Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

They Thought Prison Would Be The Death Of Him. But For Dr. West, Death Is Only The Beginning.

Surviving the collapse of the crypt he was trapped in and the onslaught of re-animated creatures, Dr Herbert West is arrested and imprisoned for good. West quickly becomes one of the in-prison doctors, overseeing the care of inmates whilst conducting his experiments on the sly. When a new doctor arrives at the prison, West earns his trust and together they try to take the re-animation experiments to the next level. However, it isn’t long before the experiments get out of control and begin to overrun the prison.

 

With a gap of nearly fourteen years between sequels, it’s a wonder that Beyond Re-Animator ever managed to make it out of production. Brian Yuzna, producer of the original turned director of the sequel, headed off to Spain at the beginning of the Naughties to set up a production company called Fantastic Factory and get funding for a series of horror films which would use genre talent from around the world to produce international horror films, a number of which I’ve reviewed (Rottweiler and Beneath Still Waters spring to mind). One of these was designed to be a ‘marquee’ title to guarantee a return on investor’s money and thus secure the finances for the others and Beyond Re-Animator was the option. It was a safe bet. After all, Re-Animator was, and still, is one of the most defining horror films of the 80s with its unhealthy mix of splatter, bad taste and black comedy.

With so long a gap between sequels, it’s a wonder why Yuzna really bothered to continue the story, especially in the manner he has chosen to do so. Beyond Re-Animator reeks of being straight-to-DVD, with its strained production values, narrow sense of scope and toned down carnage. It’s clearly not set in America despite the best efforts of the production team to give the audience that impression. What’s possibly worse and does more damage to the series is that it doesn’t even look like a Re-Animator film. This is down to the considerable improvement in production values that Yuzna was able to call upon compared to Bride of Re-Animator. In upgrading the visual quality of the film, Yuzna takes away a whole batch of the charm of the first two films.

Ignoring the ending of the previous sequel, Beyond Re-Animator opens with a gruesome sequence involving a couple of young boys, an unlucky sister and a zombie missing its entire lower jaw. The scene gives the narrative the ball and you’d expect the film to keep running with it. However it drops it almost straight away, settling down into a long-winded re-tread of the same story we’ve had before (West hooks up with a new assistant to begin experiments, stuff goes wrong, people die, the new assistant’s love interest is caught in the middle of it, one of the main characters is re-animated and spends the rest of the film trying to get back at West and so on). There’s little of the fun and playfulness of the original and very little of the splatter. In short, there’s a general lack of re-animation and of the craziness that goes hand-in-hand with it.

Whilst Beyond Re-Animator is not totally without its merits, it is sorely lacking the sense of tongue-in-cheek fun that the first two films had in abundance. They were never laugh out loud comedy-horrors but managed to throw in some sight gags and throwaway slapstick moments (West’s fight with the reanimated cat in the basement in Re-Animator ranks as one of my favourite comedy moments ever) to ensure that the film never got too serious. Here, the tables have been tipped a little too far in the favour of the dour and docile. Things do pick up in the final third, both from the comedy and gore perspective, as West’s re-animations run riot in the prison. This is what we’ve come to expect from a Re-Animator film and it’s a pity that we have to wait so long for it.

Jeffrey Combs makes a welcome return in the role of Herbert West. Seasoned from years as a character actor (and making scores of appearances in make-up as various characters in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), he’s grown more adept in the role but has lost a little of his original enthusiasm and natural energy with age. Kind of like Peter Cushing in the Hammer Frankenstein films evolved over time and through age, Combs’ character is more mature and more relaxed but still as ruthlessly determined to succeed. The comparison to Cushing’s Frankenstein is even more evident in Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, in which the Baron takes over as the in-house doctor for a prison where he can continue his work uninterrupted and under the cover of his role. Herbert West has clearly been studying his trade secrets on how to proceed undetected!

It’s a shame that Bruce Abbot didn’t return to play the role of Dr Cain and his replacement, Jason Barry, isn’t overly convincing in the role. Sadly, David Gale died between sequels and couldn’t return as West’s long-term, and now-decapitated and re-animated, nemesis Dr Carl Hill. Simón Andreu is his replacement, snarling as the evil prison warden. Andreu would have been better had his accent not hampered him as much but he does what he can with a poorly-developed character. His best moments come after he has taken a dose of the re-animating agent and Andreu shows off more of his acting range as he transforms into a giant rat. The stunning Elsa Pataky rounds off the main cast and provides the glamour here as the token love interest. Pataky may be pound-for-pound one of the most naturally beautiful women I’ve ever seen in a horror film but her thick Spanish accent and inability to act really hampers the character. She’s gotten better over the years and having read up on her career since this, she’s gone on to bigger things (including become Mrs Chris Hemsworth aka Thor and starring in some of the later Fast and Furious films).

 

Beyond Re-Animator is the weakest link in the Re-Animator trilogy but that’s like saying Return of the Jedi is the weakest link in the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s fairly acceptable on its own terms but follows two infinitely superior films. Beyond Re-Animator has got just enough splatter, just enough black humour and just enough craziness to keep itself ticking over. But it’s only just enough. You get the feeling of wanting (and expecting) a lot more than you’re eventually handed.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

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