H.P. Lovecraft's Bride of Re-Animator
**/**** Image B+ Sound C Extras A-
starring Bruce Abbott, Claude Earl Jones, Fabiana Udenio, Jeffrey Combs
screenplay by Woody Keith and Rick Fry
directed by Brian Yuzna
by Bryant Frazer Bride of Re-Animator is surely one of the biggest missed opportunities in the history of franchise filmmaking. Stuart Gordon's 1985 classic Re-Animator wasn't a fluke--it had been lovingly developed over a number of years by Chicago native Gordon, who initially planned to make it with his Organic Theater buddies. When they demurred, it was just dumb luck that landed the project with producer Brian Yuzna at the genre sausage factory that was Hollywood's Empire International Pictures. The sequel, on the other hand, was developed as a directorial vehicle for Yuzna, who claims time constraints related to the financing precluded Gordon's participation. So screenwriters Rick Fry and Woody Keith, who wrote Yuzna's directorial debut, Society, hacked a new script together in a big hurry. The end result is hard to consider on its own merits because of the big question mark for Re-Animator fans: What could this have looked like if the original film's creative team had been in charge?
Bride putters along aimlessly for a long time, introducing very few new ideas to the Re-Animator universe without developing its characters or situations in any meaningful way. It benefits greatly from the presence of the fine character actor Jeffrey Combs, arguably the first film's most seamless special effect, while it suffers badly from the loss of Barbara Crampton, who helped ground Re-Animator's fantastical proceedings. But the last, latex-laden 15 minutes or so are appropriately nightmarish, and maybe as disturbing in their way as the notoriously gory homestretch of the original. The problem is that they exist in a vacuum and have little to do with the story, anemic as it is. The money men may well have been happy with this awkwardly shambling commercial exercise, yet mostly it's a tiny, timid echo of the momentous yowl that was Re-Animator.
After a promising but ultimately pointless prologue that has Herbert West (Combs) and his ex-roommate Dan Cain (Re-Animator's Bruce Abbott) working, for some reason, as medics in a South American civil war, both men return to Miskatonic University Hospital, where they quickly resume old habits, supplementing their day jobs as doctors with nighttime experiments in a secret basement lab. Fed up with West's obsession--West has progressed to revivifying individual body parts as opposed to entire corpses--Dan threatens to move out, but West dissuades him by procuring the preserved heart of Dan's dead girlfriend Meg, which he insists can be brought back to life inside a new body. He sets about stitching one together from multiple sources, though if Dan really is heartsick for Meg, he has a funny way of showing it: Before the picture's halfway point, he's busy making special sauce in the kitchen with an Italian number named Francesca (Fabiana Udenio, the future Alotta Fagina of Austin Powers). Further diffusing the focus from the ostensible post-mortem romance at its heart is the population of supporting players around the margins: a suspicious police detective; a patient in Dan's hospital ward; and the re-re-animated head of the first film's Dr. Hill, back from the (very) dead for no better reason than that returning actor David Gale needed work.
It turns out to be a good thing he's back, because Gale's brand of manic energy is in short supply here. ("Are we having fun yet?" he cries midway through the action climax; it's a really good question.) Fry and Keith work up a few daffy and diverting bits of comic excess--there's a stop-motion critter made of five severed fingers and an eyeball that makes trouble, and Hill's head eventually flies about, carried aloft on bat wings--that the FX guys execute as well as you could expect on a tiny budget, but the results are merely absurd rather than inspired. Bride of Re-Animator hasn't inherited its predecessor's way with words, nor does it show much interest in its outré psychosexual subtext. Yuzna has spent enough time on a set that he knows where to put a camera, and it surely helps that his DP, Rick Fichter, was an accomplished special-effects cameraman at ILM and elsewhere, but too much of the film is stiff. Although the dialogue between Combs and Abbott has some snap and crackle, other conversations unfold lifelessly, riddled by unnatural silences. A good example of the general malaise is the sex scene between Abbott and Udenio, which plays like everyone involved, including Yuzna, is doped up on cough syrup. If there were any clear directorial indication that the sense of discomfort was deliberate--that Dan is so wrecked by his lost love with Meg that he can only feign intimacy with another woman--it might be effective. But since Yuzna shoots it straight, complete with harps and violins on the soundtrack, it seems like everybody's just embarrassed.
Still, Yuzna knew how to get the money shots, and for the climactic burst of Grand Guignol he assembled a dream team of makeup effects artists comprising his Society collaborator Screaming Mad George along with Empire staple John Carl Buechler and the trio (Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger) behind then-newly-formed KNB EFX Group. Buechler was in charge of Dr. Hill's head, and KNB created the Bride's corpse-body, replete with all manner of gooey accoutrements. It's George, though, who brings something special to the table, using prosthetics to build out disturbing examples of West's sewn-together corpses. The glimpses we get of them are disquieting, like something glimpsed through a peephole or put on display in a darkened carnival tent. I wouldn't say they leave you wanting more, exactly, but they're definitely creepy. While Re-Animator had a more explosive, confrontational, and cartoonish energy, the FX work here is, in its collision of the gothic and the surreal, not just uncanny in the usual sense--it also evokes that special something that Freud called the unheimlich. That inimitable brand of weirdness is a little shot of rejuvenating adrenaline, and it keeps Bride of Re-Animator from being an entirely stale sequel.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Bride of Re-Animator gets a hero's welcome on Blu-ray from Arrow Video in a Limited Edition that bundles the R-rated theatrical cut with a director-approved transfer of the unrated version, both of which are presented in 1080p at HDTV's native aspect ratio of 1.78:1.* Running times are identical for the pair--the removed snippets of gore were replaced with a matching amount of alternate footage in every case, presumably to keep the audio from going out of sync (but requiring jarring edits)--as is picture quality, more or less. Though the shots restored to the unrated version do come from a noticeably lesser source (per Arrow's liner notes, they're culled from a composite master positive, versus the second-generation interpositive used for the rest of the film--which I think means there are two optical generations of difference between them), the results aren't jarring. Overall the image is pretty solid, with detail visible deep into the shadows. Dynamic range is balanced in a way that feels right for a movie of this vintage, and saturation can be appropriately rich, especially during the colourful climax. Film grain is OK but looks to have been attenuated somewhat, as artifacts are visible on step-frame viewing. That said, digital noise reduction and dust-busting algorithms don't appear to have done much damage as far as sharpness goes.
