Stuart Gordon's horror/comedy Re-Animator is a gleefully tasteless piece of horror movie trash: vile enough to offend many of its viewers, but genuinely witty enough to keep everyone else entertained. Even if gross-out extravaganzas aren't really your cup of tea, it's difficult not to admire Gordon's wildly inventive special effects, and even more difficult to resist Jeffrey Combs' twitchy, bug-eyed performance as the demented Dr. Herbert West. The film quickly developed something of a cult following, which naturally led to a couple of sequels.
The first of those sequels is Bride of Re-Animator, which simultaneously feels like a riff on James Whale's classic Bride of Frankenstein and a remake of the first Re-Animator flick. It's been eight months since West's experiments caused the tragic massacre at Miskatonic University, so West and his ever-hesitant colleague Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott, The Prophecy II) have fled the country and are doing work as medics in the midst of the Peruvian civil war. The chaos of battle gives them ample opportunity to continue working on their previous experiments without much supervision. Alas, once things start to get hairy, they head back to the United States and return to their old jobs as doctors at the University (hey, that massacre was no big deal, right?).
Eventually, West makes another groundbreaking discovery: some minor alterations to his patented serum give him the ability to re-animate individual body parts. Naturally, he immediately determines that he wants to re-animate a whole bunch of bits and pieces, sew them together and make the world's first patchwork person. Cain is predictably hesitant, but agrees to participate after West slyly promises to re-animate the heart of Cain's fiancee Meg Halsey (who died a fairly horrible death in the first Re-Animator movie).
So: same song, second verse. As with many horror sequels that attempt to recapture the magic of their predecessors, Bride of Re-Animator feels like a less memorable version of something we've seen before. While Re-Animator seemed willing to try absolutely anything to entertain its audience, Bride of Re-Animator mostly attempts to offer variations on things we saw in the first film. Unfortunately, director Brian Yuzna is no match for Gordon, often struggling to bring the same measure of manic energy to the proceedings. While there are some clever visual ideas and memorable lines ("He's a wife-beater, Dan! Use the gun!") scattered throughout the film, it lacks that crucial spark of madness that drove its predecessor.
Admittedly, Yuzna and his collaborators seem to be aiming for a slightly different tone. Though they retain the corny jokes and wacky sight gags of Re-Animator, this film also attempts to incorporate something resembling romantic tragedy. It doesn't quite work (most of the characters are too thin to earn any of our emotional investment), but it stands out as the one aspect of the film that is trying to do something different.
As expected, Combs is easily the film's greatest asset. Once again, he dives into his part with relish, further cementing his status as a horror icon. No matter how bonkers these movies get, he brings a certain mad conviction to his grand proclamations: "I created what no man's mind nor woman's womb could ever hope to achieve!" One of the things I love about the character is that there's no grand psychological explanation for why he obsesses over bringing the dead back to life. He simply wants to do it because he thinks he can. Bride of Re-Animator rarely matches the entertainment value of the original, but it's still a pleasure to watch Dr. West do his thing.
Bride of Re-Animator
Rating: ★★½ (out of four)
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 96 minutes
Release Year: 1989