Review: Beyond Re-Animator (2003)

 

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Beyond Re-Animator is an unadulteratedly witless and trashy film that has a transcendent gonzo quality that ultimately turns it from an awful picture into a midnight movie delight. It is the sort of film where people would be shouting out the lines and audibly reacting to its various bizarre sequences. The story such as it is sees the good Doctor Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) resume his ghoulish experiments with the dead when a recently graduated medical student called Howard Phillips (Jason Barry) expresses an interest in working with him within the confines of a prison.  

The second sequel substantially improves upon its predecessor because of the following elements. The first is the direction from returning director Brian Yuzna. He crafts compelling scenes that are atmospheric and energetic in spirit. An excellent example of this comes in the opening pre-credits sequence. The scene depicts two boys telling each other a scary story inside of their tent, which culminates in one of the kids’ siblings dying at the hands of one of Herbert West’s mutated beings.

Yuzna’s sure-handed build-up provides the sequence with its spooky potency. He starts with a close up of one of the boys as he asks why he should be afraid. His friend responds by stating that they both live near a graveyard, which implies that if anything bad happens, no one will be able to hear them. Yuzna punctuates these small moments with a subtle use of background sounds. The first is the sound of thunder that provides the scene with a sense of foreboding terror. The second is the sound of police sirens that seems odd in the context of the moment, however, on subsequent viewings, one realises that it a deliberate suggestion of where the scene is eventually going to end.

These series of commendable moments concludes with the second boy talking about a creature who was let loose in the recent past. He goes onto to say that the person was brought back to life. As this is being told, Yuzna then shows us the boys’ tent with a point of view shot, which gives the audience the impression that someone is watching them. In turn, it also evokes the style of a slasher film, which along with a suggestively framed shot between two characters later in the opening shows Yuzna’s deft understanding of the sub-genre.

The second element that makes Beyond Re-Animator surpass Yuzna’s previous directorial effort is that it wonderfully extends the character of Herbert West and the concept of reanimation. In the previously discussed scene, West has become a proverbial figure of children’s stories. Moreover, later in the sequence, there is a shot of West sitting in a car. He has a meaningful glance with the young Howard Phillips. The moment feels like an acknowledgement of the enormity and weight of his character.  

Later on in the film, there is a small scene when West receives his green formula injection, which is punctuated by the reprisal of Richard Band’s theme for the original picture. The moment is incredibly postmodern as it feels like the film is aware of the iconic nature of West by framing it as significant a moment as Jason picking up a machete or Sweeney Todd’s barber blade. However, the best scene of West is the ending one where he walks into the foggy night. In spirit, it evokes H.P. Lovecraft’s story which spoke of the character as someone who would frequently disappear, much like a tornado that would wreak destruction and never be seen again. In his third turn as the character, Combs adds a sense of malice and subdued anger, which illustrates the changing nature of West in the time that has elapsed between this movie and the last one.   

Finally, the picture showcases West continued experimentation with reanimation as the audience is given many scenes, which shows the effect of the formula. The most noteworthy example is when a prisoner injects himself with an undiluted dose that results in him feeling as though he is high, which gives some of the third act a psychedelic feeling, which is accentuated with the gory effects on show that are the result of the Japanese special effects artist- Screaming Mad George.     

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About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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