Here’s a doubly odd situation: First, there’s no guarantee this movie will still be playing locally by the time you read this review; second, this film gets a very specialized four-out-of-five rating from me, aimed strictly at admirers of modern horror films. Those who are offended or disturbed by horrific excesses (even for darkly comical purposes) are warned: Do not see this movie.
Even by modern horror standards, Beyond Re-Animator is undeniably strong stuff. Despite it’s being bandied about as an R-rated film, I could find no indication anywhere that the movie had been submitted to the MPAA for a rating. So, basically, it’s unrated and uncensored — and it shows.
Stuart Gordon’s original Re-Animator — a no-holds-barred adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbet West: Re-Animator stories — was and is one of the key works in modern horror, and has been since its similarly unrated release in 1985. The film remains a savvy, wildly funny exercise in horrific excess taken to its then-logical extreme. In terms of literal excess, Gordon has since been superseded by Peter Jackson (now of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) with Dead Alive — a movie that trumped Gordon’s unheard of 50 gallons of fake blood by using a reported 5,000 gallons. In terms of quirky — and very sexual — off-the-wall humor, however, that first Re-Animator may well still hold the prize.
I have yet to see any other film that quite topped the infamous sequence in which a re-animated, headless character performed an extremely intimate act on the leading lady by holding his own libidinous head in his hands and … well, you get the idea. Gordon followed this amazing debut with a series of other — often very good — horror and sci-fi movies (From Beyond, The Pit and the Pendulum), while becoming better known to mainstream filmgoers as the writer of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The latter might have been his ticket to a broader directing career had his nerves not given way during pre-production and his doctors ordered him off the project.
In the meantime, Gordon’s friend and frequent collaborator Brian “Direct to Video” Yuzna cooked up the not-very-good Bride of Re-Animator. Now, Yuzna returns with the much-improved Beyond Re-Animator. Is it up to the Gordon original? Certainly not. It’s not even close, though it wisely copies Gordon’s structure — a showy, gory opening and development, after which all hell breaks loose — and seems to better understand the dark humor of the first film.
Part of the problem with Yuzna’s current Re-Animator is clearly budgetary, extending to having to shoot the movie in Spain with a cast who — exempting cult horror star Jeffrey Combs reprising his Herbert West role — apparently don’t speak English, and who had to later be overdubbed by others. Then too, the original film had a vein of anti-Reagan subversiveness (found in a good many “exploitation” horror films of the era) that leant a certain weight to the proceedings.
Yuzna’s new movie has no such resonance. It’s flat-out, campy, over-the-top, often-deliberately-goofy horror for its own sake, and it never pretends to be anything else. Yuzna also errs in not really coming up with much to fill in the space where his film goes from the not-all-that-hot grabber opening to story development; this section is utterly reliant on Combs to give it much entertainment value. The movie’s final third, however, more than makes up for this, offering as wild a horror-comedy ride as we’re likely to see anytime soon.
Beyond Re-Animator comes up with an interesting variant on its predecessors: Having failed to create much in the way of a practical zombie — owing to the distinctly antisocial behavior of the re-animated dead — West has taken to extracting the life force (or soul) from other subjects and injecting it into his walking dead. (Much like the idea of having Yuzna’s version of the mad doctor continue his researches in prison — an idea drawn from Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell — this seems to have its roots in the old Hammer films, being not unlike Frankenstein Created Woman.) While this does produce a more rational zombie, it doesn’t really produce a better one, since it quickly becomes apparent that not all souls are created equal.
Thus the heroine takes on the sado-masochistic bent of the prison warden, who himself takes on the personality of a rat, and so on. The results are gruesome and sickly funny. If nothing else, Yuzna proves that director Michael Bay — with his much-vaunted rat-sex scene in Bad Boys II — is a rank amateur in tastelessness. I can safely say that you’ve never seen anything quite like the scenes involving Ratty the rat and his friend … uh … let’s just call him Willy, and note that he was once very much attached to the warden.
So I repeat: Beyond Re-Animator is not for everyone. But it’s certainly worthwhile for hardcore horror fans.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke