Third year medical student Dan Cain is on the verge of graduating from the New England Miskatonic University Medical School. That is until Dr. Herbert West walks into his life. Learning all he can from neurologist Dr. Hans Gruber in Zurich, Switzerland, West eagerly enrolls as a student at Miskatonic to viciously dismantle, what he believes, is a garbage postmortem brain functionality theory of the school’s grant piggybank Dr. Carl Hill while West also works on his own off the books after death experiments with his formulated reagent serum. West takes up Cain’s apartment for rent offer and involves Cain in a series of experiments that lead to reviving the old and the fresh dead. The only side effects of revitalizing dead tissue is the unquenchable rage and chaos that urges the recently revived to rip everything to shreds. Things also get complicated and people begin to die and then revive when West and Cain’s work becomes the obsessive target of Dr. Hill, whom discovers the truth and plans to steal West’s work, claiming the reagent serum as his own handiwork while also attempting to win the affection of Dr. Cain’s fiancee and Miskatonic’s Dean Halsey daughter, Megan Halsey, in the most undead way.
A vast amount of time has passed since the last time I’ve injected myself with the “Re-Animator” films and I can tell you this, my rejuvenation was sorely and regrettably way overdue. Stuart Gordon’s impeccable horror-comedy, “The Re-Animator,” is the extolled bastardized version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein without direct references and begins the ghastliness right from the initial opening prologue and never wanes through a fast-paced narrative of character thematic insanity and self-destructing arrogance with hapless do-gooders caught in the middle of undead mayhem. Producer Brian Yuzna financially backs Charles Band’s Empire International Pictures distributed 1985 film that’s based loosely off the H.P. Lovecraft 1922 novelette “Herbert West-Reanimator.” From a bygone novelette to an instant cult favorite amongst critics and fans, “Re-Animator” glows vibrantly like it’s reagent serum embodied with reality-buckling entertainment and grisly havoc displayed through the silver screen adapted form. Umbrella Entertainment has released a two-disc collector’s set, the first volume on their Beyond Genres label of cult favorites, and this release, with various versions, will include the allusive 106 minute integral cut!
From his first moments on screen holding a syringe to over three decades of pop-culture films, comics, and social media presence, nobody other actor other than Jeffrey Combs could be envisioned to be the insatiable Dr. Herbert West. Combs is so compact with an explosive vitality that his character goes beyond being a likable derivative of a Machiavellian anti-hero. Narrowing, dagger-like eyes through thick glasses on-top of small stature and a cruel intent about him makes Combs an established horror icon unlike any other mad doctor we’ve ever seen before. Bruce Abbot costars as Dr. Dan Cain, a good natured physician with a penchant of not giving up on life, but that’s where he’s trouble ensnares him with Dr. West’s overcoming death obsession. Abbott’s physically towers over Combs, but his performance of Cain is softly acute to West’s hard nose antics. Abbott plays on the side of caution as his character has much to lose from career to fiancée, whose played by Barbara Crampton. “Re-Animator” essentially unveiled the Long Island born actresses and made her a household name who went on to have roles in other prominent horror films, including another Stuart Gordon feature “From Beyond,” “You’re Next,” and the upcoming “Death House.” David Gale rounds out the featured foursome as the detestable Dr. Carl Hill. Gale embraces the role, really delving into and capturing Dr. Hill’s maddening short temper and slimy persona; a perfect antagonist to the likes of Combs and Abbott. The remaining cast includes Robert Sampson (“City of the Living Dead”), Carolyn Purdy-Gordon, and Peter Kent.
The “Re-Animator” universe is right up there with the likes of Sam Raimi’s “The Evil Dead.” Hell, there is even a line of comics that pit the two franchises together in a versus underlining. Unfortunately, “Re-Animator” is frankly nothing without the franchise star Jeffrey Combs, much like “The Evil Dead” is nothing without Bruce Campbell even though we, as fans, very much enjoyed the Fede Alvarez 2013 remake despite the lack of chin. Gordon’s film needs zero remakes with any Zac Efron types to star in such as holy role as Dr. Herbert West. That’s the true and pure terrifying horror of today’s studio lucrative cash cow is to remake everything under the genre sun. Fortunately, “Re-Animator” and both the sequels have gone unscathed and unmolested by string of remakes, reboots, or re-imagings. Aside from a new release here and there, such as Umbrella’s upstanding release which is fantastic to see the levels of upgrades up until then, “Re-Animator” has safely and properly been restored and capsulated for generations to come.
Umbrella Entertainment proudly presents the first volume of the Beyond Genres’ label with Stuart Gordon’s “Re-Animator” on a two-disc, full HD 1080 Blu-ray set, presented in a widescreen 1.77:1 aspect ratio. A very fine and sharp image quality that maintains equality across the board with minuscule problematics with compression issues, jumping imagery on solid colored walls for example, but the issues are too small amongst the rich levelness of quality and when compared to other releases, Umbrella Entertainment’s release is a clear-cut winner. The English DTS-HD master audio puts that extra oomph into Richard Bands’ score that’s heavily influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” adding a pinch of chaotic gothic charm to the macabre story. Dialogue is balanced and upfront, but there isn’t much prominent ambient noise to put the dialogue off-kilter. Special features on the first disc include the 86 minute unrated version of “Re-Animator,” audio commentaries from director Stuart Gordon, producer Brian Yuzna, and stars Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton, Bruce Abbott, and Robert Sampson; there’s also a “Re-Animator Resurrectus” documentary, 16 extended scenes, and a deleted scene. The second disc includes the 106 itegral cut along with interviews with Stuart Gordon, Brian Yuzna, writer Denis Paoli, composer Richard Band, and former Fangoria editor Tony Timpone. Plus, a music analyst by Richard Band, TV spots, and the theatrical trailer. All this and a bag of corpses is sheathed inside a remarkably beautiful encasement with a seriously wicked custom slipcover desgin by illustrator Simon Sherry. There’s also reversible Blu-ray casing cover art with previous designs incorporated. H.P. Lovecraft would be extremely flattered and proud on how Umbrella Entertainment not only enhanced the film adaptation of his classic tale of macabre, but also with how diabolically attired the release is distributed. A true horror classic done right!
