Note: The Bride of Re-Animator is 27 years old. There will be some minor spoilers in this review.
Bride of Re-Animator is the 1989 follow up to the 1985 gonzo horror comedy classic Re-Animator. This time around, Brian Yuzna, producer of the first film, takes over directorial duties from Stuart Gordon. He is joined by original cast members Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott,and David Gale, but original female lead Barbara Crampton does not return, and her presence is sorely missed. While Mr. Yuzna, his cast, and the effects crew try valiantly to match the humor, gore, and overall entertainment value of the first film, they are poorly served by a weak script. The script mashes up two of H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West—Reanimator stories with the early cinematic versions of Frankenstein, and yet it still does not have the same spark of life as the original Re-Animator.
Picking up eight months after the Miskatonic Massacre that was the finale of the first film, Bride of Re-animator opens by re-introducing us to Dr. Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) and Dr. Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott). Somehow, which is never quite explained, Dr. West has survived being strangled by rogue reanimated entrails at the end of the first film. The two doctors/mad scientists have relocated to a battlefield hospital in the middle of the Peruvian civil war. Dr. Cain appears to be there to make up for past misdeeds by saving lives, while Dr. West is there primarily because it provides him with easy access to raw materials, i.e. iguanas and freshly dead bodies, to help further his research. As Dr. West is dispatching yet another failed experiment, Francesca Danelli (Fabiana Udenio), a beautiful Italian mercenary, bursts into the tent to tell them to evacuate. Before they can escape, a soldier bayonets Dr. Cain in the stomach. The action then moves to Miskatonic Hospital where the Dr. West and the now healed Dr. Cain have returned to work. Their positions provide them easy access to body parts, which they (well, primarily Dr. West) bring home to their basement laboratory in their house that abuts the cemetery. After his experiments with the decapitated corpse of Dr. Hill in the first film, Dr. West has decided to switch from reanimating intact corpses to using pieces of multiple expired patients to assemble and animate a do-it-yourself body, a la Frankenstein. Dr. West convinces Dr. Cain to help him by using the heart of Dr. Cain’s dead fiancee Megan (Barbara Crampton) as a key component in their new project. Along the way, Dr. Cain also starts up a relationship with Francesca, who has found her way to Massachusetts, as he also attends to a dying patient, Gloria (Kathleen Kinmont), who reminds him of Megan. Thwarting their efforts are a police lieutenant (Claude Earl Jones) investigating the Miskatonic Massacre for professional and personal reasons, an overly curious medical examiner (Mel Stewart), and the re-reanimated head of Dr. Hill (David Gale). Things, of course, get out of hand and come to an over-the-top, violent, and gorey conclusion.
As with the first film, Bride of Re-Animator is very loosely based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Herbert West – Reanimator short stories. In this case, key elements are taken from sections IV: The Scream of the Dead, V: The Horror from the Shadows, and VI: The Tomb-Legions. As one can tell from the title of the film, the story also uses parts of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, though the influence comes more from the Universal film versions than from Shelley’s actual novel. This is particularly interesting, as Lovecraft reported wrote the Herbert West stories as a parody of Shelley’s Frankenstein. One would think that with such rich source material, Mr. Yuzna and his co-writers, Rick Fry and Woody Keith, would come up with a film that keeps an audience interested for 96 minutes. Sadly, this is not the case. Bride of Re-Animator commits the cardinal sin of basically being boring for most of its run time, which is no small feat for a film filled with blood and gore. There are a couple of stand-out sequences, such as the finger creature segment and most of the finale, but it is a struggle to make it through the bulk of the film which connects the two. It is not that the film is bad; it is just that it never reaches the level of energy one feels from the first film. While the screenwriters try to include the over the top gore and gallows humor of Re-Animator, something about it just does not gel, never feeling like an organic whole.
The actors do their best with the script, but they are, for the most part, just not given much of interest to do. Jeffrey Combs is back as Herbert West, and he is by far the best thing in the film (well, actually, it is tie between him and the practical effects work). He jumps back into the role of West and delivers his lines in the wonderfully, and slightly hammy, restrained intensity that made his performance in the first film so fun. Alas, this time around, he just is not given that much memorable to say. Re-Animator had numerous great deadpan quips from his character, such as “Get a job in a sideshow” and “You steal the secret of life and death, and here you are trysting with a bubble-headed coed.” This time around, there just is nothing that sticks. It does not even feel like the writers tried to capture that aspect of the character. Bruce Abbott is even more poorly served by the script than Combs. Abbott’s Dr. Cain was a voice of reason who gets seduced into participating in West’s madness in the first film. Here, he is just a non-entity; there really is not much for his character to do except be swept along by the events. Interestingly enough, the one actor with the least lines has probably the most interesting character. Kathleen Kinmont plays the dual roles of Gloria and The Bride. While Gloria does not do much besides sicken and die, The Bride does get to play in body horror and mayhem. Kinmont adds a nice nod to the cinematic history of The Bride by borrowing some of Elsa Lanchester’s staccato movements from her turn as 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein.
The highlight of the film is the great practical and stop motion creature work. The only exception would be the optical work done with Dr. Hill’s final incarnation, which is not on par with the rest of effects. Early on, there is a really fun sequence where Dr. West demonstrates his theory of parts by creating and animating a creature made from four severed fingers and an eyeball. While the doctors are distracted by a visit from Lt. Chapham, the finger creature escapes the lab and runs around the living room risking exposing Dr. West’s experiments to the police lieutenant. The finger creature is brought to life by a mixture of very smooth stop motion work and on-set puppetry. It adds a much need sense of whimsy that is missing from much of the film. Most of the rest of the film only has sporadic small creature effects, until The Bride is reanimated in third act. She is worth the wait. I absolutely love the character design of The Bride. She is truly a patchwork girlfriend, with metal joints and braces holding disparate pieces together and exposed musculature and tendons. I do not know if it was intentional, but her overall look, from her frizzy hair to her gauze/rag covers to her skeletal/flesh stripped hands, reminds me of the The Monster from the very first cinematic version of Frankenstein in 1910. The Bride’s final fate is a thing of practical effects beauty (and horror). If you watch this film, I recommend the “Unrated” version, since it gives you a longer look at the effects tour de force that is The Bride and her fate.
It is not an easy thing to follow-up an instant and insane classic, such as Re-Animator. It is hard enough when you are trying to recreate your own success; it is even harder when you are replacing not only the original director but the original writers as well. Unfortunately, Bride of Re-Animator is unable to overcome these hurdles and fails to deliver a satisfactory sequel. The cast and crew try, but there is just not much there with which they can work. Pieces of the film, such as the Jeffrey Comb’s performance, the finger creature, and The Bride, work very well, but, in the end, the film can not keep it together and just falls apart.
Bride of Re-Animator (2.5 / 5)
The film is out now from Arrow Films and you can hear the Grue-Crew review the film on episode 82 of Decades of Horror 1980s