When it comes to audio, there's an issue. The picture's end credits clearly indicate that Bride of Re-Animator was mixed for Ultra Stereo, a matrixed surround-sound format similar to four-track Dolby Stereo. That means the uncompressed PCM 2.0 soundtrack should decode to four-channel surround when Pro-Logic is engaged in a home-theatre system--and that's not the case here. Instead, the soundfield collapses to the centre speaker, as you'd expect from a mono recording split into two identical channels. The sound quality is actually strong, given the obvious limitations of the original recording, so it's unclear what happened on the way to the encoder. As the liner notes indicate the audio was sourced from a Digital Betacam tape of the stereo mix, explaining that it was "restored with great care" and that it "exhibited several mixing errors," it's hard to tell what happened. A Google search reveals that a few sound-savvy viewers have noted the problem, but Arrow apparently has yet to address it. Even though the film plays fine in mono, this still seems like a screw-up.
Three different audio commentaries--one brand new, two more ported over from old DVD releases--grace the unrated Bride, providing a deep dive for those who won't mind watching the film multiple times over. Arrow Video commissioned a new yak-track with director Brian Yuzna, who is prodded for anecdotes by horror documentarian David Gregory. It's a solid overview of the project, from its rushed pre-production to the final edits made for the sake of the MPAA. He is at least realistic about the movie's shortcomings, acknowledging several of its weaknesses. (At one point, Gregory asks Yuzna if he's ever watched Bride of Re-Animator with Stuart Gordon, and Yuzna responds, "No, no--I don't think Stuart was very happy about it." You think?) The second yakker is an ensemble effort in which Yuzna is joined by actor Combs, make-up effects artists Berger, Kurtzman, George, Buechler, and Mike Deak, and special-effects coordinator Tom Rainone. The emphasis is on the gory details, as you'd expect, but Yuzna and Combs dwell on some more mundane production notes, too. Combs returns on the third track, where he's teamed with co-star Abbott. They make the best possible audience for this film, bantering with each other as well as talking back at whoever's on screen at any given moment, MST3K-style. Their track is fun if skippable--easily the most entertaining yet least informative of the three.
The featurettes cover much of the same territory with a higher information density. "Getting Ahead in Horror: H.P. Lovecraft's Bride of Re-Animator" (24 mins.) is an assemblage of vintage shot-on-SD-video B-roll footage, about as delightful a time-capsule of the film's makeup FX processes as a fan could ask for. (Another 14 minutes of this stuff is on the second Blu-ray, alongside the R-rated version of the film.) The 15-minute "Splatter Masters: The Special Effects Artists of Bride of Re-Animator" (HD) is a contemporary revisitation of the same subject, reassembling the key players--Kurtzman, Buechler, George, and Anthony Doublin--for additional commentary. Yuzna explains that so many different firms were brought in because of the quantity of work that needed to be done under tight deadlines. Key takeaway: Screaming Mad George got the shaft, as the shots involving his work were last on the schedule, and production overruns meant that the window of time for shooting his scenes kept getting shorter and shorter. Clocking it at just under 10 minutes is "Brian Yuzna Remembers H.P. Lovecraft's Bride of Re-Animator" (HD), wherein Yuzna details the circumstances of the project. The best bit comes at the beginning, when he describes the creative team's gonzo original take on a Re-Animator sequel (it took place in the basement of the White House), jettisoned once the decision was made to proceed without Gordon's input.
"Meg Is Re-Animated" is a deleted scene, slightly more than two minutes long, that picked up right at the end of Re-Animator, after Dan injected Meg's corpse with the glowing green re-animation juice. (Mary Sheldon subs for Crampton, who reputedly declined to take such a small part in the sequel.) It's presented as an analog videotape transfer from an unfinished workprint without music and effects, so the results are roughly VHS quality. Following it are nearly six minutes of behind-the-scenes video from the shoot, offering a fly-on-the-wall perspective that lets us see, among other things, how genuinely shaken Sheldon seems to be after multiple takes of convulsing wildly while crying out, "Don't let me go back to the dark." "Carnival Sequence," running about two minutes, is a slideshow of stills from a deleted scene involving the discovery of Dr. Hill's severed head at a carnival show, accompanied by commentary from Yuzna, Combs, Buechler, and (I think) Rainone. Also featured is a trailer (in HD) that hits all of Bride's high points, making it look about 100% crazier than it is.
A third disc offers a DVD version of the unrated cut plus extras. Arrow's full limited-edition package was not provided for review, but it's said to contain a booklet with a new essay by Michael Blyth and a reprint of 1992's Re-Animator: Dawn of the Re-Animator, an "official comic book prequel" to the first film. Well, talk about complete: this is a meaty, comprehensive package that offers everything except, perhaps, some kind of critical or scholarly take on the film and how it draws on the enduring Lovecraft and Frankenstein mythologies. Otherwise, with the exception of the monaural audio track, Arrow has done everything humanly possible to give Bride of Re-Animator new life on Blu-ray.
*1.78:1 is technically incorrect because it doesn't correspond to any theatrical exhibition format of the time, but it's close enough to 1.85:1 that it doesn't make a difference. return