For the sequel to Re-Animator, producer Brian Yuzna took over the director’s chair from original helmsman Stuart Gordon. Yuzna, of course, is a fine film-maker in his own right, with the grotesque brilliance of 1989’s Society to his credit, and Bride seamlessly continues the original film’s legacy of outrageous black humour, gore, and strangely-touching horror, while bringing the skills of Society’s special effects whizz – the aptly-named Screaming Mad George – to bear on the material.
Again, there are plenty of lifts from Lovecraft’s original. The opening segment, set eight months after the events of Re-Animator, is essentially an adaptation of The Horror From The Shadows the segment of Lovecraft’s novella depicting West (Combs) and Cain (Bruce Abbott) taking advantage of the WWI trenches’ carnage and mayhem to continue their experiments. This is now updated to a civil war in Peru and introduces both Bruce Abbott’s truly criminal 1980s hairdo and Cain’s new love interest, Italian journalist Francesca (Udenio).
Next thing you know we’re back in Miskatonic, with both West and Cain now practising at the hospital. When you reflect that both were kicked out of medical school in the first film, how they managed to qualify as doctors remains mysterious. Also taken from Lovecraft are: West’s experiments in cultivating a vat of embryonic reptile tissue; his ever-growing morbid curiosity, producing increasingly grotesque and unholy hybrids of human body parts; and several other scenes Lovecraft fans will quickly recognise.
West is now determined to create new life, a la Frankenstein. Meanwhile, the remnants of the first film’s now defunct re-animated have stubbornly refused to decay and are kept in a hospital store-room (as you do)- among them, the heart of Dan’s lost love, Megan Halsey, which West pilfers and uses to persuade Dan to help him build a woman. Soon, all West needs is the head. When Gloria, a terminal patient Dan has become worryingly attached to because she reminds him of Megan, dies, he has the final piece…
However, the collection of body parts in storage at the hospital also include the disembodied head of West’s old antagonist Dr Hill (Gale), which is brought back to life when pathologist Dr Graves (Stewart) (whose first name, sadly, isn’t Robin) experiments with a bottle of West’s reagent. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Chapman (Jones) – whose late wife, now locked in Miskatonic Hospital’s psychiatric ward, is one of the few remaining zombies from the first film – is suspicious of West and Cain. Then Francesca pops up again, intruding into Cain and West’s home life.
Abbott does a great job, taking Cain further and further along his moral downward spiral, while still remaining conflicted enough to engage the audience’s sympathies; Combs grows ever more unhinged, while giving West greater depth. Although Lovecraft would likely have had an embolism at the very idea, there are pretty obvious implications in the original story’s set-up of two bachelors – West and the narrator, living with one another over many years and never marrying; Combs’ performance picks up from this to suggest West has a (deeply) repressed attraction to Cain. Considering how cold-blooded he is, it’s telling that Cain appears to be the one person he remotely cares about, manipulative though he can be. West’s reaction to Dan’s burgeoning relationship with Francesca is to produce more of his grotesque ‘children’ in the form of stitched-together body parts, and to create his ‘bride’, implicitly as a gift to Dan. It’s done subtly enough to give West greater depth, and even manages to evoke a sneaking sympathy for him, while still keeping the character as creepy and blackly amusing as ever.
Bride of Re-Animator is less coherent than the first film; maybe because there seems to be two sequels rolled into one here (although Yuzna went on to direct a further Herbert West film, Beyond Re-Animator, in 2003). West’s attempts to build a ‘bride’ and Hill’s raising of an army of avenging zombies to hunt West down would each be worth a movie in themselves. Weaving them together gives David Gale far less screen time as Hill this time around, which is a shame. But the Re-Animator franchise, if it’s about anything, has always been about going gloriously over the top, so in a way it’s an ideal way to follow up the original. The film’s climax is such a crazed and brilliant Bacchanal of the grotesque, gruesome and horribly funny it compensates for any shortcomings. All in all, it’s a first-rate follow-up that almost matches the original and the two of them together make for an enormously entertaining double-bill.
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