Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

Thirteen years after his disastrous Bride of Re-Animator, producer-director Brian Yuzna resurrects the H.P. Lovecraft-derived franchise Stuart Gordon commenced with Re-Animator as part of his slate of shot-in-Spain genre movies and series star Jeffrey Combs returns as mad scientist Herbert West in a premise that riffs on Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell. In a prologue, presumably set just after the last movie, a youth is traumatised as a jawless, long-tongued reanimatee (who looks like a knock-off from the well-remembered 'Dr Tongue' of Day of the Dead) murders his sister (Bárbara Elorrieta). The boy grows up to be Dr Howard Phillips (Jason Berry), who takes a job at the penal institution run by sadistic Warden Brando (Simón Andreu) because it's where West fetched up after the massacres of the earlier films. Phillips insists the medically-trained inmate become his assistant, luring West to the fold by revealing that he has kept a phial of the glowing green reanimating reagent that caused all the trouble – and West reveals he has a new wrinkle to his re-animation technique, which involves a sparkling energy extracted through electrocution that might be the soul and which he thinks will keep the re-animated sane (when it doesn't work, he blankly states 'it was a theory' and rapidly moves on).

After the set-up, the film is as filled with incident and yet fundamentally plotless as soap opera, with various prison staff, visitors and inmates turning monstrous and cutting loose during a prison riot in an orgy of gross-out, semi-surreal violence. The feral Brando – subbing for the Dr Hill of the earlier films as a crasser villain antagonist for the merely amoral West – is transfused with the soul of a rat and relishes the prospect of using the serum to keep condemned men alive so the pain of execution can be prolonged indefinitely. Laura Olney (Elsa Pataky), a reanimated reporter, continues Yuzna's unfortunate tendency to equate rapaciously sexual women in black stockings with the ultimate transgressive evil. Among her many sexualised assaults, Laura bites off the warden's penis - which rolls around for the rest of the film and comes to life to have a fight with a zombie rat under the end credits. Equal time in the infantile oral-sadistic scheme of things comes when a slobbering cannibal religious fanatic (Nico Baixas) takes a bite out of the breast of a fetish-uniformed nurse (Raquel Gribler). Among the inmates, comedian Santiago Segura (a regular for Alex de la Iglesia and Guillermo del Toro) stands out as a junkie who becomes addicted to the reagent even though he's still alive (and naturally bursts from the inside), while the effects crew do their best by an agile, vengeance-crazed torso with trailing guts.

Combs gives a wry, understated performance among mugging Europeans, and slyly sidles out of the picture during the holocaust for presumed further sequels. It's fairly ramshackle, the Spanish supporting cast are never remotely credible Americans (this must be the only prison in the States with almost no black inmates) and there's a certain monotony in flamboyant guignol as a hysterical pitch is reached early and maintained throughout. But it is one of Yuzna's better pictures.

First published in this form here.

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