Color, 2003, 95m. / Directed by Brian Yuzna / Starring Jeffrey Combs, Jason Barry / Lions Gate (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD5.1

Bucking the law of diminishing returns, this long-in-progress successor to the gruesome but erratic Bride of Re-Animator at least equals and in many respects surpasses that previous effort from director Yuzna, though it's still nowhere near the giddy heights of Stuart Gordon's original. In keeping with tradition, the film begins with a grisly pre-credits sequence, this time as little Howard witnesses the death of his sister at the hands of a jaw-challenged zombie courtesy of death-dabbling doctor Herbert West (Combs), seen escorted off by the police. Years later, the adult Howard (Barry) arrives to serve as the doctor at a criminal facility where West continues his experiments with another inmate's pet rat. Clutching the last remaining syringe of West's glowing green re-agent, Howard expresses interest in helping West continue his work behind bars; meanwhile, blonde reporter Laura (Elsa Pataky) arrives and stirs up trouble, seducing Howard and antagonizing the sadistic warden, Warden Brando (Simón Andreu). One inmate's convenient heart attack results in some impromptu reanimation, followed by West's revelation that he can solve the problem of rampaging, violent zombiedom by also reigniting the "soul" of the subject as well. Before long it's time for a prison riot, a wholly illogical dominatrix outfit, soul-swapping, a homicidal human torso, and the most outrageous end credits sequence in many a moon.

Nicely riffing on more than a few Hammer classics (particularly Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell and Frankenstein Created Woman) along with the expected Lovecraft nods, Beyond Re-Animator is a respectable and largely enjoyable entry in the series. Yuzna's skills as a director have clearly improved over the years, as he nicely steers the film with a solid, interesting storyline and characters whose fates aren't always predictable. Pataky seems weak at first with her scheming, sexy reporter bit, but she's put to excellent, highly physical use in the film's second half as the story takes a few unexpected twists and turns. Sporting a touch-and-go American accent, Irish-born Barry fares less well with an inconsistent part but gets in some nice moments here and there as well; Bruce Abbott he ain't, but that's not for lack of trying. Special kudos to the fearless Andreu, best remembered as the muy macho husband in The Blood-Spattered Bride; here he takes the part of a stereotypical power-crazed warden and swerves it into genuinely depraved territory ("Bark! Bark!"). The film's only crippling weakness is the screenplay, which really needed a major overhaul in the dialogue department. Apart from Combs' snarky one-liners, the dirty retorts would have been groaners in a '70s sex comedy and feel simply all wrong here. Xavier Capellas does a decent job of aping Richard Band's Psycho-inspired score from the previous films, and the Screaming Mad George FX really go berserk in the final third with a barrage of exploding chests and rampaging eyeballs and human limbs.

Sporting a highly improbable R rating (either the rating is a lie or the MPAA was handed blindfolds for the last half hour), Beyond Re-Animator looks rich and glossy on DVD with a beautiful transfer. Yuzna's audio commentary slips noticeably behind by several seconds near the end, which indicates some material was probably trimmed out from his original cut; the aforementioned chestbursting and one throat-slashing during the climax appear to have been slimmed down by a few frames, but otherwise the gory proceedings look intact. The 5.1 audio is extremely aggressive, with plenty of directional effects; the optional English subtitles come in handy during a few lines of dialogue from the prisoners with heavy Spanish accents. The commentary track is generally brisk and engaging, with Yuzna explaining the long process of getting the film off the ground, the reasons for completely writing Dan Cain's character out of this third installment, and the various methods used to orchestrate the wide variety of special effects from different FX houses. Also included is a typical making-of featurette, complete with Combs/Barry banter and a far more indulgent look at that chestburster bit complete with anti-gravity entrails. The disc also includes the theatrical trailer (tucked away as part of the usual Lions Gate promo reel) and, weirdest of all, a bizarre techno music video from "Dr. Re-Animator" apparently shot on the film's set ("Move them dead bones, bones, bones!"). Scary, indeed. A pricier Russian DVD is also anamorphic and reportedly features a few extra fleeing seconds of gore.

Color, 1990, 96 mins. / Directed by Brian Yuzna / Starring Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott, Claude Earl Jones, Fabiana Udenio, David Gale, Kathleen Kinmont, Mel Stewart / Pioneer/Artisan (WS 1.85:1) / DD2.0

Largely ignoring the outrageous bloodletting and sexual depravity of Stuart Gordon's original Re-Animtor, director Brian Yuzna crafted a sequel more focused on his own personal obsessions-- namely, lots of grotesque, squishy things palpitating in front of the camera. While it can't hope to surpass the first film in terms of witty dialogue or over the top imagery, on its own terms Bride of Re-Animator makes for a brisk, enjoyable hour and a half, and fans should be happy to see most of the characters returning for another round of reanimation and dismemberment.

Six months after the grisly Miskatonic massacre, renegade med students Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) and Dan Cain (Bruce Abbbott) return to the scene and continue their unholy experiments. Using the heart of Megan Halsey, the boys use separate reanimated human body parts to construct an entire woman (tastefully including "the womb of a virgin and the legs of a hooker"). Meanwhile, the severed head of Dr. Hill (somehow still intact after the first film) decides to seek revenge against West, and a snooping police detective prowls around just to make things difficult. As if that weren't enough, Dan's new love, Francesca (Fabiana Udenio, a.k.a. Austin Powers' Alotta Fagina), remains blissfully unaware of her beau's morbid pasttime.

Pioneer's much-hyped special edition thankfully delivers on its promises, with a wealth of viewing options and supplements designed to keep gorehounds happy for hours. The R-rated theatrical cut and the unrated version are included in full frame, with an optional "theatrical matte" option that superimposes black bars over the image to simulate 1.85:1 framing. In this case, this controversial technique works quite well for the most part, though studios might want to be careful using it in the future. The matte can easily be switched on and off simply by using the DVD remote's subtitle button. As the liner notes explain, the unrated version was culled from a slightly inferior print, and it shows; while passable, the unrated edition looks somewhat smeary and features an unpolished stereo sound mix. The R-rated side improves noticeably on the previous LIVE laserdisc version; furthermore, the Ultra-Stereo soundtrack is much better mixed. Unless you feel like hunting for three or four extra frames of grue, the R version is definitely the way to go; only the finale, in which one character literally goes to pieces, appears to be noticeably extended.

In the extras department, the unrated side includes a half hour making-of featurette, including cast and crew interviews as well as looks at the elaborate special effects. On the R-rated side, look for a "trailer" (actually the video commercial), Dr. West's Casebook (a collection of photos from the film and behind-the-scenes), and best of all, the deleted opening scene of the film, which fills in a number of gaping plot holes. In particular, the fate of Meg after her re-animation and West's escape from those strangling entrails are finally covered; one can only guess why this scene was cut, as it forms a much more logical bridge between the first film and the second. Interestingly, this work print scene is followed by a great deal of rough footage shot during its filming from several different angles. Also included is an early deleted sequence in which Dr. Hill's head becomes an attraction at a local sideshow (a nice follow up on West's classic line in the original). Both versions feature two running commentary tracks, one with Combs and Abbott (who sound like good buddies and provide some nice chuckles along the way), and the other with Combs, Yuzna, and virtually the entire effects crew. Both tracks reveal a great deal of nostalgia and enthusiasm for the project, and while it can't really compare to the original, many skeptics may find themselves regarding this film much more fondly after experiencing it in so much depth.

Mondo Digital Reviews Mondo Digital Links Frequently Asked Questions