SYNOPSIS: Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott), medical student, is dating Meg (Barbara Crampton), the Dean(Robert Sampson)'s daughter. Enter transfer whiz kid Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs), who left Switzerland after the mysterious death of his Swiss mentor. West immediately rubs grant machine Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale) the wrong way, then rents a room from Dan. He neglects to inform Dan that he'll be performing necromantic medical experiments, though, and soon everyone is in a sticky situation.
Uhh, everything? Let's start with how balanced the script is. I've hollered out my wrath about horror and comedy before, but RE-ANIMATOR is one of the shining exceptions to the rule that all horror-comedy is the sucks. The funny stuff is extremely funny and, equally importantly, the comical antics don't mean that the horror stuff will be restrained when it returns. This thing deftly swings from rib-tickling gallows comedy to rib-mangling gore faster than boiled asparagus. It's pretty distant from Lovecraft's original text and thankfully so, as this RE-ANIMATOR, with its chuckles and sucking chest wounds, is better than any slavishly faithful work would have been. Believe!
Horror is pretty derided for not caring about its characters and, in some cases, that's fair, but not here. RE-ANIMATOR really only works because each character is sympathetic or interesting! Dan's a nice guy and being so leads to his life falling apart in record time, Herbert's a lunatic who you grudgingly come to enjoy, and even the imperious, lecherous Dr. Hill is fascinating to see on screen (plus who among us doesn't have a folder full of Barbara Crampton's hair? Really.). The interaction of these people drives the film, even moreso than the zombie mayhem and outlandishness. This also boasts far better acting across the board than your standard low-budget scareshow. It's kind of baffling that primo talents like David Gale and Robert Sampson don't have the cult traction of a Sid Haig or something. The script plus the actors make these characters live. They are the reagent.
But, yeah, admittedly this is kind of the Jeffrey Combs show. His Herbert West is one of the genre's finest turns—he nails this smarmy, work-obsessed character in a way that few films ever get right. I love his dialogue, as it's just enough to give you a feel for a what a weirdo jerk West kind of is. Re-animation is his answer to every problem.
DAN: What happened here?
WEST: I had to kill him!
DAN: What? He's dead?
WEST: ....Not anymore.
One million billion stars.
Lots of horror movies are shocking, but RE-ANIMATOR really ups the ante on outrageous situations. I cannot imagine this being pitched to a studio. How close would you get to "Then her lobotomized father strips her naked so this pervy severed head can ogle her tits" before security threw you out?
WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Honestly, I'm hard pressed to come up with any major flaws. Some of the camerawork gets a little old, as we're often in interiors and small spaces, but that's a very minor bitch, given the heights this thing attains. I don't think it can quite best TEXAS CHAIN SAW or NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, but what can? Being nearly-impeccable is great enough, I think. The more I see this, the more I like it.
BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR (1989)
SYNOPSIS: Eight months after the events of RE-ANIMATOR, Dan and Herbert West are medic-ing in wartorn Peru. They return to Miskatonic and are remarkably hired at the same hospital wherein they were found with scads of mutilated corpses (thanks, Obamacare!). West continues his re-animating activities, convincing Dan to go along by showing him Megan Halsey's postmortal heart. Meanwhile, talking head Dr. Hill is reanimated by a bumbling Creationist pathologist and Dan & West are stalked by a persistent lieutenant. It gets wet.
The gore galore. Credits list five different parties who contributed to the effects on this thing and it shows. BRIDE is festooned with all kinds of believably squishy and surreal stitchings, hacked limbs, skinless sinews, and other sundry grue. In terms of blood count, this thing probably tops RE-ANIMATOR, especially during the all-monsters-attack ending scenes. The last 30 minutes are the best minutes of the movie, as BRIDE goes balls-out insane with nods to "Rats in the Walls" and the FRANKENSTEIN films while sloshing guts all across the land.
Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West is again magnificent. The script's not as compelling this time, but Combs does a fine job of ginning up West's smarmy singlemindedness. I love that his solution to everything is "re-animate it!", although the few West hospital scenes give at least a little more depth to the character. It's good to know that he is motivated enough to try to save people occasionally and not just mixing kegs of reagent in the basement all day long.
WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Like I said, the script's a little less of a triumph this go-round. GONE are Meg Halsey and Dean Halsey! HERE are new love interest Italian woman (Fabiana Udenio), police lieutenant (Claude Earl Jones), and morgue guy (Mel Stewart). The actors are fine, but there's little that's memorable about the characters, especially compared to the richly-drawn people in the first film, so you don't get too invested in whether they live, die, or other. Dan Cain only seems to remember that he's sad about Meg after an hour of the film has gone by. :( Plus David Gale returns as Dr. Hill, but he's way less interesting as a flying head Horror Villain than a smug, Meg-obsessed academic.
Brian Yuzna directed this and it definitely feels like it's different in tone from the Stuart Gordon-helmed/Yuzna-produced first film. The balance of comedy and horror isn't as skillful, a little more lopsided in favor of goofiness at times. It's not ever too silly or boring or anything, but it feels far less important than the original, although it's still a plenty fun flick.
BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2003)
SYNOPSIS: During one of the calamities that bedeck Herbert West's life, a reanimated corpse breaks into a home, kills a guy's sister, then drinks milk. The guy grows up to be Dr. Howard Phillips and eventually lands a job at the same prison that houses West. What happens rhymes with "Pe-Panimation". New wrinkle, though: through the administration of this electrically-charged fluid called NPE, the re-animated are much more lifelike and less zombie-ish. Also, Dr. Phillips's girlfriend visits the jail in an attempt to put together a story on West's arcane career.
The prison setting was pretty promising and novel, although I'm not sure it was used to its full effectiveness. I liked the early scenes of West capturing rats to use in makeshift experiments, that really pointed to his whole life being devoted to re-animation. No commitment issues here! The setting allows director Yuzna (again) to pull off some keen compositions too and make effective use of shadows and light.
Some of the splatter was memorable, if a little lacking after the death orgies of BRIDE. The NPE plot element allowed for a little variation in the zombies, although sometimes the film's tilting toward comedy undermined what could have been decent ideas (exhibit A: warden rat-zombie).
WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Characters are even less special than BRIDE. The whole apprentice angle could've been enjoyable, but too much of this feels like a rehash of old ground. The West-dude-girl love triangle is called into service again, only with very diminished results. The dickish (in multiple ways!) authority figure is again reanimated in order to become the film's heavy, Warden Brando being this film's Dr. Hill. It doesn't help that some of the acting is pretty iffy. I've seen Elsa Pataky do well for herself (A CHRISTMAS TALE), but her turn as the journo girl doesn't do the film any favors. Granted, she has to do inane dialogue about "going for it!" over and over, but still ech. Combs is good, as per usual, but he's not strong enough to keep the ship from sinking on his own.
I think BEYOND goes a little too far into the schticky side and moves too far away from real horror. RE-ANIMATOR worked because it was able to strike that balance, but things here sometimes get a bit too doofy. Forgivable if you've got absorbing characters, but we mostly don't, so you're (as with BRIDE) going to enjoy this or not based purely on your love of punk-rock obnoxiousness and intermittent gore. It's not terrible, but not incredibly adorable either.