Sometimes, just sometimes, even the decline in quality of a genre franchise isn’t enough to keep you away from a world that you enjoy spending time in. You know full well that the result is going to be woefully inferior to the movie that ensared your imagination in the first place; but you wade in anyway, hoping against hope that the flicker of the original’s greatness sparks the merest flutter of life in the body of the film you are watching. This brings us neatly to Beyond Re-Animator, the third movie to feature H.P. Lovecraft’s death obsessed doctor, Herbert West, who hadn’t been seen on screens since the chaotic but fun Bride Of Re-Animator back in 1989. Despite the yawning chasm of time between this third entry and the last, I first approached Beyond with a sense of hope, despite virtually all of the veterans of the prior movies being a no-show. However, we still had Brian Yunza (producer of the first and director of the second) returning to helming duties and you can’t make a Re-Animator film without Jeffrey Combs of course, so I crossed my fingers and dove in. Unsurprisingly it turned out I shouldn’t have bothered because apart from some occasionally memorable gore, Dr. West’s third go round has decidedly gone south.
As a young boy, Howard Phillip’s watched in horror as one of Herbert’s botched experiments in beating death wandered into his house, murdered his sister and then raided his fridge for milk despite blatantly having the noticable feature of being minus a jaw (It’s never made clear whether this shuffling brute is an escapee of the carnage at the end of Bride or is simply a reject from another bout of West’s experiments). Somehow this walking corpse is somehow traced back to Herbert (did West fucking tag the zombie or something?) and the not-so-good Doctor is shipped off to jail, destined to rot for the rest of his days behind bars, but young Howard is both traumatised and fascinated by Herbert and the syringe of mysterious green liquid he found directly after the event. 13 years later we rejoin Howard as he starts his first day as the doctor of a staggeringly shitty prison where almost everyone (both prisoners and guards) look distinctly Spanish and some even come complete with some high dubious dubbing due to the movie being a Spanish/American co-production. Howard has gotten this position due to the fact that West is an inmate there and wants to continue his weird obsession by finally meeting with the man. Speaking of obsession, Herbert’s been hard at work trying to continue his experiments in such basic surroundings but has nether the less cracked a major breakthrough in conquering death thanks to harnessing something called Nano-Plasmic Energy (essentially a human’s “being” that can be extracted via electrocution) which avoids the reanimated becoming mindless beserkers. Needless to say, Herbert and Howard team up to take the experiments further but matters are complicated by the appearance of Laura, an ambitious journalist who falls in love with the young prison doctor and the sadistic Warden Brando, a typically perverted authority figure not unlike Dr. Hill from the previous movies. As West’s very nature alienates everyone around him, events eventually cumulate into a full scale prison riot which allows all kind of mayhem to unfold which involves hugely irresponsible uses of the green reagent and the “NPE” of various people to be switched with each other and, in one case, even a rat. Pretty soon gore is spraying the walls and virtually everyone involved has lost their minds, can Herbert, Howard and Laura escape this hell-hole with their lives, their sanity and even their very identities still intact? Short answer: NOPE.
A extraordinarily difficult tightrope that the original movie traversed with ease was the fine balance between tongue in cheek humour and the hideous debauchery that often victimized the chatacters on screen and to a lesser extent the second movie achieved it too by taking the extreme levels of gore to surreal levels; however, Beyond Re-Animator, thanks to it’s noticeably low production levels, lop-sided script and some REALLY bad acting, just can’t seem to get that balance even remotely right and therefore everything contained within is just violent/bloody/weird for the sake of it, settling simply on crude where it’s predecessors aimed so much higher.
The players are cheap, grainy photocopies of past characters and therefore fail to garner any sympathy whatsoever which is actually hard to do considering the atrocities that relentlessly befall them. Matters are briefly improved by the suprising appearance of a very fresh looking Elsa Pataky – more famous these days for her role in various Fast And Furious movies not to mention being mrs. Chris Hemsworth – as Laura and you have to give it to the actress for throwing herself into an increasingly unglamorous role which involves her dying, coming back to life, having the life force of a deranged sex pest transplanted into her and having her bite off the penis of an attacker in a fit of bestial fury. However, all her hard (and increasingly uncomfortable looking) work is undone by the fact that Jason Barry, her romantic lead has all the charisma of an unplugged water cooler. The rest of the suprisingly small cast wildly overact through proceedings but Jeffery Combs seems to be on a go-slow as a somewhat more sedate Herbert West. He’s still a pathological liar and he’s still as prickly as a porcupine in heat but it feels like he’s switched on the mute button on his performance and you sense he’s only here out of loyalty to Yunza and Herbert himself.
In the plus column the film still manages to sporadically impress with some rousing gore here and there (a Re-Animator speciality), with a splattery overdose, a vengeful living torso giving chase and an opening zombie displaying a satisfyingly gruesome tongue flapping around it’s ravaged maw like a runaway fire hose; but it’s a baffling post credits sequence that sticks with you the most as we’re treated to an epic showdown between a rat and a re-animated severed penis that leaves you more bewildered than amused but huge props go to returning effects legend Screaming Mad George for providing some of the characteristically gruesome visuals.
A concept for a forth movie surfaced in 2006 involving a fascinatingly bonkers idea of Herbert West popping up as the physician of a George W. Bush type President in the White House, but despite the tantalising set up you feel that without a fresh shot of it’s own re-agent, this series would only be beating an un-dead horse.