1985 was a good year for the living dead. We nervously queued in the rain to see the latest graveyard zombie bonanza. Our fingers crossed, hoping that we were not going to be asked that dreaded question, “Can I see some ID please?” The rush from getting in to the movie was often forgotten as soon as the main feature started. These were times when zombie flicks actually tore a chunk of gory nail from a young horror enthusiast’s fingers. We laughed aloud at the sheer punk rot and roll enthusiasm of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. We cackled even louder at people running from the cinema in droves and passing out during Dr. Frankenstein’s mad experiments in DAY OF THE DEAD. We applauded with gusto at new anti-hero Herbert West M.D. (that’s medical deviant) as he went about injecting life back into the dead once more in the Lovecraft inspired RE-ANIMATOR.
Times have changed. Nowadays, queuing in the rain for a film showing is unheard of. They are mainly faceless, sterile places that are housed in the kind of shopping centre torn asunder in DAWN OF THE DEAD. Zombies rarely walk on the larger celluloid screen with the notable exception of 28 DAYS LATER and the forthcoming remake of the aforementioned DAWN ultimately horrifying us due to the fact that it is being remade in the first place. Today, the likes of BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR are delegated to the small screen and the world is a less exciting place because of it.
Most readers of this site will be aware that BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR is the 3rd film in the Herbert West series. Brian Yuzna took over the director’s seat from Stuart Gordon and gave us the equally enjoyable BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, ironically a film that came out at the same time as Frank Henenlotter’s absurdly camp parody FRANKENHOOKER.
Filmed in Spain where corpses are more accommodating, film crews work harder, and sangria is cheaper, Yuzna and scriptwriter Jose Manuel Gomez have adopted the attitude that if a storyline proves successful there is little point in dramatically changing it. Of course they couldn’t simply go for a carbon copy and Herbert West really had to get his wrists slapped after the carnage he has caused in the first two forays. Therefore setting BEYOND in a prison is a natural progression for the series.
This medical malady starts on the eve of West’s last disastrous experimentations. Two children terrify themselves with ghoulish stories in their back garden camp. Little do they realise that a zombie has decided to quench its thirst with a nice drink of milk from the fridge inside. Considering half its face is missing the butt ugly deadite has little success. The boys in blue turn up and there is no mucking about with them, they go straight for the headshot. Alas, it is too late for Emily the sister of Howard (one of the young boys) who has been messily dispatched. The shocked lad wanders into the street and sees West being shuffled into a police car but the scene lingers to show the young boy pick up a syringe of that very recognisable green serum.
It's never really explained why Howard decides to train as a doctor so he can go and work alongside West thirteen years later. The doctor, however, needs a protégé and Jason Barry does a commendable job replacing West’s previous assistant Bruce Abbott. The first thing that strikes you about Jeffery Combs (West) is that the man must have been at his own serum. He hardly seems to have aged a bit. There is some good characterisation in the largely Spanish cast and although we are not drawn into the inmates’ lives in such an adept way as in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION we still find ourselves immersed in their activities. There is a violent Spanish gangbanger who has it in for West; as for some strange reason, he believes the Doctor is conducting experiments on his pet rat. We also have a deranged Michael Berryman look-a-like (Moses) who is obviously mad as a hatter and on first impressions has you thinking, “Now wouldn’t he make a good zombie”? Of course, you can’t have a prison without a custodian and Simon Andreau as Warden Brando does a marvellous job of recreating Tommy Lee Jones role as Dwight McCluskey in NATURAL BORN KILLERS. All that’s missing is a love interest for Howard, to get in the way of things and muck up West’s experiments. Oh hold on, here’s a blonde bombshell of a journalist (Laura) who is interviewing the warden on penal reform.
Considering his history, it really is somewhat implausible that West should find himself in the position of setting up a lab and bringing the dead back to life. The second he has the reactive agent in his hands again it is being injected into the top of the spinal chord (where else) of that rather obvious zombie in the making we mentioned earlier (his heart attack was so convenient). Fortunately, his condition is explained to the suspicious warden as being caused by atrial fibrillation, so we now have a zombie in a straightjacket. Howard falls for Laura and fails to notice the words ‘soon to be a zombie’ tattooed on her butt when he undresses her. Meanwhile we discover that West’s time in prison has not been spent idle. He has been experimenting with nano-plasmic energy and extracting it from rats. This acts as a catalyst and resurrects a personality into injected corpses. And guess who is going to be the first human volunteer?
In case you hadn’t realised by now, BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR is a bit of a no-brainer. Not that this means it’s not a lot of fun after a few beers, especially when the carnage really gets going in the last third of the movie. For anybody who wondered what would happen if the serum was injected into a living person, the answer is here. Speedball, like his name suggests, is one inmate with a rather addictive personality. The sadistic nature of the prison warder is also one of the movie’s highlights. Hanging an inmate and injecting them leads to never ending corporal punishment. With a prison on full riot and marauding zombies in every corridor the final showdown comes across like a mix of video game and an episode of OZ. Events suggest this particular franchise will not lie down and die. A further instalment is strongly hinted at, and you are advised to keep watching as the end credits roll or you will miss the spectacle of a fight between a zombified amputated penis and a resurrected rat! Be warned though, the dreadful Europop music video contained amongst the extras will seriously damage your health. Having viewed BEYOND RE-ANIMATOR a thought struck me. I’m going to do my damn best to avoid visiting any doctor called West, alive or dead!
Directed by Brian Yuzna
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
A Lions Gate / Fantastic Factory DVD Release