Beyond Re-Animator Blu-ray Review (originally published 2018)
After causing the Miskatonic University Massacre, Dr. Herbert West has been serving a prison sentence for the past 14 years. When Howard, a new young doctor, comes to work as the prison MD and requests Dr. West’s assistance, Dr. West discovers that Howard has something he left behind 14 years ago… (From Vestron’s official synopsis)
As one of the most enduring cult films of the last century, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator seemed destined to spawn a legion of sequels, and yet, despite a legacy of homages that extend from other ‘80s horror films all the way to children’s cartoons in the current decade, there are only three films in the series’ official canon. The first sequel, Bride of Re-Animator (1989), was directed by the first film’s producer, Brian Yuzna, and released close enough to the original to have a modicum of impact. It was also pretty good, though awfully dependent on callbacks to Gordon’s film. It took almost 15 years for Yuzna to get a second sequel off the ground and, when he finally did, it was relegated to European theaters and a US premiere on the Sci-Fi (or is it Syfy?) Channel. When released, Beyond Re-Animator felt like a stopgap between the first film and a couple of high-concept ideas that both Gordon and Yuzna had for the franchise. Gordon’s House of Re-Animator was set to be a political satire, in which Herbert West was tasked with re-animating a George W. Bush-like president played by William H. Macy. Yuzna’s Island of Re-Animator would’ve been a Re-Animator-flavored version of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau. Now that Beyond Re-Animator has been cemented as the final chapter in Jeffrey Combs’ Herbert West story, it’s actually a little bit easier to forgive its shortcomings. That’s faint praise to be sure, but genre fans have always been good about revisiting our opinions when confronted with a dearth of content.
Almost the entire movie is set in a prison, which is an outstanding setting for a Re-Animator film, because it both offers the title character an abundance of dead bodies to experiment upon and acts a prefab location to cover the production’s considerable budgetary constraints. At the time, Yuzna was coming off a strong run of pictures that emphasized colorful photography and outrageous, borderline cartoonish special effects, including Society (1989), Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993), and a knee-slappingly goofy adaptation of Tim Vigil & David Quinn’s Faust: Love of the Damned (2000). Beyond Re-Animator often feels smaller and cheaper than any of those films, but still tries very hard to match their energy. Yuzna even succeeds at some points, especially wherever over-the-top gore & creature effects are concerned. There are no tonal hang-ups when it’s comparing to the first two Re-Animator movies – in fact, the story themes/plot devices are carried further than they were in the first sequel – but there’s an underlying problem of Yuzna and co-screenwriters Miguel Tejada-Flores, José Manuel Gómez & Xavier Berraondo failing to match the wit found in Gordon and screenwriters William J. Norris & Dennis Paoli’s original script. The jokes begin and end with gross-out gags and absurd imagery (climaxing early with a sentient severed penis) that stops short of the clever wordplay and character-based sequences that made the original film a true classic. Combs himself is, of course, great in this final appearance, but he’s playing a darker, burnt-out version of the character, so his sarcastic quips are a bit saddled.
Beyond Re-Animator was released during the post-DVD era and is readily available on the format throughout the world, including a US disc from Lionsgate. The only Blu-ray on the market before this one was a double-feature with Bride of Re-Animator from Umbrella in Australia. This is another film that has always looked suspiciously digital to my eyes and, considering it was made by the same production company, I assume this is another case of 35mm film being CRT scanned for preservation and distribution. Unlike Dagon, however, which includes extensive early CG, I believe enough of Beyond Re-Animator’s effects were shot in-camera that a rescan of the original negative might have made the difference. Regardless, this mediocre, but far from awful 1080p, 1.78:1 is what we have to work with. The typical Vestron softness is here, but reduced, thanks to tighter details and consistently busy compositions. The flattest close-ups have some rough grading, there’s a dash of haloing, and the dark wide-angle shots exhibit mosquito noise, but the overall presentation is cleaner than any DVD version I’ve seen. Color quality is inconsistent – sometimes, it’s vivid and clean, but it often bleeds during the darkest scenes, causing some blacks to appear more like muddy greens or blues.
Beyond Re-Animator comes fitted with another DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English soundtrack. Viewers may notice that the lip-sync of secondary/tertiary characters is off. This is tied not to problems with the track, but the fact that some members of the Spanish cast were dubbed in post to disguise their accents. The mix leans on exaggerated, sometimes ‘canned’ effects, and the directional cues match this cartoony quality, but there’s also quite a bit of depth to the environmental ambience of the echoey prison. Composer Xavier Capellas reuses and boosts the sinister factor of Richard Band’s main Re-Animator themes (the most famous of which were, of course, already recycling parts of Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho theme). The music sounds quite rich with nearly perfect layering and smooth LFE support. It’s only too bad Capellas’ work is so underutilized outside of the opening titles and some cool techno-meets-Danny-Elfman action bits.
Commentary with director Brian Yuzna – This archival track occasionally suffers from low energy and long pauses, but also covers the bulk of the production from financial processes, to the careers of all the various cast & crew members.
Isolated score selections and audio interview with composer Xavier Capellas – For this new track, Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher interviews the composer for about 25 minutes, followed by more than an hour of non-screen-specific music.
Beyond & Back (18:50, HD) – In the first new interview, Yuzna discusses working on the previous Re-Animator films, conceptualizing the third movie, shooting in a real prison, and designing special effects.
Death Row Sideshow (20:09, HD) – Jeffrey Combs talks about the franchise, Herbert West’s lack of character growth, and complains (in a good natured way) about being the only American on set.
Six Shots By Midnight (16:13, HD) – S.T. Joshi further explores the author’s professional history, the original Re-Animator stories, and the various movie adaptations.
Production art gallery by illustrator Richard Raaphorst
Vintage EPK featurette (17:17, SD, English/Spanish with no subtitles)
Dr. Re-Animator “Move Your Dead Bones” music video – This wacky, guilty pleasure earworm is an absolute must-see. Sadly, it is not in HD or even anamorphic video.
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