BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2003)
After 13 years in prison, Dr Herbert West gets a new chance to experiment on reanimating the dead with the arrival of a young prison doctor and fan of his...
Following his work producing Stuart Gordon’s cult classic Re-Animator (1985) and taking the directorial reigns for the well-received sequel Bride of Re-Animator (1990), Brian Yuzna’s career in the 1990s focused on mostly forgettable low-budget slashers like Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993). But he returned to the scene of his greatest success with Beyond Re-Animator at the turn of the millennium, which went direct-to-video in most countries. It did receive a limited theatrical run in its native US, but most fans caught it on television when the Sci-Fi Channel acquired it for broadcast.
The opening sequence is a bizarre misfire, which Yuzna later admitted was included to entice a more generic crowd of horror fans. The original intention was to pickup exactly where Bride left off, so the awkwardness of a prologue where two boys witness their babysitter’s murder by a disfigured zombie — the ghoulish work of Dr Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs)—is pronounced. It only serves to provide an early showcase for Screaming Mad George’s typically schlocky SFX work, and an origin story for Dr Howard Phillips (Jason Barry) after one of the kids finds a needle of fluorescent green “re-agent” serum before West’s arrested and carted away.
13 years later (the gap between sequels), West is serving time in prison and has been reduced to experimenting on captured rats. But he’s on the brink of another discovery, involving the “NPE” (non-plasmic energy) found within all living things, which he’s able to capture after a process of electrocution and wants to transfer into a different reanimated subject. Enter the aforementioned Dr Phillips, who followed a career in medicine inspired by West’s research, and has accepted the job of prison physician in order to be closer to his boyhood hero and reunite him with his glowing serum. Naturally, the two doctors soon decide to continue West’s experimentations (making Phillips is the “Dan” character from the original), but reviving dead rats and a simple-minded inmate who died of a heart attack soon gets out of hand…
The basis of this sequel certainly has merit and continues the story in an unexpected way, putting West in a different kind of facility to a hospital and having fun with the conventions of the prison drama genre along the way — with the tyrannical Warden Brando’s (Simón Andreu) fixation on the electric chair, tough guard Sergeant Moncho (Lolo Herrero), and various prisoners on Death Row. There’s also sops to that generic horror crowd with a comely journalist (Elsa Pataky) and nurse (Raquel Gribler), who both dress like they’re in a porn parody being shot at the same time.
The problem with Beyond Re-Animator is that it’s not as funny, shocking, bloodthirsty, or inventive this time around. The production is also an oddity with so many Spanish actors, flagging this as a foreign co-production because Filmax wanted homegrown actors in exchange for financing the $3M budget. It makes it feel like this is a Spanish soft-reboot of Re-Animator, or that West was transferred to a Mexican prison for no good reason. It just stands out as a little strange, and despite having the largest budget of the trilogy on paper (although Bride’s $2.5M was equivalent to $3.5M in 2003), the money seems to have been focused on its impressive prison sets.
The gooey SFX fans watch these movies for aren’t as frequent or imaginative this time around, and mostly held back for the final act. They’re enjoyable when they arrive, and despite being the first post-digital Re-Animator film it’s good to see Yuzna didn’t go overboard with CGI. The few instances of digital VFX are limited to shots of internal organs and a decent effect to erase an actor’s legs so he appears to be a torso moving around using his arms. (That was cutting-edge stuff when Forrest Gump came out almost a decade earlier.)
It’s also good to see Jeffrey Combs reprise his signature role, after a decade mostly spent playing various Star Trek characters and supplementing a few mainstream film appearances (The Frighteners, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer, House on Haunted Hill) with a plethora of straight-to-video crud. He hasn’t missed a step when playing West, who’s now a little craggier and missing his boyish innocence, but just as determined and reckless in his desire to become a real-life Dr Frankenstein. The actors around him aren’t as engaging, sadly, with Jason Barry a bland sidekick (who often slips into his natural Irish accent when his voices is raised), and everyone else doesn’t rise above archetypes. Although a few do become more entertaining when asked to go big with their performance, as Pataky gives her bombshell good-looks a dominatrix edge and Andreu grows more rodent-like.
Beyond Re-Animator is a tardy sequel that doesn’t live up to its pedigree, being several rungs below Re-Animator and its enjoyable sequel, which both pulled from chapters in H.P Lovecraft’s story Herbert West - Reanimator. The commercial failure of Beyond stopped the franchise’s likely continuation into DTV hall of fame, which is a surprise given how malleable the concept is.
One famously unproduced instalment called House of Re-Animator would have seen West called in to resurrect the dead President of the United States, while a lesser-known sequel idea called Island of Re-Animator was going to blend Lovecraft with H.G Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. Both sound more interesting than this effort, but decades later it doesn’t seem like anyone’s keen to have Combs return for more grotesqueries. Although there’s a 2016 Italian version of the original, as that country’s copyright laws mean you can adapt any author’s story 80 years after their death. Another version with Brad Dourif is categorised as “announced” on IMDb, to be directed by Serge Levin, but it was expected in 2018 and still hasn’t materialised. Maybe some things are better off dead.
USA • SPAIN | 2003 | 96 MINUTES | 1.85:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
This new Blu-ray itself wasn’t available for review. However, Arrow’s HD update of their 2011 DVD release premiered on Arrow Player, their streaming video-on-demand service that launched in the UK this month. I’m confident in assessing Arrow Player’s 1080p stream as an accurate rendering of the Blu-ray, to almost everyone unable to spot elements of video compression.
The 1.85:1 image is clean and sharp with occasional speckling in the darker sequences, which I’m sure the Blu-ray would do a marginally better smoothing out with richer blacks. The overly bright and digital aesthetic is an unfortunate sign of Beyond Reanimator’s low-budget, straight-to-DVD origins back in 2003, but an accurate one nonetheless.
I can’t comment on the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 presentation because Arrow Player only streams stereo, which is a pity… but also a compelling reason for fans to wait for the Blu-ray release a few days later. The other being the plethora of special features on the disc, of which Arrow Player subscribers can only watch a smattering.
director: Brian Yuzna.
writer: José Manuel Gómez (story by Miguel Tejada Flores).
starring: Jeffrey Combs, Jason Barry, Elsa Pataky, Enrique Arce, Nico Baixas, Lolo Herrero, Raquel Gribler, Simón Andreu & Santiago Segura.