Beyond Re-Animator
Spain - U.S.A. / 2003
Directed by Brian Yuzna
Jeffrey Combs
Jason Barry
Elsa Pataky
Color / 95 Minutes / R
Format: DVD (R1 - NTSC)
Lionsgate Entertainment
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
    7   10 = Highest Rating  
The 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 death.
    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.
Beyond 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

The 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