DVD Review: Fantastic Factory Presents ‘Beyond Re-Animator’

Posted on April 8, 2011 by Ben

Beyond Re-Animator (2003)
Distributor: Arrow
DVD Release Date (Fantastic Factory boxset): 18th April 2011
DVD Release Date (Individual): 25th April 2011
Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Starring: Jeffrey Combs, Jason Barry, Elsa Pataky, Simón Andreu
Review by: Ben Bussey

The saying goes that third time’s a charm, but part three has tended to be a precarious one for most of the great horror franchises of the last three decades. It’s usually the installment wherein the movie veers off on a narrative and/or stylistic tangent which either irrevocably alters the course of the series from then on, as with Nightmare on Elm Street and Hellraiser; or it results in a hasty about-face, as with Halloween; or it stops the series dead in its tracks (film-wise at least) as with Army of Darkness and this, the third and to date final Re-Animator movie. Not unlike the third outings of Freddy, Pinhead and Ash, efforts are made here to take Dr Herbert West into marginally more mainstream territory, with a glossier approach than in the first two Re-Animators. But in this instance, the gap between parts 2 and 3 was considerably larger; 13 years, and about 5,000 miles, in fact. For whilst Re-Animator and Bride of Re-Animator were shot in the good ol’ US of A, this third installment was made in Spain through Brian Yuzna’s Fantastic Factory, with Jeffrey Combs, FX guy Screaming Mad George and Yuzna himself as the only key players to make their way overseas. While the result is in many respects a far cry from its predecessors, it’s still an above-average contemporary take on the splatter classics of yesteryear.

This time around, the law has finally caught up with West. He’s spent the thirteen years since we last saw him behind bars, which naturally has somewhat impeded his research into the reversal of death. That changes with the arrival of the new young prison doctor, Howard Philips (groan), played by Jason Barry. The newly qualified Howie hasn’t just wandered into this position; he specifically sought out the prison that houses West, with the covert intention of collaborating with the good doctor. You see, all those years ago, Howie saw his big sister killed by one of West’s re-animated corpses, which naturally left him with significant emotional problems, and nurtured in him an obsession with conquering death. It also appears to have left him with a somewhat incestuous fixation on women that look like his sister, such as the ambitious journalist Laura (Elsa Pataky). Whilst she is visiting the prison to interview Brando (Simón Andreu), the clearly corrupt and sadistic prison warden – really, is there any other kind in the movies? – she and Howie meet, and the mattress mambo soon follows, but it’s apparent that she’s less concerned with him than she is her story. Of course, it’s one of those “careful what you wish for” moments, as soon enough she is indeed onto a big story, and has a sizeable role to play in it herself.

So we’ve got a young, charismatic, well-meaning doctor being lead astray, a power-mad authority figure about to attain a whole different kind of power, and a hot blonde with an aversion to clothes wandering into the lion’s den… yes, it’s fair to say these are all pretty much carbon copies of Bruce Abbot’s Dan, David Gale’s Dr Hill and Barbara Crampton’s Megan from Stuart Gordon’s still unsurpassed original. Yuzna remarks both in the commentary and the solo interview (one of the few extras, making this an uncharacteristically sparse release from Arrow) that he consciously left Bruce Abbot out of the mix for fear of making a film “about two middle-aged doctors” and thus alienating a younger audience, but of course this is probably the chief reason existing Re-Animator fans have to be dissatisfied with this sequel. Though he puts the work in and is given some interesting, challenging material to work with (whilst Dan was commited but pretty straight-cut, Howie might be even more messed up than West), Jason Barry just doesn’t make for an especially compelling romantic lead. Simón Andreu’s warden provides more entertainment value, the extent of his sadism growing more ridiculous as the film goes on, and he’s backed up by an equally colourful supporting cast of Spanish character actors playing a wide variety of cartoonish convicts. But the real revelation is Elsa Pataky; starting out as a rather generic love interest, once the shit hits the fan she turns into something altogether different. Based on this and Return of the Living Dead 3, it’s fair to assume Yuzna has a real thing for aggressive foxy dead chicks.

As for Jeffrey Combs; well, he just is Herbert West, always has been, always will be, and West was never a character with an especially lengthy arc. As constant as the tide, he cares about nothing but his research, and other people are of no significance to him unless they are keeping him from working. The fact that he’s aged a bit is no problem at all, for West was never defined by his youth. As ever, he just stands there unfazed in the midst of the chaos. We might accuse Combs of simply sleepwalking through the film, but we might just as easily kick back and enjoy spending some more quality time with one of the great characters of the 80s.

The cleaner, shinier visual aesthetic (hard to know whether we can attribute that to Spanish production values or simply 21st century production values in general) means that the film lacks the more down’n'dirty charm of its forerunners, even though there’s no shortage of on-screen depravity: amongst other things we have a walking severed torso, exploding stomachs, nipple eating, and a battle between a rat and a penis. But nothing among these is quite so startling nor so indicative of the film’s European origins as Move Your Dead Bones, the song over the end credits whose promo video is sadly absent from the DVD but can be seen below.

All in all Beyond Re-Animator is no classic, but it’s pretty good fun nonetheless, and as good a reason as any to pick up Arrow’s Fantastic Factory boxset, which also includes Faust: Love of the Damned (reviewed here), plus Arachnid and Rosamanta the Werewolf Hunt (to be reviewed soon). Now, if you’ve never seen or heard Move Your Dead Bones before, you might want to pull up a chair…