“Welcome To Death Row. The Doctor Will See You Now:” ‘BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2003) – Review

Can you believe it’s been two decades since the release of BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR (2003)?

Synopsis

After 13 years in prison, the mad scientist from Re-Animator (1985) gets a new chance to experiment with the arrival of a young prison doctor, who secretly hopes to learn to reanimate dead people. Good intentions turn to horror.

Here’s a look at the trailer!

Turning twenty years old this month, the third entry in the Re-Animator franchise (do three films qualify as a “franchise”??), Beyond Re-Animator, is a fun, blood-soaked, popcorn flick, that relies heavily on its predecessors, but doesn’t really bring much new to the table. But it’s not necessarily “bad”, or “so bad that it’s good…”

A 2003 Spanish-American co-production (which brought its own unique set of challenges, more on this later), that was originally snapped up by Sci-Fi for a truncated debut on their channel, a more gooey, rated R version, eventually made its way to a limited number of screens, with the obligatory “unrated” version turning up on DVD and Blu-ray.

A superbly done opening sequence (after Charles Band’s instantly recognizable theme), featuring the murder of young Howie’s (Tommy Dean Mussett) teenage sister Emily (Barbara Elorrieta; Rottweiler) by one of Dr. Herbert West’s (the incomparable Jeffrey Combs; Re-Animator, Bride of Re-Animator, From Beyond) re-animated experiments, we see the incorrigible Dr. West in police custody.

Beyond Re-Animator

Fast forward 13 years after the “Miskatonic Massacre,” and Dr. West has seemingly settled into life at the Arkham State Penitentiary. Continuing his experiments on rats, he has discovered ”nano-plasmic energy,” and is exploring its possible uses in perfecting his re-animation efforts. The arrival of a new prison doctor (Jason Barry; Titanic) who just happens to be little Howie now all grown up, and his request to have Dr. West as his assistant, is the setup for the plot proper. The no-good doctors embark on a continuation of Dr. West’s research, with Dr. Howard becoming increasingly wary of West’s motivations and methods.

Beyond Re-Animator

And, concerning the plot, it’s the first chink in the armor. Enter reporter Laura (the ridiculously attractive Elsa Pataky; Fast & Furious 6, Snakes on a Plane), and the power-drunk prison warden (Simon Andreu; Die Another Day) and we have: Dr. West, with his somewhat reluctant assistant, re-animating corpses of varying freshness, a beautiful love interest, with a corrupt authority figure who also has eyes on the love interest. It sounds oddly familiar, no? Despite this, things don’t exactly shake out like the first film, but it’s definitely close…

Beyond Re-Animator is a fun film, with plenty of flaws. First, and foremost — Jeffrey Combs is a national treasure, I truly love the man, but he has nothing to play with here! The supporting cast, despite their obvious talent, just doesn’t offer him anything to bounce off of. Some of it can be blamed on certain actors being dubbed to negate their Spanish accents, but even with that, there’s zero chemistry.  Certainly, none of the type of amazing comedic interplay between him, Barbara Crampton, and Bruce Abbott that the first film featured (or the weirdly endearing plot of Bride).

The cast, as a whole, just doesn’t seem to be comfortable in their roles, save for Combs, and it shows. However, even tasked with the Herculean effort of carrying this film on his shoulders, Combs does so with the nervous energy and egocentric arrogance that made Herbert West one of cinema’s greatest “mad doctors.”

With someone like Brian Yuzna producing and directing, you’re expecting copious gore, and Beyond Re-Animator definitely delivers! Fans of the red stuff rejoice! From the opening “Dr. Tongue” inspired ghoul (chugging some milk), to the multiple killings, electrocutions, and flesh rippings, there’s violence aplenty! Raquel Gribler (Hospital Central) as Nurse Vanessa, who is showing waaaaaay too much cleavage to be working in prison, also adds some comedy relief with her reactions. The effects are suitably amazing with Screaming Mad George and company conjuring up some truly disturbing images and some “WTF?” moments. The film is just as long as it should be, with no rushed set-ups or unnecessary character arcs, and it left the ending ambiguous enough to allow for a sequel that never materialized.

All in all, Beyond Re-Animator isn’t a “classic.” It’s definitely the third-best in a three-film series. It’s not even Yuzna’s best work. And while there are a few nods to Stuart Gordon’s vision in the first film (outside of character, location, names—any relation to Lovecraft went out the fucking window a long time ago…), and it cribs most of the plot, it’s really not terrible, What it is–it’s a truly spltter-ific romp that can be popped in among friends for a few laughs. And, hey, where else can you see a rat fight with a severed penis???

Beyond Re-Animator is available from Vestron on an excellent collector’s edition Blu-ray.

About Tom Gleba

A life long fan of horror and ridiculous metal, I've spent my life: watching horror films, writing about them, occasionally making them, collecting them on physical media, and struggling to find meaning in Fulci's "Manhattan Baby"...

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