Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, September 15, 2017

RECENT WATCHES: Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

Horror fans are very loyal. Over a decade had passed since the last “Re-Animator” film but fans were still calling out for more Herbert West. After many years of waiting, “Re-Animator” would finally become a trilogy. The same Fantastic Factory deal that made “Dagon” and “Faust: Love of the Damned” possible would result in “Beyond Re-Animator.” (The title was chosen, perhaps, because this was the first in the series to go beyond Lovecraft's original story.) But fans probably shouldn't have gotten too excited. Brian Yunza would once again appear in Stuart Gordon's steed. “Beyond Re-Animator” would please West faithfuls but still come nowhere close to matching the original.

Herbert West somehow survives the conclusion of “Bride of Re-Animator.” Some time after that, one of his experiments wander into a suburban home and kills a teenage girl. West is caught this time, being sent off to prison for his crimes. Thirteen years later, West is still incarcerated. The youngest brother of the dead girl, named Howard, intentionally enters the prison as a doctor. He makes contact with West, whose experiments in reviving the dead have expanded. Now, West believes electrical current throughout the body must be retrieve to prevent the reanimated from being mindless, violent zombies. Naturally, West's re-agent gets out of his hands and, soon, the prison is overrun with murderous creatures.

“Beyond Re-Animator” drops Herbert West into a prison setting. This was presumably less a creative decision and more of a budgetary one. Either way, the film can't resist the cliches of the prison genre. There's tough guys pumping iron in the yard, a sadistic warden, an inevitable riot, and even some light rape. (Though not of the guy-on-guy variety.) How does West react to this? Well, it seems his years incarcerated have made him even harder. Combs plays Herbert as colder to the suffering of those around him and a little more cruel in general. Combs gets some great one-liners to himself – such as a reaction to a junky prisoner – but, overall, seems a little bored with what's happening. “Bride of Re-Animator” lived and died on Combs' charm. The star's diminished attitude isn't enough to carry “Beyond Re-Animator.”

“Bride of Re-Animator” at least learned from the first film's mistake, by making Dr. Cain a little more interesting. “Beyond Re-Animator” sadly steps back. Jason Barry appears as Dr. Philips, yet another boring companion to Herbert West. Howard Philips – see if you can spot the subtle homage in his name there – has a nearly identical character arc to Cain in the previous two movie. He is horrified but fascinated with West's experiments. He's enraged when his patients die. He has an equally bland, blonde girlfriend. When she dies, he crosses a line attempting to bring her back to life. Barry's performance veers way over the top at times but, usually, he's simply a snore to watch. I don't know why the “Re-Animator” films insisted on adding boring sidekicks to the stories, when Herbert West is obviously who the fans are invested in.

Initially, “Beyond Re-Animator” seems to be running a little more smoothly than “Bride of Re-Animator.” The film does a better job of juggling its various supporting characters and subplots... At least until the second half. As the film veers towards its conclusion, the script comes undone. A story about Dr. Philips' dead girlfriend collides with the sadistic warden's vicious games. A subplot about a prisoner and his pet rat gets tossed in here, clattering into the ineluctable prison riot. The script bizarrely takes Herbert West out of the story for long stretches, a baffling decision. It's not just subplots that messily collide as “Beyond Re-Animator” nears its conclusion. Tones mix badly. The film's attempts at humor are overly goofy, clashing badly with a story that's grimmer than either of the previous two “Re-Animator” films.

“Beyond Re-Animator” does do one thing right though. The movie does feature some inventive gore gags. The opening scene features a zombie without a lower jaw, its tongue bobbing back and forth in the air. As the prison riot unfolds, we get many more grisly scenes. A junkie attempts to inject West's re-agent. This causes his eyeballs to pop from their sockets and his belly to burst open in a huge explosion. One of the re-animated is cut in two before being revived. So you have a legless torso crawling around and attacking people. West's experiments have some odd effects, such as a woman's fingers bending backwards and a man twisting his body into a rat's posture. The most outrageous gore gag is shoved into the end credits. A re-animated severed penis and a rat get into a fight, a scene that is entirely too goofy.

“Re-Animator” and “Bride of Re-Animator” ended with Herbert West presumably killed, before bringing him back with little explanation. “Beyond Re-Animator,” meanwhile, ends with West alive and triumphant. Ironically, a fourth film has yet to appear. It's not for a lack of trying. “House of Re-Animator” would've dropped West into George W. Bush's White House, the mad scientist being called in to re-animate the suddenly dead president. It was a clever premise. Stuart Gordon was going to direct, with William H. Macy appearing as Bush and George Wendt playing Dick Cheney. Sadly, Gordon couldn't get the project rolling and it was left dead after the end of Bush II's administration. (Though the Trump era may be the prime time to re-animate the project.)  I sure would've liked to have seen Gordon come back to the “Re-Animator” series, as the sequels clearly lacked something without his involvement. [5/10]

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