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Review: Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

Directed by Brian Yuzna / Fantastic Factory

A healthy dose of skepticism comes in handy whenever viewing any kind of sequel, especially one to such a brilliant cult film as the legendary Re-Animator. 1990’s Bride of Re-Animator may not have had the luster of it’s predecessor but still brought some new wrinkles to the story of scientist and madman Herbert West’s constant quest to conquer death. Brian Yuzna’s recent collaboration with Spain’s Fantasy Factory spawned another suprisingly good sequel, Beyond Re-Animator, which threatens to top both earlier films in it’s sheer scope and audacity.

Picking up some time after the events of Bride, the opening of Beyond follows West as he’s incarcerated when one of his zombies accidentally murders a young woman in front of her teenage brother. Thirteen years later, the now-grown sibling Howard Phillips (Jason Barry) becomes a physician and insinuates himself into the confines of Arkham Penitentiary, a gothic structure under the firm grip of the weirdo Warden Brando (Simón Andreu), who’s in constant pursuit of enterprising young reporter Laura (Elsa Pataky). West finally acquires a new accomplice in H.P. to join him in his ghoulish research and is that a few prison experiments have even led to the discovery of a new element in the death cycle: Neuroplasmic Energy (or NPE), an electro-magnetic “soul” that departing bodies emits which can be captured and injected into re-animated persons to ease their homicidal impulses. Violence ensues among some of the prison’s more “energized” inhabitants and, combined with some strange mutations caused by West’s indescriminant NPE zapping, Arkham breaks into an unholy riot full of half-men, twisting body parts, a convict junkie mainlining the green stuff with “explosive” consequences and even a sequence of totally pointless nudity straight from the grimy pits of seventies euro-slime! Howard’s relationship to newfound girlfriend Laura goes through some messy growing pains and West performs a few interesting “modifications” to the good Warden’s psyche with deadly consequences.

Beyond’s opening acts are slightly uneventful due to the massive setup involved in revisiting old characters and discarding old ones (such as the absent Dan Cain; West’s sole remark about him is an off-hand jab about his earlier assistants turning state’s evidence) along with establishing the immensely twisted presence of the Arkham. Comb’s performance remains compelling as ever whereas partner-in-crime Barry lacks that certain edge that made Bruce Abbot’s Dan work.

Right from his opening scene with West he constantly barks orders at Howard, complains about every moral dilemma (supposedly after years of plotting this stuff) and blurts out his “top secret” research to anyone within five yards of him. Despite the differences in sidekicks, Howard’s performance ultimately doesn’t take down the film because Beyond‘s focal point rests squarely on West, with Howard Phillip playing more like an innocent weakling conned into bloody murder. The influence of the Spanish backers suprisingly only hinders the film in very slight ways such as the deja-vu experience of Lovecraft’s familiar terrain now populated by a few dubbed, foreign actors. The only performance noticeably damaged by these international casting choices would to be Pataky’s, whose lines appear to be entirely replaced in stark contrast to the other leads. Despite casting foibles imposed by the foreign locale, massive production value was gained in the ancient prison facility which provides some the spacious moments in the entire Re-Animator trilogy. 

Technically this installment could claim to be the best-looking of the trio, from it’s razor-sharp cinematography to it’s enhanced special effects featuring Screaming Mad George and some well-done digital enhancement. Even Xavier Capellas’ rich orchestral score manages to overcome some of the problems inherent in Richard Band’s syntheszier-infused Bride soundtrack. Yuzna as co-writer and director draws from all points of his unique surrealistic palette with a comfort and wit that seemed lacking in the first sequel, throwing in his unusual kitchen sink full of subversive humor and sly references to nearly the entire Yuzna/Stuart Gordon filmography.

Ultimately, Beyond stands on it’s own as yet another product pf Yuzna’s directorial prowess which deserves close examination under a test tube with tongue firmly implanted in cheek. How could one not even slightly enjoy a film whose closing moments include a war between a mouse and re-animated human gentalia? Your honor, the defense rests.

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