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.

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