= Highest Rating
good news: Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), everyone's favorite
corpse-reviving mad scientist, is back after 13 years and still
up to his old tricks. The bad news? The film, the second sequel
to Stuart Gordon's classic 1985 horror-comedy Re-Animator,
is a major disappointment. Ably directed by Brian Yuzna (producer
of the first film) and featuring some delightfully squishy gore
effects, the film nevertheless fails to recapture the magic
of the original in any notable respect. It doesn't take the
'franchise' in any new directions, either.
A somewhat old fashioned slasher-style prologue
turns out to be one of the more effective sequences of the film.
Ostensibly set at the conclusion of 1990's Bride
of Re-Animator, teenager Howard Phillips witnesses the
shocking murder of his older sister at the hands of one of Herbert
West's 'experiments' run amok. The mutilated zombie is gunned
down by the cops in the family kitchen. Watching as West is
arrested and hauled away, young Howard finds a syringe of the
mad scientist's glowing "re-agent" formula lying on the ground.
He becomes obsessed with the idea that he failed to save his
sister, that West's research could be the key to conquering
The passage of 13 years finds Phillips (Jason
Berry) fresh out of medical school and taking a job as resident
doctor at Arkham State Penitentiary, a maximum security prison.
It's no coincidence that one of the inmates is Herbert West.
Phillips arranges it so that West is given a trustee position
as his assistant —
though in truth their roles are reversed. Galvanized by seeing
his re-agent again (Howard dutifully preserved that syringe
he found), West enlists his new partner in using the prison
infirmary as a lab to manufacture more. The situation is complicated
when Phillips falls for Laura (Elsa Pataky), a shapely blonde
journalist researching an article at the prison. Sadistic warden
Brando (Simón Andreu) has his own lecherous eye on Laura,
immediately putting the new doctor on his bad side. He takes
a keener interest in Phillips' and West's activities, especially
since a prisoner thought dead of a heart attack is somehow revived
and is now extremely violent...
Despite having received
a (very) limited theatrical run in the U.S., Beyond
Re-Animator positively reeks with that 'Direct To Video'
odor. It was written and financed by Spaniards and shot in Spain
by director Yuzna. Care was taken to make the film look as American
as possible, yet these efforts sometimes end up drawing as much
attention to themselves as they deflect. The prison setting,
though logical given West's crimes and as a means of explaining
the gap between the second and third films, proves too constraining
and dull, bringing with it its own set of clichés. That
the penal institution is obviously not American also
hurts the film — there isn't a single black man among the inmates.
(One housing only Caucasians and Latinos is simply unbelievable.
Even lily-white states like Idaho and Montana have African-Americans
among their prison populations.) It's commendable that the Spanish
cast members seem to do most of their own English dubbing, which
is a notch above average, but characters that aren't necessarily
Hispanic often slip in and out of telltale accents.
Some of the acting isn't so hot, too.
The main problem is the script. The dialog
is often poor. West doesn't get any memorable trademark quips.
Apart from the first and last 20 minutes, the character is relegated
a strictly supporting role —
more time is spent with Howard, Laura, Warden Brando and a handful
of featured prisoners, none of whom we care about one way or
another. This isn't a particularly smart move considering that
Jeffrey Combs returning as Herbert West is the real reason most
people are going to want to see this. Sure, it's great to have
the character back; we're just not given enough of him. Also,
attempts to mine the black, often absurd humor of the original
film almost all fall flat. Brando's transformation into a rat-zombie,
for example (I won't bother to explain), is supposed to be funny
but is really quite lame. (The evil warden is a second-string
"Dr. Hill" villain to begin with —
before and after assuming rodent-like characteristics.
Frankly, Spanish actor Andreu is miscast. I can easily see him
as the baddie in a spaghetti western but he just isn't right
here.) The severed penis jokes of the final act are just extra
nails in the coffin.
Re-Animator, like Dr. West's test
subjects, could really use a hypo full of re-agent to
get it up off the slab and moving about. Instead it mostly just
lies there, twitching fitfully. Apparently there wasn't enough
of that Day-Glo green formula to go around.
Lionsgate DVD edition of Beyond Re-Animator
presents the film via a solid widescreen (anamorphic) transfer
with a choice of either Dolby 5.1 or 2.0 soundtracks. I've no
quibbles with the A/V specs of the disc. Extras: an entertaining
documentary with lots of behind-the-scenes footage (though you'll
need to turn on the English subtitles due to its many Spanish-speaking
participants), a director's commentary with Yuzna that will likely
appeal only to die-hard fans, a laughably bad European music video
tie-in, and a slate of trailers for Lionsgate DVD releases (including
Beyond Re-Animator and Faust:
Love of the Damned, another made-in-Spain horror flick
directed by Yuzna). 4/09/04