Monday, 18 April 2011

Fantastic Factory #2. Beyond Re-Animator (Brian Yuzna, 2003) DVD Review

It's a scream... comedy and horror mix in Brian Yuzna's sequel Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

The original Re-Animator (Stuart Gordon, 1985), produced by Brian Yuzna, is one of my all-time favorite horror films - a delectably twisted fantasy, it's a devilishly perfect fusion of the madcap and the macabre; gleefully silly and bathed in blood. This second sequel (after Bride Of Re-Animator, Yuzna, 1990) went straight to DVD and although it can't hold a candle to the original it's still a somewhat underrated slice of gooey trash cinema. Jeffrey Combs returns as Dr. Herbert West, the classic megalomaniac scientist who originates in H.P. Lovecraft's 1922 short Herbert West - Re-Animator. The above image is from the opening to Yuzna's film and provides one of its zaniest highlights. There's a skimpily dressed blonde alone in a house and two kids are camping out in the backyard. The kids are examining a sheep eyeball when a flash of lightning alerts them to a presence outside. They wander into the house and the camera pans down to reveal large muddy footsteps on the porch. Somebody else is in the house. That somebody turns out to be the bedraggled zombie in the picture above. With half his jaw and one arm missing he kills the girl and reaches for a drink of milk - his slimy, bloody tongue lapping up the liquid. Soon the cops burst in, shoot the zombie (head popping is a plus here) and arrest West. 13 years later and he's still in prison...

One of the boys from the tent, Howard Phillips (Jason Barry), has grown up to be a doctor and now finds himself at the prison where West is serving his sentence. Together they begin plotting a new reanimation process and Howard begins to fall in love with journalist Laura Olney (Elsa Pataky). I'll give you three guesses as to what happens, but you'll only need one of them...

There are two central problems with Beyond Re-Animator. In terms of basic plot it's a complete rehash of the first film, and therefore every 'twist' can be mapped out from the off. One of the best aspects of the original is its wild unpredictability, and there's none of that here. But secondly, and perhaps most damningly, is the fact that it's just not that much fun. It's brilliantly paced, sure, and the idea is interesting - turn the prison into a riotous madhouse by unleashing a horde of prisoners against a handful of zombies. It should be brimming with dark comedy and gloopy bloodbaths but it just treads a careful road and feels very, well... stale. When there are severed reanimated criminals and half man/half rat mutants running around a SWAT-infested prison, currently burning to the ground, your movie really ought to be a blast, but I felt like I was going through the motions watching Beyond Re-Animator. And it's because the film doesn't really have anything to add to Lovecraft's characters and universe; it's just more of the same. Scenarios escalating in silliness ensure that you're never bored but it just lacks any wit, ingenuity or brio. Stuart Gordon's ethos was to throw everything at the screen but the kitchen sink, and then throw that in for good measure. His sets were swimming in red syrup and rubbery intestines, and he treated the action with a wink 'n' smile toward the audience. Yuzna throws an awful lot at the screen too, but you get the feeling that the idea of indulging in gloopy organs came before an actual story, and that's a big problem.

But perhaps a better way of looking at Beyond Re-Animator is not as an expansion of Lovecraft's universe but as a standalone carnival of horrors; instead of a haunted house movie, it's an undead prison movie. By the time the end credits roll and we're treated to an epilogue of a rat fighting a severed cock we're firmly within the realm of Yuzna and the Factory. And no, it still can't touch the depraved majesty of Gordon's masterwork, but maybe a Yuzna carnival is no bad thing and we should just mark this one up as an unrelentingly interesting failure. It has a few moments of brilliance (the junkie prisoner who OD's on Nano-Plasmic Energy) and the special makeup effects by Screaming Mad George are terrific. It could have been so much more, but given the scathingly bad reviews I'd read beforehand Beyond Re-Animator actually had a lot more to offer than I was expecting...

The Disc/Extras
The film is only eight years old so it still looks pretty sharp. Standard reversible DVD art and poster apply and we're also treated to another booklet, again by Calum Waddell, this time entitled 'World Of Lovecraft'. The main attraction there is a frank and entertaining interview with Jeffrey Combs on the Re-Animator legacy. On the disc we have an interesting audio commentary with director/producer Yuzna, and a 49-minute documentary on the Re-Animator legacy called 'All In The Head', which reveals some pretty interesting conceptual ideas for future Re-Animator movies. Also included is the original trailer. A solid little package for such a derided movie and the few fans it has will be delighted with its treatment.

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