Bride of Re-Animator (1989)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2016-04-11 23:58

Bride of Re-Animator (1989)
Studio: Arrow Video
Release date: April 12th, 2016

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

The movie:

A quick look at the credits for Bride of Re-Animator reveals most of the appeal behind this sequel. While original director Stuart Gordon’s name is switched out for producer Brian Yuzna’s, much of the first film’s principal cast returns, promising a direct continuation of the exploits in Re-Animator. However, glimpsing beyond the headlining names towards the various effects personnel is perhaps even more exciting, as Yuzna assembled an all-star team—or, more appropriately, a Murderer’s Row—of talent to this follow-up, a lineup that boasts the likes of John Carl Buechler, Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, Greg Berger, and Screaming Mad George. I can only assume that this production single-handedly kept the latex and karo syrup industries afloat for an entire year or two.

It’s little surprise then that this sequel sometimes feels a little slapdash, with a busy collage of a plot that’s held together by spirit gum and rubber. The story—which was not Yuzna’s first choice of directions—is less a sustained narrative and more an excuse to stage incredible effects displays, proceeding with a devil-may-care approach that finds doctors Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) and Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) hiding out in Peru, still carrying out their deranged experiments amidst a civil war. When this proves to be too harrowing, the two return to Miskatonic University, where they resume their grisly work—despite being only eight months removed from the previous film’s massacre. A cop (Claude Earl Jones) is naturally suspicious, taking every opportunity to poke and prod the duo, who are now collecting body parts in the hopes of creating new life with the heart of Dan’s ex-girlfriend Meg set to be the centerpiece.

Other plot developments—such as the return of Carl Hill’s (David Gale) re-animated head—add to the intrigue, at least in the sense that each of them holds the potential for more splatter. With such a haphazardly constructed plot that seems to mostly work in the service of the effects (rather than the other way around), it’s easy to assume that Bride of Re-Animator is a dud, a classic illustration of a sequel that misfires by misunderstanding what made the original so effective. The somewhat repetitive plot (Dan falls for another girl who runs afoul of West’s experiments), the even heavier emphasis on splatter effects, the generous gaps in continuity that even allow it to exist (there’s no explanation for how West survived what seemed to be certain death in Re-Animator): all of these feel like reasons Bride shouldn’t work.

But despite those warts, the film doesn’t just work—it fucking thrives, a prime example of excellent craftsmanship and artistry (splattery and otherwise) is substantial enough. This isn’t a case of “style over substance”—it’s a case where the style (in all its goopy, slimy glory) is the substance, delivered with the impish glee of a cast and crew looking to make a staggering mess and revel in it. From the opening scene (set in a makeshift Peruvian trauma unit), it’s clear that hacked limbs and sprayed blood won’t exactly be in short supply. Yuzna’s goal to make a reeling audience reach for barf bags is obvious, yet it’s so over-the-top that you can’t help but detect the same tongue-in-cheek approach of his predecessor in the director’s chair.

What he does lack in Gordon’s satirical, dark wit, Yunza makes up for with more of a broad, over-the-top sensibility. Released only two years earlier, Evil Dead 2 seems to have cast a long shadow, as many sequences feel Raimi-esque, particularly those involving reanimated limbs creeping and crawling about. At one point—apropos of nothing but West’s own morbid amusement—the mad doctor fuses a severed hand to a severed foot, only to have his creation scamper off during an ill-timed visit from the nosy cop. There’s a real silly streak to Bride of Re-Animator that’s infectious, so much so that you can’t help but be patient with its various subplots because you sense they’re all building to a raucous finale that joins these threads in an outlandish crazy quilt of gore and trashy, cheap thrills.

Less a climax and more your favorite musicians taking the stage and shredding for a jam session, this sequence sees the combined efforts of the various effects crews unleashed in full force. The horde of reanimated dead from the previous film returns, once again under the command of Hill, whose head is affixed with bat wings, enabling him to raise proper hell. They clash with the grim work already conducted within the doctors’ new digs, a wonderfully decrepit cryptkeeper’s house that’s been converted into a gnarly lab full of whirring gadgets and draped in cobwebs.

