“Are we having fun yet?”
The original Re-Animator is still one of my favorite horror films of all time. A tongue in (and through) cheek adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft short story “Herbert West- Reanimator,” the Stuart Gordon film manages to be funny, gory and even sometimes frightening. One of Jeffrey Combs earliest films, the role of Herbert West is arguably the one he’s most well know for – and with good reason. Ascerbic, witty, intense and just plain funny, West is one cinema’s great mad scientists. The movie’s got an excellent cast, particularly standouts Combs, Barbara Crampton and David Gale, some mostly great special effects and a screenplay that balances character, horror and comedy in just the right amounts. It’s one of those movies I can sit and watch at any time.
My experiences with the sequels are… more fraught. While I’ve seen both Bride of Re-Animator and Beyond Re-Animator at least a couple of times each I really couldn’t tell you much about them (though (body) parts of Bride do stick in the brain). They’re handled competently enough, and Comb’s West is just as fun to watch as ever, but they’re missing something vital that the original had in spades, a kind of spark. A heart, maybe.
Still, it’s been a while since I’ve watched Bride, and when I saw it was available on Amazon I felt the need for a dosage of lime-green reagent.
Streaming on Amazon Prime. Arrow Video recently put out a restored version on Blu-ray. They tend to do an excellent job and I’ll have to get around to picking it up at some point.
If you’ve read the original serialized Lovecraft story then some of the elements of Bride will seem familiar to you, as they’re at least partly based on the last two segments of the story. It begins with West and Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott reprising his role from the first film) working as army medics in a South American war zone. The plentiful number of maimed and dead means they’ve got plenty of material to work with as they continue their experiments with the reagent. It’s not long before they’re back in Arkham, however, somehow getting re-hired as doctors at the Miskatonic University hospital.
Bride is not really interested in the details of how or why things are they way they are. Dan is somehow now a Resident, working with cancer patients. God knows what Herbert’s nominal job is – because he’s usually just stealing corpses to experiment on in the basement of the house he and Dan own in the old graveyard.
Yes. They bought a house in a graveyard. Never mind how, I told you – details aren’t important.
What IS important is that Herbert West turns out to be something of a compulsive doodler. I admit that it’s something we have in common. When I worked at an ad agency my notebooks would end up covered in strange little drawings – mostly done during interminable meetings. I just couldn’t seem to help picking up a pen and sketching away. Herbert does the same thing – it’s just that he does it with reagent and body parts. It’s almost pathological, really. So we get treated to such wondrous sights as a casually assembled array of fingers with an eyeball attached and a dog with a human arm. These little doodles don’t always – or often – work out well. Luckily he has a handy disposal area in the crypt next door.
The threads of the story all find themselves running through the hospital. Dan’s got a terminal patient that reminds him of Meg Halsey (unfortunately, Barbara Crampton doesn’t return). There’s a detective sniffing around who’s wife just so happens to be one of the ‘returned’ corpses from the first film. The pathologist has access to the remains from the hospital massacre – including a certain severed head…
While the characters don’t seem to have as much of a connection as the ones in the first film – a love interest for Dan just confuses things, for instance – the gory set pieces are just as much fun as the original, and occasionally even more inventive. The head of Dr. Hill is returned to life (allowing David Gale to ham it up again), but this time he’s given bat wings for locomotion. It should be ridiculous and, yeah, it’s ridiculous – but watching dodgy green-screen of David Gale floating around and laughing like he’s having the time of his life (or death) is worth it.
And then we have the Bride of the title. Assembled over the course of the film from various body parts, including Meg’s still fresh heart, she’s finally brought to life in the climactic third act when Dan’s favorite patient passes away. Gloriously gory and full of pathos, Kathleen Kinmont does the most with what she’s given – managing to evoke Elsa Lanchester’s Bride in some of her behaviors while also giving into insane jealousy and rage. She even offers Dan her heart – literally – before falling to pieces. Again, literally.
All of Herbert’s mistakes come calling in the end, and it’s a smorgasbord of inventive special effects and running and screaming.
The Bottom Line
While perhaps not quite as classic a film as the original, Bride of Re-Animator at least makes good on the humor and the gory special effects, making most any scene worth watching. Especially if Herbert is in it. In the end the film feels a little like Herbert’s ‘doodles’ – an interesting conglomeration of parts that doesn’t quite pull itself together into something that feels completely finished.