With all apologies to Jane Austen: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a mad scientist in possession of the secrets of life and death must be in want of a bride. This is the very position that Herbert West and his perpetually unsure assistant, Dan Cain, find themselves in at the open of Bride of Re-Animator, second flick in the Re-Animator series.
After the bloodbath in the Miskatonic Uni hospital that closed the last flick, West and Cain have become Doctors Without Frontier-style volunteers helping patch up the wounded members of a disorganized and badly whipped rebel army in some third world Latin American jungle nation. We quickly learn that the good doctors are not motivated entirely by the better angels of their nature. The surrounding jungles are home to a lizard that produces a chemical that will help West perfect his frustratingly imprecise re-animating agent. Plus, living in a war-zone insures that you get plenty of access to fresh people meat for you experiments. But all good things come to an end and the good doctors are forced to scoot when government soldiers overrun the rebels' hospital. The doctors return to the MU hospital and move into an old caretakers house on the edge of a graveyard – a convenient location as West's need to re-animate dead tissue is becoming increasing like a junkie's need to hit a crack pipe. His new formula re-animating agent means he can now bring individual parts to life and West begins to express his artistic side by creating freakish beasts out of random parts and giving them life. Eventually West and Cain hit upon the scheme of creating an entirely new person out of carefully selected parts. Set against them are a Arkham PD detective who has an axe to grind with West and the still not entirely dead disembodied head of Dr. Carl Hill, West's nemesis from the first film. If that's not enough for you, we also get a new love interest for Cain.
And they pack it all into a slender 93 minutes.
Not unlike the first two flicks in the classic Universal Frankenstein series, Re-Animator and Bride of Re-Animator are interesting in so much as, despite the continuity of story and crew (the producer of the first flick in now the director of the second flick), the films have really different moods and styles. The first Re-Animator focused heavily on the seething creepiness of Herbert West. The plot was a slow build punctuated by ever nastier and more tasteless scenes of gross-out humor. In contrast, the second film is a demolition derby of subplots and surreal scenes. Incidents and plot points pile up willy-nilly as the flick barrels towards its conclusion. The director of the first flick, horror film's go-to Lovecraft adaptor Stuart Gordon, is a more capable and careful director. Brian Yuzna, who helms the second film, takes a more stylish and kinetic approach. Where Gordon used the clean polished surfaces and monotonous florescent lighting of MU Hospital as a counterpoint to the typical gothic trappings of a standard mad scientist flick, Yuzna throws shadows everywhere and loves packing scenes full of grisly details. In the first film, every character seemed caught up in the gravitational pull of West's barely contained insanity. Here, everybody seems to have lost it a little bit, become a little unhinged. All except for West, who comes of as a more boyish and petulant character. Viewers will get more of the bizarre effects from the first one. The gore-level is upped, West's re-animated freaks show some inventive monster design, and the bride creature is wonderfully horrific and pathetic at the same time. In only one instance are the effects not up to the task and hand: the flying head Carl Hill, which has been stitched to a pair bat wings, long pretty bad. (And this is a shame because a maniac head flapping around on bat wings is an almost perfect summary of the surreal aesthetic of this film – if only it had looked better.)
All and all, Bride is an excellent sequel. It extends the story of the first film in a logical way, but is stylistically unique enough to not feel like a retread. Is madcap pacing is a bit sloppy, but it ensures that the viewer is never bored.