Though produced in 1985, Stuart Gordon's feature film debut remains a solid piece of twisted filmmaking, deftly adapting five H.P. Lovecraft stories about Herbert West and his magical neon-green potion that revives the dead. Loyal fans of the film and admirers of Gordon's work are no doubt familiar with the fine laserdisc Elite produced some time ago, and similar to their recent Millenium Edition for George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" release, they've ported over the goodies from the laser and added many new special features, spread over 2 discs.
Just the feature, but a bevy of audio goodies to fill up the disc. Elite's THX-approved transfer is sharp and radiant, maintaining a solid colour balance, dense blacks, and just the right amount of digital noise reduction to eliminate unwanted grain. A few shots are a wee bit soft, but it's sparingly and specifically applied.
Not to lessen the film's visual enhancement, but the audio extras are quite significant: besides the original mono mix, there's DTS and Dolby 5.1 surround tracks which offer a more robust mix. The rear surrounds remain active with moody ambience, and kick in at key points, in conjunction with the front surrounds. A highlight sequence remains the demise of Rufus the cat, whose death throes pierce the silence, boosted just enough to startle the average listener. Dialogue is never trampled, and the 5.1 remix is respectful of the original mono mix; things just get under your skin a little better.
Admirers of Richard Band's score can enjoy the music in Dolby 5.1, although the cues are restricted to their onscreen appearances, so you have to know where they lie for a good listen. Whether isolated or in the new mix, the score's remix is respectful of the effects and dialogue tracks, and Band's score adds just the right amount of satire and in-jokes for a film that's essentially played straight by the cast.
Of the two feature-length commentaries, the best remains the cast track, with producer Brian Yuzna. Those familiar with the old laserdisc commentaries for Joe Dante's "The Howling," and Criterion's "Halloween," will recall their exemplary status - mainly because the cast was excited to see the film after so many years, and their fun and rambunctious recollections made the tracks utterly engrossing. Same goes for the "Re-Animator" gang, and like Stuart Gordon's own track, there's a solid amount of detail concerning the film's genesis, script challenges, casting minutia, production history, those wet special effects, and the film's run-in with censors for theatrical and video release.
The other half of the heavy package contains 23 minutes of scene extensions that were trimmed to improve the pacing, including an unsuccessful 'hypnosis' subplot involving David Gale and Robert Sampson. A deleted dream sequence meant to flow into the cat's wailing is also included, and like the extensions, is anamorphic, although it's obvious the dream material never went beyond a rough assembly.
Three scenes - "Losing His Head," "A Taste of Meg," and "Elevator of Doom" - use the multi-angle feature, which allows viewers to flip between the original storyboards, and the final product. A behind-the-scenes still gallery mainly covers the special effects, shot from a wide variety of angles, and biography/filmography highlights the primary cast and production members, with detailed filmographies.
The real gems on Disc 2 are the new interviews. Though photographed with a single camera and having minor compositional variations, writer Dennis Paoli recalls his involvement with the film in the pre-fax, pre-Internet era, and working with Gordon and Yuzna. Yuzna and Gordon appear in a lengthy but enjoyable 48 minute session, and besides a few awkward pans and a hasty zoom-out, the two friends and colleagues volley questions and informative anecdotes. Some of the material is already covered in the two commentary tracks, but what viewers ultimately go away with is the pair's genuine friendship and respect; articulate and affable, it seems unlikely these men are responsible for some of the most gruesome imagery in film. (If you've seen Gordon's "Castle Freak," or Yuzna's "Society," then you know how nutty these guys can be.)
Tony Timpone's interview covers his early years with Fangoria magazine and the promotion instigated by Yuzna, in which someone would win David Gale's decapitated head, and how some of the contestants ultimately became A-level special effects wizards in Hollywood. Richard Band's interview is quite amusing, with the composer addressing his usage of Bernard Herrmann's famous "Psycho" theme, and quoting fragments of Jerry Goldsmith's "Freud" soundtrack. (Pro-Herrmannites where outraged at the time, while most critics were aware Band was just having fun. His new comments, however, will no doubt cause ripples yet again…)
"Way beyond the possibility of any rating!" is how the TV spots billed the film, and the included five promos are careful condensations of the added theatrical trailer (which has more gore, and detailed wet shots for theatre audiences). The trailers as a whole look very clean, and round out Elite's superb Millenium Edition.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan