Artisan // 1990 // 99 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // October 21st, 2003
Date. Mate. Re-animate. Regurgitate!
Doctors Herbert West and Dan Cain are at it again. And just what that "it" is has got the police and professionals at Miskatonic Hospital nervous again. It's been just eight months since the mysterious massacre that saw the discovery of dozens of dead bodies, including the decapitated corpse of medical school dean Dr. Carl Hill. Just as everyone was starting to recover, bodies and assorted "parts" have mysteriously turning up "missing" from the morgue. A depressed detective whose wife died during that previous night of dread thinks the secretive surgeons are up to something. They have taken over an abandoned mortuary on the edge of town, near a local cemetery and they are evasive and guilty when confronted. It's not long before Herbert and Dan's plan is uncovered: they have given up on the simplistic notion of "reanimating" the dead, and instead are working on creating new life. They are making a woman out of the various pieces of patients from the hospital. Herbert hopes this will forward his research and gain him the respect he feels he deserves. Dan utilizes the heart of his dead fiancée, Meg, and longs for the mutilated menagerie to take her place. And just when they think they've succeeded, when their collection of corporeal cogs lumbers to life, the head of Dr. Hill comes calling, looking for a little cranial payback. Soon it's a battle between the living, the undead, and the about to be reborn as West and Cain try to defeat Hill and bring the Bride of Re-animator to life!
Bride of Re-animator is a joyless celebration of vivisection, a woefully unfulfilling horror mishap that wants to recapture the archaic tone of the first fractured film but only ends up a sad bit of stupid slapstick with stop-motion body parts. Anyone who thought excessive gore could never be dull has probably not seen this film. Director Brian Yuzna (producer of the first film) is awkward and unprepared to fill Stuart Gordon's legendary shoes, so he simply opts for retelling the first movie sans Barbara Crampton's comely chest. Just like Evil Dead II "reimagined" the first Evil Dead film, less a sequel than a hyperactive (and intensely satisfying) Rashomon view of Ash's adventures in the Tennessee woods, Bride of Re-animator removes the plotline from the first foray into living dead mythology and transmutes it to Frankenstein's castle of freaks. Or in this case, the underground mortuary lab of Herbert West and Dan Cain. Gone are the legions of zonked out zombies, using their various and sundry vital pieces to wreack their unholy havoc and vengeance. Absent is the strange sex scene between a captive lass and a decapitated head. Instead of achieving a Raimi level of dizzying delirium or outrageous horror heights, Bride of Re-animator is just a rote retelling, neither scary nor silly. It mismanages its tone so badly that instead of providing some manner of marvelous gore geek show, we are stuck with a crass organ and corpuscle comedy that's never as funny or fierce as it thinks it is. There is just too much glowing reagent flowing here and not enough of what made the first movie a considered classic. Yuzna is really just a very lucky fan and not enough of a focused, seasoned filmmaker to turn his Mary Shelley celebration of H.P. Lovecraft into something wholly his own. Somewhere, something got lost in the translation and attempt.
In many ways, Bride of Re-animator trades special effects for effective storytelling. There are five divergent effects experts and houses listed in the credits and on occasion you can see where one purveyor of latex starts and the other picks up. Certainly, the "bride" herself is a beautiful bastardization of the Elsa Lancaster creature ideal, but the stop motion finale filled with all manner of physical combo platters reeks of too many grease painters in the kitchen. Then there is the script. Gordon may not have had a knack for subtlety or the gift of giving his actors great gab, but he knew (and still knows) how to move a monster movie through its paces properly. Yuzna, pitching in on a screenplay by fellow fiend friends Rick Fry and Woody Keith (they worked together on Yuzna's debut film, the sick and twisted Society), spends a large amount of time thinking up perverted surgery disasters and soda-flat one-liners at the expense of key cinematic elements like plot and character. Once we are reintroduced to our mad medicos, the movie meanders from one effects shot to another. If there is one saving grace amongst the missteps, it is Jeffery Combs as Herbert West. One of the great, undiscovered actors in the annuals of B-movies (this man should be at the top of everyone's character cattle call A-list. Just ask Peter Jackson: he stole The Frighteners from Michael J. Fox), Combs nails it. He understands and balances along the wicked wire between seriousness and satire with perfection. His performance in both Re-animator films is so intense and borderline broad that you wish the rest of the players would fade into the woodwork so the big ham can saunter. But as with many of Combs' best thespian turns, he is stuck in a movie that is beneath him. Bride of Re-animator is moniker made to be a worthy sequel to the original, but it turns out that it was all in name only.
Elsewhere on this site, our distinguished Judge Patrick Naugle reviewed (and actually liked) the Special Edition DVD version of this title put out by Pioneer. It is recommended that you go read his analysis (linked at right) of the movie and the far more fan friendly packaging that one conscientious consumer company decided to put out. Once you view the extras and the bonus content (not to mention the OAR and sound options) offered, you'll curse the very existence of the buttmunch business that figured out shortchanging the viewer was more fun than providing them with a decent digital experience. But looking at the name on this 2003 re-release explains everything. Artisan (get it now?) must have thought that a spring cleaning style sale on all back horror titles, formatted to give Paramount a run for its bare bones money was the proper dynamic marketing strategy. They figure aficionados of the new technology like nothing more than to spend their money and get mierda in return. So shite is what they offer here: badly pixelated and compressed full screen transfer (who cares if it's the intended direct-to-video perspective, it still looks crappy) and standard Dolby Digital 2.0 boredom. No trailers. No documentaries. No featurettes or make-up tests. Just a DVD that acts (and looks and plays like) like a long lost Betamax cassette. If you are indeed a fan of this fright sequel, by all means give Artisan's atrocity a pass and seek out the panacea from Pioneer. Or maybe you too will get a depressing sense of déjà vu from Bride of Re-animator and avoid it all together. After all, once you've seen one zombie dog with a human arm for a missing paw, you've seen them all.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Judge Naugle's Review of Original Release