Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Beyond Re-Animator review

    Given I'm in a Lovecraftian mood, reading Charles Stross' The Apocalypse Codex and writing Cthulhu Apocalypse 2: With Strange Aeons, I decided to write up a review of yet another B-movie I'm quite fond of.

    Beyond Re-animator is the third movie in Stuart Gordon's Re-Animator series but also a "soft reboot" of the franchise which offers a perfect jumping-on point for anyone who has no prior familiarity with the series. It's also a good deal more serious than the original Re-Animator movie, drastically toning down the series' trademark humor for something closer to the original Lovecraft story (which was, itself, quite funny).

    The premise is Herbert West, the Frankensteinian resurrector of the previous movie, has been locked away for his numerous crimes against medicine. A young medical student named Howard Phillips (hehe-cute) comes to work at the prison in order to gain access to Doctor West's insane but effective medical procedures (represented here by the glowing green goo you find in glow-sticks).

So, who let's a guy found guilty of medicine-related crimes work in the infirmary?
     Herbert West has been refining his re-animation technique in prison without much difficulty and has discovered part of the reason why the dead people he resurrects come back wrong. There's an electrical impulse component (which is meant to be a soul but Herbert West doesn't believe in the supernatural so he doesn't refer to it as such) that he's cracked the secret of. Unfortunately, Herbert doesn't see any problem switching around these amongst his patients.

    Bruce Abbott's Dan Cain, a major source of the series' humanity, is replaced by Jason Barry's Doctor Phillips. This is a wise move as while I enjoyed the Dan Cain character, there wasn't much room to take Herbert West and his relationship. Doctor Phillips has idealized Herbert West in his head, assuming he's a sort of avant-garde physician other people don't understand, and while this is true--he misses the fact West is a clinical psychopath.

    Jeffrey Combs steps back into the role of Doctor West as if he never left it. The major source of Herbert West's appeal is his complete immunity to human suffering and how situations go from merely horrifying to completely surreal as his research progresses. He's the sort of fellow who looks at a zombie apocalypse and thinks, "Hmm, this experiment needs work." Here, his mentor-like role to Doctor Phillips is actually interesting even if Doctor West is aware it's going to go south the moment a woman enters into the picture.

Yeah, as you can imagine, things go to pot quickly.
    Jason Barry's Doctor Phillips mixes the right amount of confidence for a golden boy new doctor who thinks he's found the secret of immortality with, well, a guy who is unknowingly in way over his head. Much like Dan Cain, Doctor Phillips twigs to the fact there's something wrong with Doctor West's formula far earlier than Doctor West himself. Which, if the latter did, would end the franchise. His relationship with the character of Laura Olney is skin-deep but doesn't have to be for what's expected of them.

    Elsa Patakay's Laura Olney has the somewhat thankless role of playing Doctor Phillip's love interest and the object of affection for Warden Brando. Thankfully, Laura Olney gets a more dignified role than Barbara Crampton's Megan as she's not required to be molested by a zombie head (there's a reason the first movie is infamous). I actually liked the Laura Olney character, who was intelligent as well as sexually aggressive. Ms. Olney just has the horrible luck to become interested in a man connected to Herbert West.

    There are a few other characters such as the lecherous warden and a speed-balling inmate who will, at some point, undoubtedly mistake Doctor West's formula for drugs but the majority of the cast exists for one purpose--to be turned into zombies. I've always been a fan of West-style zombies as you can never tell if they're the way they are because there's something unnaturally wrong with them (due to soullessness, Mythos properties of the formula, or something) or if it's just brain damage from being, well, dead. The movie walks the line between the supernatural and the scientific, which I appreciate.

    After all, in H.P. Lovecraft's writing, they're really just two sides of the same coin.

My enjoyment of the movie is helped by the fact Elsa Patakay is like a Spanish Kristen Bell.
    The Re-Animator movies are going to win no awards for acting, special effects, or writing but they're entertaining and fun. This one is the best, IMHO. While not quite as awesomely funny (or cringe-inducing) as the original, it also avoids the copious sexism of its predecessors. Which is impressive given this movie still has an attractive nurse eaten by a clothes-ripping zombie. You can take Herbert West's research more seriously in this film and it's an excellent end to the series if they choose to not make any further sequels.

     Anyone looking for deep insights into H.P. Lovecraft's works or themes will be disappointed. The original Re-Animator serialized short-story was a swerve for the writer as it dealt less with the Great Old Ones or unnameable horror than a scientist who just won't quit his bizarre research. Beyond Re-Animator understands this character trait and plays it for all its comic intensity. The use of a prison for the zombies is inspired as it allows a confined fortified space for when things go to hell. Otherwise, there's not much else to say about the movie. It is what it is and does what it wants to.

    In conclusion, a pretty good B-movie and one I recommend picking up if you want to kill two hours with brainless pop-corn munching Lovecraft-inspired fun.



  1. How could you write an entire review without mentioning the star of the show: Ratty?

    1. Ugh! You're right! Ratty is the entire point of the movie! *head slap*