Tommy Dean Musset
Comedy Zombie Horror
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Beyond Re-Animator (2003)
30th Aug 11
Herbert West has spent the last 13 years in prison. The brother of his last zombie's victim is now an accomplished doctor on assignment at the same prison West is incarcerated in. When they met, it was murder.
It's 2003, which is a full 13 years since we last saw the infamous Dr Herbert West. Do you remember what happened last time we saw him? And the time before that? Let's recap.
Re-Animator came out in 1985 and was part of a new wave of comedy horror films that found favour with a large audience bored with the tedium of slasher sequels. Filmed with energy and intensity, fastly paced and incredibly gory, it's now recognized as one of the greatest cult films of all time. Why did it work? Well, it's a modern retelling of a Lovecraft tale of a physician that could bring back the dead via his re-animating reagent. The tall suave blonde hero of the novel was however replaced with the small, beady-eyed, intense, bi-spectacled Herbert West as played by Jeffrey Combs, and this is one of the main reasons the movie works so well. That and the high levels of gore. And that awesome score that almost sounds like the theme from Psycho. And the acting talents of the late great David Gale who, spending half the movie as a disembodied head, was forced to wear a grey wig before his decapitation (and eventual re-animation) because it was cheaper than remaking his fake head with hair that actually looked like his.
Why is it so much fun watching a guy inject green goo into a corpse only for it to spring back into random confused life? I don't know - it's basic human instinct isn't it? Imagine then, watching the highly successful original UK video release in the 80s, and then finding out at the turn of the century that the UK edit is infact heavily butchered, with whole sequences of gore removed and replaced with what in the US were considered deleted scenes. And then imagine the joy of watching the restored unrated version on the Millenium edition DVD, complete with the 'Dr Hill's head gives head' sequence, which had actor David Gale's wife scream out "Oh David how could you!" at the cast and crew screening (I read that on the internet somewhere so it must be true).
Anyway, the sequel was inevitable and in 1990 Bride of Re-Animator was released. Directed by Brian Yuzna instead of Stuart Gordon, the movie reunites all the principal surviving (and some not so) members of the cast. Now though West has moved on from re-animating life to creating life, and takes joy from gluing all manner of body parts together, dribbling his goo over them and then watching them try to live. Ultimately though, it's the creation of a woman that is his ultimate goal. Using the re-animated heart of West's sidekick Dan Cain's former girlfriend Meg who died at the end of the last film, West is able to drag Dan back in to West's world, but when the bride re-animates and, looking like a mess of body parts stitched together, Dan rejects her in favour of his current Peruvian girlfriend, she pulls herself apart stitch by stitch. Meanwhile, all the bits of bodies that West had re-animated then chucked through that hole in the basement wall come back to haunt him, at the same time as Dr Hill's re-animated head (that has now gained bat wings) launches an attack with zombies he controls through his mind control powers (don't ask) and all hell breaks loose.
And in the ensuing carnage, West apparently perishs, with the building falling in around him. Mind you, he was apparently devoured by Dr Hill's out of control intenstines at the beginning of the first movie, so let's not worry too much about that.
Despite Bride being clearly inferior to the original (like most people I blame Yuzna's inexperience as a director, and a script which had the Dan Cain sidekick character switch from being the voice of reason to being as nuts as West) Yuzna has always expressed an interest in a new Re-Animator movie and at the turn of the century with him setting up the Spanish Fantastic Factory film label, this became a possibilty. With limited budget and kinda forced to shoot in Spain, Yuzna whittled the Re-Animator canon down to its basics. What do you need to make a Re-Animator movie, and what can you ditch? Simple - you just need Jeffrey Combs on form as Herbert West, anything else is a bonus.
Beyond Re-Animator actually opens with a flashback set around the same time Re-Animator 2 is set. In the flashback we see a zombie wander in to a house, help himself to some milk (messily) then kill a teenage girl. This is witnessed by her brother, who also witnesses Herbert West outside getting arrested for the trajedy, and watches West drop a syringe of the famous glowy Re-Animator re-agent. He promptly pockets it.
Thirteen years later, that boy has grown in to Howard Phillips, a brilliant young doctor who has raised eyebrows by taking his first medical assignment at a secluded prison. This makes no sense for someone who has graduated with his honours, but little do they realise Howard's true plan is to find Herbert West, return the syringe and help him continue his work. Upon arriving at the prison he wastes no time introducing himself to West and returning the syringe, and West consequently wastes no time using it to re-animate a prisoner who had just dropped dead. The goo is injected, the iconic score kicks in, and the whole audience knows we're back in business.
With a new side-kick like Phillips (apparently Dan Cain from the first two movies turned States evidence, sealing West's fate)m West wastes no time. He's discovered something called Nano-Plasmic Energy, which is an energy that can be extracted from the brain from a process not dis-similar to electrocution and stored in little glass jar. When re-administered to a re-animated corpse, it halts the degeneration and stops the re-animate from being a mindless zombie. That's the idea anyway, but West needs more time to perfect it.
Now while Phillips is off getting a girlfriend, West is having problems with the warden. He suspects, and soon he's killed by West and re-animatored with the re-agent and some nano-plasmic energy, but the only living creature around for him to steal NPE from is a rat, so the effects on the Warden are not what you expect. Similarly, the prisoner who's pet rat it was kicks off at West convinced he's killed his rat, so West re-animates the rat for the prisoner. Before you know it, with the rat and the warden going nuts, the prison descends in to chaos. Prisoners are getting infected with the re-agent left right and centre, and it's every man for himself.
Will the Warden's crazy zombie schemes come to fruition? Will West be able to re-animate Phillip's new just dead girlfriend? Ultimately, what will happen to West at the end fo the movie - is he resigned to a life in prison or will another option present itself?
At the end of the day, Beyond Re-Animator doesn't tread too far from the tested Re-animater formula. Like I said earlier, Yuzna knows that to make a Re-Animator sequel you only really need one thing, and that's Jeffrey Combs on fine form as Herbert West. Then, once you've picked a location and set up a back story, the rest of the movie writes itself. Bruce Abbott is conveniently written out in the opening credits, and the whole premise of the prison is set up meaning that's your locations sorted. Then we need to write in a new sidekick, a reason for them to be there and they need a girlfriend that West disapproves of. Then the final thing you need is a baddie to replace the late, great David Gale, and you want him to be killed and re-animated, prompting the shift in to the third, gore soaked act of the film. Throw in the green goo, the score that sounds way to much like Psycho, and there's your Re-Animator sequel right there.
To be fair, in that respect Beyond Re-Animator is hard to fault. Okay, it's breaking no boundaries and not pushing the story in any new directions, instead making a movie that you could argue amounts to little more than Re-Animator fan service, but at least someone out there is listening to the fans. And perhaps it is a stretch trying to pretend this movie is set in America when, excluding West and Phillips, everyone in the film is clearly Spanish. But at least we have a third Re-Animator movie, and despite it's predictability it is immense fun and rounds the series off nicely.
Finally, there's not a Re-Animator fan out there that doesn't wish for a fourth movie, and until recently it looked like it might happen. Stuart Gordon went on record a couple years back saying how he'd love to make House of Re-Animator set in the White House. The premise would be that the president or vice-president would die and West would be pulled in to re-animate him. It was planned as a political satire, but it looks like it'll never happen for two reasons. Firstly, as soon as you mention Re-Animator everyone involved knows it's going to hit a bigger market, meaning everyone involved wants a slice of the pie, the pay packets risemeaning the budget does too and before you know it you're not making a small low budget movie anymore (hence why only Combs returned for the third outing). That could be difficult to finance. But the second, and perhaps more immediate reason, is the fact that now the Bush Administration is out, Gordon doesn't see the point in making the movie anymore. That's a shame for all us Re-Animator fans, that's for sure.
Versions It's available in many formats uncut, but the recent UK Arrow Video release has by far the best set of special features.