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Arrow Video’s Bride of Re-Animator [1989, BD Release]

Arrow Video recently released a handsome edition of Brian Yuzna’s Bride of Re-Animator. For those who are familiar with his previous producing work, like the first Re-Animator (1985) and From Beyond (1986, both directed by Stuart Gordon), both adapted and/or inspired from H.P. Lovecraft’s tales, Bride of Re-Animator will deliver with gory, gooey persistence. The tagline for Juan Piquer Simón’s slasher masterpiece (slashterpiece?) Pieces (1982) comes to mind when thinking of Yuzna’s Lovecraftian output—“It’s exactly what you think it is!” Excessive guts and odd fluids, mixed with a whimsical humor so characteristic of much industry horror output of the mid to late 1980’s, yields an off the wall formula that spells out the odd last name “Yuzna.” 1989 was a good year for the filmmaker, who in addition to Bride of Re-Animator, also co-produced the mega-hit Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and directed the highly subversive Lovecraft/Burroughs mash up Society.

As revealed in the useful extras included with the new blu ray disc, which include interviews with the director and special effects people, Bride of Re-Animator is a hastily put together work that has a freewheeling spirit in production, just as much as story. It isn’t a difficult film to follow, but doesn’t hit all the plot points of a polished production. As film critic and festival programmer Michael Blyth mentions in the liner notes of the new blu ray, ”one of the most immediately striking things about Bride of Re-Animator is its defiant lack of narrative cohesion.”  Essentially it is a mixture of Lovecraft characters and mood, particularly the fifth and sixth episodes of the novella ‘Herbert West—Reanimator,’ with the story outline of James Whale’s 1935 horror cornerstone Bride of Frankenstein added in for slightly more complexity. On top of this, composer Richard Band added a synthy rendition of Bernard Hermann’s score for Psycho (1960), to solidify the genre mold. Additionally, the movie is injected with Dr Herbert West’s (Jeffrey Combs) glowing, neon green mixture of iguana’s amniotic fluid, primordial ooze, etc, that synthesizes the madcap cocktail into an entertaining yarn.

Bride includes many similarities to the first Re-Animator in an attempt to attract audiences with consistency. This time, Dr West works with Dr Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott) during medical volunteer work in a Peruvian civil war, only to bring back secrets of raising the dead to the fictional, hallowed haunts of Miskatonic Hospital in Arkham, Massachusetts. Cain goes along with West’s wild plans because of his desire to bring his dead lover Meg back to life. Meanwhile, a snooping cop (Claude Earl Jones) keeps checking up on them, with suspicions involving missing body parts from the hospital. As the film goes on, the plot unravels until we are left with the bride alluded to in the title, as well as a grotesque brigade of West’s experiments, fused together in awful combinations of body parts.

One aspect that makes Bride of Re-Animator succeed is its humor, which belies the Lovecraftian elements involved; seldom, if never, were the author’s words and stories able to take on a funny tone, dwelling much too far in the cosmic horror direction. It appears as though Yuzna wanted the audience to laugh as much as scream in those moments full of squirting blood or foaming mouths. In some cases, the film just rehashes gags from the original Re-Animator. For example, the first film included a scene in which West brings a house cat back to life—to amusing and sad effect—much like he brings a dog back from the dead in Bride, only this time replacing one of the dog’s legs with a human hand and forearm. One of the funniest lines of dialog occurs so quickly it could be perceived as an improvisation. After the cop on their trail dies accidentally in West’s lab, the doctor reanimates him as a way to avoid responsibility for the death. As the zombie cop wreaks havoc upon the lab, West yells to the hesitant Cain, “he’s a wife beater Dan, use the gun!” It is the type of line that really must be seen and heard to be appreciated.

Another interesting aspect of the film, mentioned by Michael Blythe in the liner notes and now unable to not be noticed is a queer subtext. Also qualifying the predecessors Bride of Frankenstein and Island of Lost Souls (1932), Blythe states, “This obsession with non-traditional conception infuses these films with a gay subtext, offering early examples of the on-screen domestic homosexual couple and possibilities of gay parenting, something which can similarly be witnessed in the relationship between West and Cain.” The film gives us two men casually living together, attempting to raise a being (from the dead). They bicker about possibly ending things, but ultimately not leaving each other. Cain forgets his date with the pretty Italian, Francesca (Fabiana Udenio), and then later when she wakes expecting him to be at her side, he has already quietly left the bed to be with West in the lab… These examples and more give the opportunity for viewers to see a parallel storyline with the two men in a romantic relationship, while also never being so obvious as to make that an official sub-plot of the movie.

Arrow Video’s new edition of Bride of Re-Animator comes to us in the form of a sleek blu ray steelbook casing, which opens up to reveal the disc and booklet. The disc includes a 2K restoration of the film, along with commentary tracks by director Yuzna, actor Jeffrey Combs, and members of the special effects teams, including Tom Rainone, John Buechler, Mike Deak, Robert Kurtzman, Howard Berger and Screaming Mad George. We also have featurettes regarding Yuzna and his memories of making the film, as well as one focused on the special effects teams. A couple deleted scenes seem to be thrown in at the end. The booklet includes a number of good still photos from the film as well as Michael Blyth’s aforementioned piece “Here Comes the Bride.” Long time fans of the film and/or Yuzna’s Lovecraftian cinema will definitely want a copy of this handsome addition in their home, although some viewers coming to it with no context may be left cold.

About Joseph E. Dwyer

Born on a Friday the 13th, Joseph Dwyer has an ambivalent relationship with horror cinema that ranges from visceral pleasure to investigative schizoanalytics. He holds two master’s degrees from the San Francisco Art Institute, as both a filmmaker and theorist. He is unmoved by most contemporary art, and currently looks to the horror genre as a potential space for new perspectives on desire and dissent.

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