According to Brian Yuzna and company, getting one’s ear bitten off doesn’t mean one becomes instantly uncomfortable with the thought of, say, getting oral sex a minute later. Or at least that’s what “Beyond Re-Animator” would have us think. Part insanity, part gross-out, and all off-kilter, “Beyond” has a lot to offer the viewer that doesn’t shy away from, as previously mentioned, the possibility of forced oral sex in the aftermath of getting one’s ear bitten entirely off by a deranged convict who, incidentally, one has just beaten to death with a cane in retaliation.
From what I can gather, the “Re-Animator” franchise (there have been 3 installments so far) has a lot in common with Don Coscarelli’s “Phantasm” franchise. Both series debuted to little fanfare, but by the grace of that unpredictable bedlam called fandom, has become cult favorites, replete with diehard fans demanding their return. And like Coscarelli’s films, each “Re-Animator” installment has come over long spaces of time filled up with, in all likelihood, earnest money raising jaunts. The original “Re-Animator” surfaced in 1985, a sequel came in 1990, and only now, in 2003, has a third surfaced.
“Beyond Re-Animator” finds the franchise’s star Jeffrey Combs playing Herbert West once again. West is one of those Mad Scientist types and has been locked away in prison for his evil deeds as chronicled in the previous two chapters. Forced to confine his re-animation experiments (that is, bringing the dead back to life) using rats and primitive equipment, West gets renewed enthusiasm when young doctor Howard Philips (Jason Barry) arrives as the prison’s new doctor and asks for West’s assistance. Years earlier, a young Howard witnessed one of West’s creations viciously murder his sister. You would think this would make one angry at West, but apparently not so in young Howard’s case.
Since “Beyond” is also a prison movie, we get the inevitable archetypes associated with the genre. The (of course he’s) sadistic warden is played by Simon Andreu. There are also the usual freaks and geeks among the prison populace, as well as a muscle bound prison guard. There’s also a nurse who shows plenty of cleavage, and a snooping reporter (Elsa Pataky) who immediately falls for Howard and vice versa. And because “Beyond” was shot exclusively in Spain like director Yuzna’s previous film “Faust: Love of the Damned”, the majority of the actors are Spanish — including the reporter, the warden, and probably all of the prisoners.
Most of the Spanish actors pull off their roles well enough, but one can’t help but notice that they try so hard to hide their Spanish accent that their dialogue delivery comes across as just a tad unnatural sounding. Still, Elsa Pataky infuses the film with some perverse sex appeal, gracing the screen with her many assets and bottle blonde hair. Pataky is also in the middle of most of the movie’s oozing eroticism, especially since she sleeps with Howard and is constantly fending off the lecherous warden. (FYI: I believe Doogie Howser M.D. wannabe Jason Barry is Irish, and Combs is American.)
The star of “Beyond” is of course Jeffrey Combs, who furrows his brow knowingly through the entire film. Combs has probably been doing this role so long that it’s second nature to him, kind of like the guys that keeps playing James Bond. And not surprisingly, it’s West’s nonchalant reactions to all of “Beyond’s” insane happenings that offers up the film’s best moments. While everyone is freaking out at, say, a dead man returning to life to take a chunk out of another man’s arm, West simply looks on with curiosity. One can imagine the character jotting down a mental note in his head to meticulously chronicle the bloodletting.
The gist of the “Re-Animator” series is that West is obsessed with bringing back the dead for whatever reasons. (I suppose this is explained in the original.) His experiments have yielded a thick green glob that is capable of bringing the dead back to life as uncontrollable monsters prone to murderous rampage and such. While in prison, West believes he’s discovered the missing link — an energy called NPE (or some such) that the dead yields at the moment of death. Having learned to harness this energy, West uses it to bring the re-animated dead back to life and re-inject some “humanity” back into them. Of course being that West is every bit the archetype Mad Scientist, things go awry, and soon the prison is hosting one of those all-purpose movie riots, complete with unconvincing SWAT cops and rampaging prisoners.
In the end, bloody fun is had by all. The movie is filled with outrageous gore, including dismemberments, decapitations, a castration, bludgeonings, and endless hangings. Director Yuzna, who has developed something of a reputation for making budgeted mayhem, manages some stellar special effects. The use of bluescreen involving a prisoner with his entire lower body missing, but with the prisoner still sprightly ticking, is one of the movie’s many highlights. Another scene, involving a decapitation that just won’t come to fruition, caps off the movie with a bang. Or is that slash?
“Beyond Re-Animator” is comedic gore at its best. It’s an excellent film for those who know what they’re getting into, and will disgust those who didn’t come prepared. You’ve been warned.
Brian Yuzna (director) / Brian Yuzna, Jos’ Manuel Gomez, Miguel Tejada-Flores (screenplay)
CAST: Jeffrey Combs …. Herbert West
Jason Barry …. Howard Philips
Elsa Pataky …. Laura Olney
Simon Andreu …. Warden Brando
Santiago Segura …. Speedball
Enrique Arce …. Cabrera