MARCH 27, 2013
For a movie that replaced a director that I quite like (Stuart Gordon) with one I'm not too crazy about (Brian Yuzna), Bride Of Re-Animator could have been a lot worse, I guess. There's nothing particularly BAD about it (except the absence of Barbara Crampton, of course), but it lacks that spark that made the original so memorable. I used the word "perfunctory" when talking to a friend about it, and I haven't thought of a better one to describe it - lazy wouldn't be fair given the amount of pretty great practical FX work, but otherwise it just sort of does exactly what you'd expect it to once you read the plot description.
While Crampton is gone (and replaced by a different actress for a scene that was cut anyway), Yuzna was smart enough to bring back Bruce Abbott and Jeffrey Combs as Cain and West, the misguided young doctors who have continued to work together while West furthers his experiments in giving life back to dead tissue. The film begins in Peru of all places, with the two working as field medics during a civil war, but they are quickly back in Arkham, Massachusetts (read: Sherman Oaks and other Los Angeles suburbs) and up to their old tricks. I was a bit bummed that they didn't stay in Peru longer, as it would have given the film more of its own identity and thus allowed it to stand on its own, but luckily the script found a few new things to bring to the table.
First and foremost: a police presence! They didn't do much to attract suspicion beyond the hospital in the first one, but it would have been really dumb if they went back (it's only eight months later) and no one had any questions for them. The main antagonist is a cop who instantly takes an interest in the massacre at the morgue and the frequency of missing body parts, and it doesn't take long for us to find out why - his wife was one of the bodies that got re-animated during the first film's climax, and she's STILL up and about (albeit under observation at a hospital), so naturally he wants to know why. This leads to a lot of scenes where he watches West or Cain do something suspicious, or questions them (or Cain's new girlfriend), or snoops around, so it gets a bit repetitive, but I like how they handled his character. Being that he's a cop and investigating guys that are up to some immoral stuff, it'd be hard to actively root AGAINST him unless he had a skeleton in his closet, so when we find that out it makes it easier to cheer on West, who's as driven as ever.
Dan, on the other hand, is even less interested in these experiments than he was in the first film, and has clearly had it up to here with West, to the extent that he even decides to move out at one point. I wish they had explored their sorta-friendship a bit more - what do they do when NOT trying to bring the dead back to life? Are they actually friends or do they just want to keep an eye on the other? It's part of the problem with creating exciting/interesting characters in a horror movie - you can only do so much with them as the producers, who never care about such things, will cut all that "boring" stuff anyway so we can get back to the splatter. So the issue intensifies in a sequel; we've now spent three hours with these guys and still don't know much about them beyond how they feel about zombies and unfavorable scientific practices.
Luckily, said splatter is terrific, as are the new creations (by Screamin Mad George, KNB, and others). West's new plan is to replace dead body parts, as opposed to bringing entire bodies back to life - someone loses a hand or a foot, and he can rejuvenate one and replace it, presumably much quicker than a regular transplant. But he can't help but test his ideas in unusual ways, so he makes things like a little critter that's just four fingers and an eyeball, or an arm attached to a leg, and the FX wizards have these things running around and interacting with the actors in believable ways, all for a budget that I'm sure wasn't very big. Amazing, isn't it? If only today's horror movies had such dedication and creativity. Not all of them look great (another returning character's head is put on a bat - it's clunky at best), but they all show a hell of a lot more effort than whatever swirling mass of pixels we get in the latest studio horror flick (I'm still sore about Mama - singlehandedly kept me from loving the movie).
As for the Bride, like its namesake it barely appears, but the story leading up to her is a good one - Dan has become deeply focused on a female patient at the hospital, and West has managed to get a hold of Meg's heart, convincing Dan that that is what he misses about his now deceased lover. The outcome isn't as tragic as it was for Frankenstein and his monster, but it's a solid concept that is deserving of the name (unlike, say, Bride of Chucky). And her (spoiler) destruction is awesome - she basically just falls apart, with parts of her back just sliding off and limbs plopping to the floor. Plus she gets to fight Dan's (totally human/not undead in any way) girlfriend for a few minutes, which is hilarious. Actually the climax as a whole is pretty nutty (and less abrupt than the original's), as the original zombies come back, West's creatures get loose, Bat-head causes more problems, etc. There's even a dog with a human hand somewhere in there.
Unsurprisingly, the bulk of the bonus features focus on the FX. There's a 22 minute piece that shows a clip of each one followed by some behind the scenes video of its creation, with very little in the way of direct interviews or voiceover from Yuzna or any of the various makeup teams, and a quick look (WITH voiceover) at a deleted concept featuring the Bat-head thing. Even the commentary by Yuzna and a bunch of other folks focuses mainly on FX as opposed to the actual production, story, etc. In short, if you love FX and their creation, this is a great disc to have, but otherwise there isn't much that will interest you. There's a look at the deleted Meg scene (most of it devoted to showing it being filmed, curiously) and some other promotional stuff, but otherwise the only other bonus that I'd recommend is the (curiously unlisted) commentary from Combs and Abbott, who offer occasional (and brief) shooting anecdotes and such but mostly just goof on each other's acting and dialogue. The two have a great rapport and clearly aren't pretentious about their work in it, making for a very enjoyable track as long as YOU don't take the movie too seriously, either.
All of this stuff is spread across both sides of this particular release of the disc, which offers the theatrical version on one side and the unrated (one minute longer) on the other. It also offers something I don't think I've ever seen on a disc before - the option to matte the film for theatrical sized viewing. Apparently it was shot full frame but if you want you can crop out some of the top and bottom to give it a 1.85:1 frame, but it's not anamorphic so you'll have to zoom in on your TV for it to look right, which of course just makes it blurrier. In other words, just turn the matting off and enjoy the legs and 20% more headroom for the actors. Hopefully Lionsgate (or whoever owns Artisan releases now) will re-release on Blu-ray someday, with a better transfer (it looks like shit no matter what form you watch it in) and all the bonus features together on one side of the disc - I'm not even sure I found everything since the menu layouts are so confusing (and the commentary tracks are only available on the theatrical side, so pity the person that watches the unrated version and assumes there's no other difference between the two sides!).
Someday I'll get around to seeing the 3rd film, Beyond Re-Animator, which I've never heard a good thing about (I got mixed word on this one, which is appropriate). It lacks Bruce Abbott but adds the stunning Elsa Pataky, so I might end up enjoying it to some degree, and maybe mixing things up a bit more can be a good thing. As I was saying in my review of Futureworld (for BadassDigest), too many horror sequels are basically just remakes, and this one can almost be accused of that at times (the structure is almost identical) - if Beyond is at least TRYING something new, I can at least appreciate the effort. Still: give Gordon the money he needs to do House of Re-Animator, dammit!
What say you?