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Entries in Beyond Re-Animator [2003] (1)

Thursday
Nov182010

Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on Massachusetts

You might think that a steady diet of Re-Animator movies would make for a lousy couple of weeks.  But diving into the macabre, obsessed world of Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), I discovered a new favorite horror franchise.  Sure, maybe all this talk of death and resurrection has pulled my head into some unhealthy territory (would West’s re-animation serum have worked on Jesus, if injected at the exact moment of expiration—thus cutting out the pesky three-day wait?  Better yet, what if the serum is derived from a millennia-old strain of that Jesus Juice in the first place?).

I love that this series makes me think; the nudity and evisceration are just footlights leading to a deeply soulful experience—like an iPod in a tanning bed.  This heady state is so profound that it can even withstand a brain-itching mess like Beyond Re-Animator.

The main thing you need to understand about Beyond Re-Animator is that it was shot in Spain, but it doesn’t take place in Spain.  This is still supposed to be Massachusetts in what is, I suppose, either an alternate reality or Mitt Romney’s nightmare vision of the future, where only one guy speaks perfect English and everyone else sounds like Senor Wences.  Not having researched the film’s budgetary and geographic constraints beforehand, I wasn’t ready for what amounted to ninety-five minutes of Rosetta Stone tapes with exploding heads.

By the end, though, I was able to appreciate what Brian Yuzna did with his direction and script (which he developed with writers Xavier Berraondo, Jose Miguel Gomez, and Miguel Tejada-Flores).  Since a third movie centering on West’s exploits in a hospital might be seen as stale, Yuzna and company mix things up a bit by planting the good doctor in prison.  Thirteen years earlier, one of his experiments got loose and killed a teenage girl in front of her little brother and—with the help of former partner Daniel Cain’s testimony—West was sent up the river.  One day, an idealistic, young doctor named Howard Phillips (Jason Barry) signs on to work at the prison and he takes a keen interest in West (No points for figuring out that Phillips is the kid with the dead sister, all grown up).

The two strike up a dark partnership, converting a basement storage room into a lab where they can perfect West’s serum in private.  They start with rats but eventually move up to the inmates, which draws the attention of both journalist Laura Olney (Elsa Pataky) and the prison’s sadistic warden, Brando (Simon Andreu).  If you’ve seen the other Re-Animator movies (why on Earth would you begin with part three?), then you can recite the plot points and most of the dialogue from here—Hint: Dr. Phillips and Laura get involved, but things don’t work out so well.

The good news is that changing up the location and adding a bunch of eccentric, voice-dubbed inmates works just well enough to distract from the by-the-numbers storyline that your attention won’t wander too much.  Jeffrey Combs also turns in another stellar performance as West, though it takes a while for him to look as though he cares about being on set (something about his too-tightly-pursed lips and fixed scowl screams, “This is what the fans want, isn’t it?  I’m an actor, I’m an actor, I’m an actor…”).

The effects are still top-notch, too, thanks to Screaming Mad George’s inventive evisceration (who doesn’t love a mouse nudging a giant severed penis across a dingy floor?).  My only complaint is that some of the gags have a distinctly Sci-Fi Channel Original feel, as if the CGI department let their subscription to Junior Compositor lapse.  But combined with the rest of the movie’s wacky problems, I guess the embarrassing half-man-climbing-on-ceiling-pipes could be seen not only as charming, but a deliberate aesthetic choice.

Beyond Re-Animator is the worst picture of the trilogy, and that’s due in large part to the absence of Bruce Abbott as Daniel Cain.  Dr. Phillips is simply a poor substitute.  As an actor, Jason Barry is fine, but his character has too much pathos to play West’s straight man; at a certain point, the focus shifts from West’s search for the human soul and settles on Phillips’s attempt to live out the last act of Pet Sematary (this theme showed up in Bride of Re-Animator to a degree, but that movie knew that the gold lay in the yin and yang of the West/Cain relationship).

At the end of the film, West escapes a prison overrun with zombies and rioting lunatics and disappears into the foggy Spanishchusetts night.  As the screen cut to black, my idea about a weekly Re-Animator TV show resurfaced.  I wanted nothing more than for Herbert West and Daniel Cain to find each other, make up, and hit the road for further adventures in boundary-bending science (Re-Animator in a mall!  Re-Animator invades McDonalds!  Re-Animator in space!).  That probably won’t happen.  But at least we fans have a great pair of horror-comedies to revisit whenever we’re feeling down—and one tragi-comic footnote to put on when the mood strikes for an American-style European splatter-fest.