I remember very well the first time I saw Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator. I had been digging for it for years, and eventually tracked myself down the R-rated VHS version, and after watching I couldn't help but wonder what all the fuss was about. Sure, it was definitely fun. The production values and acting were a step above normal horror fare. But, why was it constantly mentioned in the same breath as horror comedy classics like Evil Dead II or Peter Jackson's Braindead?
In reality, what I saw was a neutered version of the original film. The R-rated VHS version was considerably longer (surprisingly) than the unrated cut, but was missing much of what made the film so special, which I discovered years later after seeing the film on DVD. Brian Yuzna (who also directed Bride Of Re-Animator, the second film) has finally (after 13(!) years) brought the franchise back to the "screen", but has unfortunately neutered the creation of a lot of what made it so enjoyable.
The plot certainly catches the imagination. Herbert West is arrested after one of his experiments with re-animation leads to the death of a young woman. Years later, the brother of the woman, Howard Phillips (Jason Barry) now a doctor, comes to work at the prison where West is staying and brings with him some re-animator fluid and a wish to work with him. West has developed a way to repair the damage to the brain that comes through the reviving process, and eventually the extended cast (including a nosy female reporter filling out the Barbara Crampton role and a sadistic warden) all get a taste of it.
Let's start with the good. Jeffrey Combs is amazing, as always, as Herbert West. His understanding of the mannerisms of the character is flawless, and the film misses him whenever he is not on screen. The FX, mostly mechanical and make-up, are plenty of fun, and it's nice to see Screaming Mad George get to let loose on a few creations. The production values are also quite high, and Brian Yuzna's assured direction keeps up the necessary maniacal pace. At the very least, it feels like a Re-animator film.
However, the high production values came at a price. The film was made in Spain (Yuzna's home country) and while this allows the filmmakers to stretch the budget, it also leads to some awful dubbing for some of the actors. The film is supposed to take place in the U.S., but it's hardly convincing even in the confines of a prison. In the commentary, Yuzna mentions that some of the films violence was toned down in an attempt to reach a wider audience, and this sense of restraint is hard not to notice throughout the film. It seems constantly on the edge of breaking out into something special, but never quite gets there.
Still, it's many notches above average horror fare, and doesn't embarrass the franchise. It just could have been so much more. For an idea, just take a look at the proposed House Of Re-Animator film.
The film is shown in it's original 1.66:1 ratio and looks quite good, despite some noise in the particularly dark scenes. The extras include a very interesting (though a tad over complimentary) commentary from Yuzna, and a short making of. There's also a music video, which is mindblowingly awful.