Welcome to death row.
Zombies. Animated decapitated heads. Nubile coeds. Mad scientists. Yes, director Stuart Gordon's seminal 1980s classic Re-Animator had it all. While director (and producer of the first film) Brian Yuzna's sequel Bride of Re-Animator wasn't quite on par with the original, it still had enough grizzle and black humor to make it a well above-average follow-up. Nearly 13 years later, Yuzna has decided to revisit the mad Dr. Herbert West, played to perfection by Jeffrey Combs (The Frighteners, feardotcom). Lions Gate proudly presents the continuing misadventures of everyone's favorite kook in the direct-to-DVD sequel Beyond Re-Animator.
Facts of the Case
You remember Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), don't you? In the original Re-Animator, West and his partner, Dr. Daniel Cain (Bruce Abbott), toyed with bringing the dead back to life. In the sequel Bride of Re-Animator, West and Cain returned to Miskatonic University to tinker with not only resurrecting the dead but creating new life from severed body parts. Though West was thought to have perished after his creation came to life and wreaked havoc on his basement, he's returned once more in Beyond Re-Animator. Thirteen years have passed since Bride of Re-Animator and in that time, Dr. West has been incarcerated for his crimes, specifically an incident where one of West's "experiments" escaped from the morgue and killed a teenage girl. Forced to conduct experiments on rats with limited equipment, West spends his days in solitude while the cruel Warden Brando (Simón Andreu, Die Another Day) keeps watch over the inmates. When a newly appointed prison doctor, Howard (Jason Barry, Snitch), asks to work side by side with West, it seems that Herbert finds himself in the midst of a new protégé to help him with his life's work. West has discovered a way to extract one's "nanoplasm" (the soul) into small electric containers. But what happens when the nanoplasm of a rat is inserted into a dead human? And vice versa? These and many other questions (including what happens when West's glowing green reagent is injected into a live human subject) are answered in this third—and final?—installment of the Re-Animator saga.
I've waited over two years to see Beyond Re-Animator. I first read about it online three years ago, back when the plot dealt with Dr. Cain's death by a serial killer and West transferring the soul of the killer into Cain's body (obviously, that idea was scrapped). Since then I've been drooling, waiting, hoping, and praying it would finally see the light of day on DVD. Being a huge fan of the first two films, this was to be a momentous occasion (since the last film was made in 1990, it isn't like these things are coming out like clockwork). Now that I've finally seen Beyond Re-Animator, I can say that there are good points and there are bad points, and that the film is the weakest link in the Re-Animator trilogy.
First, the good points: Herbert West is back! Jeffrey Combs once again steps up to the plate as the demented Dr. West, a little older and a little more haggard. Gone is West's zeal for life—he's a bit less enthusiastic about his work. In a way, I kind of missed the old West, though there are glimpses of him during certain scenes. But I guess this is the logical place West would end up after 13 years in prison. Director Brian Yuzna does a nice job with the budget he's been given (he shot the film in Spain to stretch out the funds). Many of the old Re-Animator clichés are back, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Body parts are severed and reanimated, including one specific appendage that ends up fighting a rat during the end credits (don't miss it!). Jason Barry does a nice job of taking over the Daniel Cain role as West's partner in reanimated crime. The special effects are sometimes good, sometimes cheesy, but always fitting for the series they inhabit. And did I mention the return of Dr. West?
And now the bad: why didn't Yuzna take care of all the horrid dubbing issues that plague this sequel? I realize that he wanted to get the most bang out of buck by shooting it overseas, but couldn't he at least have gotten actors who could deliver their lines believably, and without post production dubbing? This is one of the most glaring problems with the movie and often distractingly pulls the viewer out of the Re-Animator world. It's also a shame that Bruce Abbott didn't return as Dr. Cain—his presence is sorely missed, as is the late David Gale as West's nemesis Dr. Carl Hill. Another minor gripe I have is the way the film ignores the ending of Bride of Re-Animator and just assumes that Dr. West is alive and well (steely eyed viewers will recall that West was smashed by boulders in the Abrams crypt). Then again, if the Friday the 13th series can fudge with each consecutive ending and spawn ten movies, anything's possible.
Complaints aside, Beyond Re-Animator is a better-than-average sequel that entertains but seems to be missing the spark of the first two films. There is promise in the premise as West works with not just life but also the souls, but amateurish acting and horrid dubbing often bog it down. Yet the gore is still intact, and Jeffrey Combs once again shines as one of the screen's most memorable mad scientists. It tears me apart to say this, but it may be best to make Beyond Re-Animator the final adventures of Herbert West.
Beyond Re-Animator is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I'm happy to see this film in a widescreen version, considering it had its initial presentation on television's Sci-Fi Channel. Overall Lions Gate has done a fine job of making sure this transfer is in excellent shape. The colors and black levels (there are a lot of them) are solid and well defined. Shadow detail is excellent without any major defects hindering the image. Re-Animator fans should be happy with the way this picture looks.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. Much like the video presentation, this audio mix is very nice. There are a multitude of directional effects throughout the film. Both the front and rear speakers are engaged constantly and consistently—there are enough icky, gooey effects to satisfy even the most discerning horror fan. All aspects of the mix are free of any hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English and Spanish subtitles as well as a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track in English.
Though not as heavily packed as Elite's two-disc Re-Animator: Millennium Edition set or Pioneer's now out of print Bride of Re-Animator disc, Beyond Re-Animator includes its fair share of extra features. Starting off the disc is a commentary track by director Brian Yuzna, who talks openly and consistently about the film's production in Spain, what it was like working with Combs after all these years, and the various links to the other Re-Animator films. This track is definitely worth a listen for hardcore horror fans.
A "Making of Beyond Re-Animator" is a short promotional piece that includes interviews with director Brian Yuzna and stars Jeffrey Combs, Simón Andreu, Elsa Pataky, Jason Barry, Lolo Herrero, and others. This nearly 20-minute long featurette should be watched with the subtitles on since many cast members speak in Spanish. The most bizarre supplement is a music video for the song "Move Your Dead Bones" (I have no idea who the artist is), which is basically the Re-Animator story set to music. Very, very weird.
Fans of this series will no doubt want to see Jeffrey Combs once again inhabiting the wonderful zany skin of Dr. West. While the movie is somewhat of a let down there are enough highlights to make it worth at least one viewing. But that dubbing! Oy vey! Lions Gate's work on this disc is great, all things considered.
I'm letting Beyond Re-Animator go free because West is just too good a character to incarcerate!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Brian Yuzna
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