Saturday, August 2, 2008


Ah, the law of diminishing returns strikes again, this time with a vengeance. What began as a bracingly original and black-humored classic has been reduced to yet another generic straight-to-DVD quickie (after a brief, heavily-trimmed detour to the Sci-Fi Channel, of course); BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR's violation of Stuart Gordon's film would've been heartbreaking if it didn't feel so cold and hollow. Brian Yuzna returns to the director's chair for this 2003 production, but the man who once gave us passable movies like SOCIETY and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART III is simply phoning it in--and the fact that this thing made me yearn for the glory days of SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4 should tell you all you need to know.

Filmed in Spain (where Yuzna's production company now resides, churning out sludge without a care for quality or watchability), BEYOND finds Herbert West in prison following an ill-fated graveyard experiment. He teams up with the new jailhouse physician, Dr. Howard Phillips (groan) to resume his research with his famous Day-Glo green serum; "Howie," though has more than a passing interest in West's work, since it was his sister who was killed when West's experiment went awry.

This might've served as a good starting point for a pretty decent movie, but unfortunately the screenplay never develops beyond the synopsis outlined above. The closest it comes to furthering the story of Herbert West is the use of a Nanoplasm that will temper the violent tendencies of the re-animated, but where's the fun in that? Instead of developing a real story, it merely crams a number of wholly uninteresting and caricatured characters. Yuzna supplies a stereotypical hard-assed warden, who's such a far cry from David Gale as a nemesis the filmmakers should've just put a cardboard cut-out of Dr. Hill in his place (which might be why his screen time is kept to a minimum) and a pretty young journalist that becomes enamored of Phillips. None of these elements amount to much, and serve only to pad out the space between re-animation attempts. Without any real narrative hook the movie flounders from the first scene.

Jeffrey Combs once again returns as West, though the sardonic wit and monomaniacal drive that made him such an iconic horror character is gone; Combs plays him here with a cold, dispassionate demeanor, as if his research is just a way of passing the time (it's hard to say whether the weariness is West's or Combs's). Even dialed down he's still the best actor in the cast, though the competition isn't exactly fierce. As Dr. Phillips, Jason Barry couldn't be a blander actor if he were made of dry toast, but at least he a match in Elsa Pataky's reporter Laura; their romance subplot (which takes up far too much of the film) looks like a reject from the Worst Soap Opera Ever Contest.

The zombies in BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR are inconsistent from those in the previous films; here they feel like the traditional walking dead and thus aren't as interesting, making it even a failure as a straightforward undead pic. The black humor that's been a trademark of the series is virtually non-existent, and when it does attempt it--such as a scene that uses a gratuitous tit-shot to rip off Andrea Bianchi's BURIAL GROUND--it's less than effective.

God, I could write an entire blog entry just on the problems of BEYOND's third act: there's the cut-rate prison riot that we've seen way too many times, or the late reveal that West's Nanoplasm somehow causes a soul/personality transference. Yuzna once again fetishizes dead women here, though not to the same degree he had in BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR or RETURN PART III. And why would you establish a FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET-like conceit in the beginning and not pay it off?

BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR is the Old Yeller of horror films, the sickened incarnation of a beloved friend that needs put out of its misery. While nothing in the film begs for a sequel, there's one brewing nonetheless; however, the news is far from grim. Word is that Stuart Gordon himself is returning to direct HOUSE OF RE-ANIMATOR, which will chronicle West's exploits in the White House. And if that isn't enough, Barbara Crampton returns as the First Lady to William H. Macy's President. This would mark the first time since ARMY OF DARKNESS that I was actually enthusiastic about an upcoming sequel.

The trailer is slightly more interesting in German, so here you go.

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