Jessica is plagued by recurring horrific and lucid nightmares of a horse-headed figure that brings death to her dreams. When she has a nightmare about her grandmother being impaled to death by the horsehead monster, she’s immediately phoned by her mother Catelyn informing Jessica that her grandmother has passed away. Jessica travels to the family’s countryside estate for the funeral and is welcomed by her stern mother. Jessica’s nightmares worsen the first night and she becomes trapped in her own dreams as she can feel the haunt of the horse-head figure in the corner’s of her mind. When Jessica soon realizes that her’s grandmother’s death and her mother’s cruelty might be more involved and connected with the horse-head creature, she attempts to stay in a semi-conscious sleep state to puzzle together the mysterious pieces and to control her nightmares once and for all.
The freshman feature film from Romain Basset contains such promise and maturity and Basset shows daring courage to create a horror-fantasy of this caliber thats very aesthetically symbolic and worthy of being awarded qualities of early Dario Argento’s films with intensive surreal and haunting facets. “Horsehead” embodies the character Jessica’s head in creating and blending an atmospheric jigsaw and visceral puzzle of a world while being a mirror in which you can glance back into time, far back beyond your own existence. “Horsehead’s” unique tribute blend contains the bizarre and frightening worlds of Tarsem Singh’s 2000 film “Cell” intertwined with one’s life story similar to the past and present tales of “A Christmas Carol” with Ebenezer Scrooge. However, Jessica’s past is much more dark and grim than Scrooge’s will ever be and her future won’t end in her being generous and kind to a crippled poor boy named Tiny Tim.
Certainly a visually stunning film, “Horsehead” tries turn the mind on it’s end, leaving the suspended muscle dangling near the edge of insanity. Jessica’s reality becomes no more real than her nightmares as the horse-headed monster is has comparable dream-bending qualities to the the same effect as Freddy Krueger of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” but “Horesehead” is a lot more gothic and whole lot less sarcastic than the fedora sporting child murderer. The creature has haunted Jessica’s lineage for at least three generations, presumably starting with her late grandmother and is a symbol of Jessica’s strict-bible-following grandfather who becomes the epicenter of all the family’s issues. Her dreams hold a dark mystery to her family’s continuous cycle of troubles and use horrific symbolism to express, in stages, the truth behind their ancestral secrets.
As much as I love the symbolism in this film, I’m worried about the psycho-sexual portion the film markets, splashed as a tagline right on the Blu-ray cover. Yes, the once little girl from Robert De Niro’s “Ronin” actress Lilly-Fleur Pointeaux does become involved briefly in highly sexual situations in her electric dance music soundtrack nightmares in a down the rabbit hole type of situation, but really serve no purpose to Pointeaux’s character in reality because no much is conveyed except for her profession as a dream psychologist and she has quarrels with her mother, especially on why her mother refuses to informer on the identity of her father. Gala Besson, who plays a younger version of Jessica’s grandmother, also briefly bares skin for a more gruesome and twisted scene that would make Pinhead smile with such pleasure. Perhaps the psycho-sexual scenes stem from the heavily implied incest relationships in the story between father and daughter, sister and sister, and mother and daughter. If incest is the answer to my question on why the film blatantly markets psycho-sexual, than the taboo subject matter makes “Horsehead” that much more risque and that more interestingly ambitious, creating a film that’s hard to swallow and shocking to behold when put into that perspective. Some dream interpreters believe that being chased by a white horse, in which case the horse-headed creature is of off-white color, may represent chaste or having issues with intimacy. This might explain some of Jessica’s unusual sexual scenes in her dream sequences involving relatives.
You might recognize a name from the past in the Italian horror genre: Catriona MacColl, an United Kingdom actress who portrays Jessica’s uptight mother Catelyn. MacColl is best known for her early 1980’s rolls in the Lucio Fulci films “The Beyond,” “City of the Living Dead,” and “House by the Cemetery.” With MacColl and Pointeaux’s as the overpowering female characters, “Horsehead” rounds out with weak male characters such as Jessica’s stepfather Jim, played by Murray Head, and an estate servant George, played by French acting vet Vernon Dobtcheff.
Overall, “Horsehead” delivers solid acting, dons great editing, and has better than average makeup and effects making “Horsehead” a winning release, yet again, for Artsploitation Films. The Blu-ray release is perfectly graced with a stunning 2.35:1 widescreen transfer with a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix, evenly balanced with appropriate LFE during the EDM nightmares. The picture is quite clear with some digital noise interference but only on some minor facial closeup scenes and no damage on the prints. Even though “Horsehead” is a French film and most of the cast is French, the movie is in English and it’s not dubbed English either. Bonus features also include “Inside Horsehead Making of” and four short films that have a total runtime of 81 minutes – a movie in itself.