Monday, August 01, 2005

Beyond Re-Animator

My wife informed me that all of our NetFlix movies are horror movies that I put in the queue long ago, having finally percolated up to the top, so I was to watch one of them and get it out in the mail tonight.

Out of my stack, then, I randomly chose Beyond Re-Animator, yet another in the Re-Animator series of movies based very loosely on the Herbert West character from Lovecraft's literature.

I've come to the conclusion that I need to be a script consultant for horror movies. Beyond Re-Animator showed a lot of promise in places, but it devolved into goofiness in too many places to make it enjoyable. The plot picks up on Herbert West in prison for his crimes, where he is sought out by a young doctor, Howard Phillips (groan), who witnessed his sister killed by one of West's zombies when he was young. They form an uneasy alliance to continue the study of reanimation.

This much was working well. I've always really enjoyed watching Jeffrey Combs act as Herbert West, because he's got a great sense of macabre intensity for the part. His obsessed disconnectedness worked well as a counterpoint for Tommy Dean Musset's portrayal of the earnest young doctor. The best scenes in the movie are the ones in which these two are interacting with each other, and they successfully bring out a sense of subterfuge and drama. The tension is heightened by some of the best horror theme music around - the Re-Animator theme is very evocative and tense, and stays with you well after the movie is finished.

Unfortunately, there's just not much screen time devoted to the tense relationship between the two doctors. We get far more of the young hottie reporter, the reanimated religious psycho, the reanimated pet rat, and the sadistic warden. Bárbara Elorrieta, who plays the reporter, does a great job with her insane back-from-the-dead scenes, but it's not enough to sustain the groanworthy plot twists that follow.

In this installment of the series, Herbert West has figured out how to restore the sense of identity that is missing in his reanimated corpses. Typically, when he reanimates someone, they come back violent and insane, but he has figured out how to extract a type of energy that normalizes the cellular behavior. The young doctor refers to it as a soul.

What follows is a bit of soul-swapping that leads to predictable results. The warden gets reanimated with the soul of a rat, and starts making squeaking noises, grows buck teeth, and twitches his nose a lot. Lame. Only slightly more interesting is the warden's soul cohabitating with the soul of the reporter in her reanimated corpse - the result is a tiresome All of Me-like flip-flop between the young reporter and the evil warden. And of course, the inmates break out and start a prison riot at one point, so we get all that stuff.

But all of this would be bearable if not for some of the really stupid interludes that are neither scary nor relevant, such as when the camera keeps cutting back to the reanimated rat rolling the warden's penis (which gets severed at one point) around the air ducts, or a nurse gets her clothes conveniently ripped off (presumably for the titillation factor). Juvenile crap that could have been left on the editing room floor to make a much better movie.

And it's things like this last bit that really make me think that I should be a script consultant. Who thought that stuff was a good idea? They had a good vibe going, with some interesting themes and good acting in an interesting setting, with fantastic theme music. And then they ruin it with puerile crap that undermines everything genuinely spooky and compelling they had in place. With only small changes in the direction of the script, this could have been a genuinely creepy film, and that makes it really frustrating to watch. In the end, it's a thumbs down.

Oh, well. Maybe they'll get it right in the next Re-Animator movie, if they bother to reanimate the franchise again...

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