borrowed from trailers).
  • Doug Bradley's Spine Chillers: Herbert West – Re-animator (98:32, HD stills) – A six-chapter audio version of Lovecraft’s story as read by Jeffery Combs.


 Re-Animator: Arrow Limited Edition
 Re-Animator: Second Sight Blu-ray
 Re-Animator: Capelight Blu-ray

Overall


Re-Animator is still fantastic and North American fans finally have a great high-definition home video version to call their own. Those still hanging onto the Image Blu-rays and Anchor Bay DVDs can finally upgrade in confidence. On the other hand, if you’re one of the folks that imported either the German Capelight or UK Second Sight Blu-rays – which feature versions of the same 4K scan seen on Arrow’s new limited edition set – the differences are not as substantial. Personally, I find Arrow’s slightly tighter, less compressed transfer superior, but perhaps not so superior that I’d recommend everyone immediately shell out the big bucks for a double/triple/quadruple dip. Arrow has culle all of those previous extras and added them to their own exclusive supplements, including a commentary and director’s interview that revolve around the Re-Animator stage production, a fantastic new actress interview, the original story read by the star, and a somewhat underwhelming, but quite informative primer on Lovecraft adaptations. The limited edition packaging, complete with comic book, is another valuable perk. I believe this will be the definitive edition of the film on 1080p format.

Special thanks to my friend Tyler Foster for the Capelight screen caps. See his DVDTalk reviews here and follow him on Twitter at @tylerfdvdtalk.

 Re-Animator: Arrow Limited Edition
 Re-Animator: Second Sight Blu-ray
 Re-Animator: Capelight Blu-ray

 Re-Animator: Arrow Limited Edition
 Re-Animator: Second Sight Blu-ray
 Re-Animator: Capelight Blu-ray

 Re-Animator: Arrow Limited Edition
 Re-Animator: Second Sight Blu-ray
 Re-Animator: Capelight Blu-ray

*Note: The above images are taken from the Arrow Blu-ray (top), Second Sight Blu-ray (middle), and Capelight Blu-ray (bottom), then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.



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