Excited by its close proximity to the cemetery, West has eagerly burrowed a hole taking him straight to the bodies resting in the old tombs, in one of the film’s better displays of absurd, dark humor. His morbid predilections meet with an unhinged comeuppance when failed experiments both past and present meet, some of them literally melting in the collision. It’s almost as if these mad effects collaborators all saw a decade often defined by excessive splatter drawing near a close and conspired together for a last ditch effort, making Bride of Re-Animator is something of an exclamation mark for the 80s.

There’s an argument to be made that the characters are lost in the torrents of bloodshed unleashed at every turn, and it’s one that’s difficult to rebut. West and Cain lack the spark that defined their chemistry in the previous film, though it does seem appropriate that they’ve settled into a phase where both has accepted their stuck with each other (Cain’s insistence that he’s moving out feels half-hearted at best, especially since it goes nowhere ). While Combs still clearly relishes another opportunity to infuse West with a snooty smugness (you can imagine West as the beleaguered, asshole manager of a department store in an alternate reality), the sequel misses the very personal stakes of the original film (particularly in regards to Cain, whose bout with déjŕ vu here feels obligatory).

“Obligatory” is almost the right word to describe Bride of Re-Animator. It’s certainly not a film that needs to exist, nor does it exactly live up to its predecessor. However, it’s not for lack of trying, especially on the part of an effects crew that turned in legendary work. This is one of the great films that justifies its existence on the strength of its marvelously gruesome effects; sure, it’s splatter for splatter’s sake, but it’s done with such a huckster’s gusto that it’s impossible not to delight in the madness.

The disc:

While I think Re-Animator is arguably one of the best pound-for-pound horror franchises, it’s not one that I’ve actually watched religiously over the years. Part of this owes to the fact that Bride has only been available on two relatively shoddy DVD releases, the second (and more readily available one from Artisan) actually being worse than the first. For years, I’ve waited for a reissue before revisiting this franchise, and that’s finally been rewarded by Arrow Video’s new limited edition Blu-ray upgrade. Featuring the unrated version of the film, the disc finally features the sequel in a restored format that’s far removed from the glorified VHS rip on the Artisan release. Suffice it to say, Bride of Re-Animator has never looked better on home video—its garish splatter practically pops off of the screen here, heightening the proceedings into a lucid nightmare.

Arrow has also packed the disc with plenty of supplements, including a busy commentary track boasting Yunza, Combs, Buechler, Kurtzman, Berger, Screaming Mad George, Mike Deak, and effects co-coordinator Thomas Rainone. Combs and Abbott helm their own track, while Yunza goes solo in his own recently-recorded track. Unsurprisingly, many of the other features focus on the effects work, such as the aptly titled “Splatter Masters,” a newly produced featurette that weaves in behind-the-scenes footage with recollections from the effects crew. “Getting Ahead in Horror” is a vintage behind-the-scenes reel detailing the various effects sequences that should be catnip for gorehounds, while Yunza also appears in a brief retrospective where he quickly recounts the impetus behind Bride and sheds some light on an original concept that would have taken West to the White House. Two deleted sequences are touched upon, one with behind-the-scenes footage and another via a stills gallery. As if this weren’t exhaustive enough, a second disc houses a restored version of the R-rated cut and another behind-the-scenes reel.

With this release, Bride of Re-Animator finally receives its due and then some. A long overdue but certainly worthwhile upgrade, it follows on the heels of Arrow’s release of Society, a similarly underappreciated Yunza gem. One can only hope that perhaps Return of the Living Dead III is in the works, as it, too is in dire need of a restoration (its unrated cut has yet to surface on DVD even). I would also settle for a chance to reappraise Beyond Re-Animator, but I know I’m certainly in the minority on that front. For now, I’m content to finally enjoy the quality release for Bride, a film that joins that class of sequels (Jaws 2, Damien, Halloween 2, et. al) that may feel unnecessary but entertain nonetheless.
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