Re-Animator producer Brian Yuzna took over the director’s chair for the sequel, and also co-wrote the screenplay with Rick Fry and Woody Keith, who had written his directorial debut, the same year’s Society. Together, the trio were able to extract enough elements from H.P. Lovecraft’s short story source material that hadn’t made it into the first film, these elements primarily coming from the last two of the story’s six chapters, to build an entire second film around. Yuzna also took the series further down the path of being a twist on the Frankenstein tale, as the title gives away.
Although four years had passed between productions, the sequel picks up just eight months later. In Lovecraft’s story, Herbert West’s quest to acquire fresh human specimens on which to conduct his experiments attempting to bring the dead back to life led him and his assistant to enlist in World War I. Since the cinematic adaptations were set in the modern day, Bride of Re-Animator opens with West and his reluctant sidekick Dan Cain volunteering as battlefield medics during a civil war in Peru.
Lovecraft wrote that West eventually found tissue from reptiles helpful in his research. Yuzna, Fry, and Keith write that it’s amniotic fluid extracted from iguanas that West has found to be a fine new ingredient for his glowing green reanimation serum.
In their medic tent, West and Cain do their best to save the lives of the wounded soldiers that are brought in to them, but if a soldier happens to die from his wounds, West doesn’t mind at all. He injects them with his serum, they come back to life, he takes notes of how the process went, then kills them again with a shot to the head.
When their tour of duty comes to an end, West and Cain return to Arkham, Massachusetts, moving into a large home right at the edge of a cemetery, a house that used to belong to the cemetery caretaker. A perfect place for these ghoulish doctors. They even find that an old crypt can be accessed by knocking a hole in the basement wall.
They also go back to work at the Miskatonic Medical School and hospital, where their experiments inadvertently led to a massacre eight months earlier. Investigations are ongoing.
A doctor named Graves is in charge of all the body parts left over from the massacre and spends his time trying to figure out why they’re not decomposing… and also messing around with the bottle of West’s serum that he happened to come across in the aftermath.
Police detective Leslie Chapman is very determined to get to the bottom of what happened at Miskatonic. Partly because a naked maniac attacked his partner when they responded to the call about bad things going down at the hospital, and partly because of the condition of some of the survivors of the massacre. People who were declared dead before the events of that night, but are somehow still alive… Mindless zombies, locked up in the psych ward… And one of those dead people turned psych patients is Chapman’s wife.
On top of all the other mysteries, body parts have been coming up missing at the hospital recently. Now, who could be stealing body parts?
Why, of course it’s our franchise star, Herbert West.
While Cain continues to struggle with the death of his girlfriend Meg eight months earlier, herself a victim of the massacre, he becomes fixated with a cancer patient named Gloria, even coming to think of her as Meg. “Meg who lived.” Unfortunately, Gloria doesn’t live much longer than Meg did, soon succumbing to her illness… And further breaking Cain’s heart and mind.
Cain has a secondary love interest in the film, Francesca, an Italian woman who served with the doctors in Peru, and Francesca finds that spending the night in the house shared by Cain and West can be a very terrifying experience…
West eventually reveals to Cain what he has planned for the body parts he has stolen from Miskatonic. Inspired by how his nemesis Doctor Carl Hill had been able to control his body even after his head was severed from it in the previous film, West believes that consciousness resides in every part of the body, not just the mind, and so individual parts of a person can be re-animated, it doesn’t have to be a complete corpse. After testing his theory by making monstrous, nightmarish things like a creature made of nothing but fingers and an eyeball, West wants to go all the way with this experimentation – creating a whole new human being from parts assembled from multiple corpses, “the remnants of a meaningless existence”. The feet of a ballet dancer, the legs of a prostitute, the womb of a virgin, the arms of a waitress, a lawyer’s hand, the hand of a murderess… And he wins Cain over by including the heart of Meg and the head of Gloria.
As ever, West’s experiments go horrifically wrong all through the picture, creating disgusting abominations and more crazed, raging zombies. While most of the reanimated are mindless shells of their former selves, the decapitated Doctor Hill retains his intellect, and when Graves revives the severed head he becomes a servant to it on its mission for revenge. Hill is even able to telepathically communicate with his fellow reanimated, ultimately leading them on a charge against the man who made them what they are… And since his body was destroyed, Hill needs another way to get around, so he has bat wings attached to the sides of his head so he can fly.
That paragraph likely gives away the fact that the humor that was present in the first movie was amped up a great deal for the sequel. While still unnerving and at times quite serious, Bride of Re-Animator is also a very funny movie at times. The lines and antics of the head of Hill are quite amusing, Cain trying to keep Detective Chapman from spotting the finger creature as it scampers around the house is pure comedy, and West’s lines are often funny, even though he certainly doesn’t intend them to be.
My favorite laugh line of the film is delivered by West during a frantic moment: “He’s a wife beater, Dan, use the gun!”
Jeffrey Combs again did fantastic work as Herbert West. The character is totally fixated on his research and goes to extremes to keep it on track, even resorting to murder when necessary, but he’s not the total creep that Lovecraft wrote about. The narrator of Lovecraft’s story, West’s assistant, always feared West, feeling like he could snap and kill him in the name of science, but here West actually shows some warmth and caring toward Dan Cain, in his own strange way. Bruce Abbott plays the role of Cain very well, displaying that his character is now very tortured by his conscience. It’s not entirely logical that he would stick by West’s side, but he has obviously been driven slightly out of his mind by what he has experienced. David Gale is wonderfully amusing as Hill(‘s head), and actresses Fabiana Udenio (Summer School) and Kathleen Kinmont (Halloween 4), always welcome presences in any movie, are the sympathetic Francesca and Gloria.
Since her character provides the head, Kinmont also gets to play the titular Bride when she rises from the slab, performing with jerky movements reminiscent of Elsa Lanchester as the Bride of Frankenstein… But like every West experiment, the creation of the Bride doesn’t go well.
Bride of Re-Animator is a great sequel, effectively recapturing the tone of the first film, adding some more humor to it, and expanding on the story in a smart and entertaining way, not only focusing on the continuation of West’s experiments, but also dealing with the aftermath of what those experiments caused the first time around, and examining how those events affected the characters’ mental states.
Unlike some sequels, Bride of Re-Animator isn’t just a cash-in thrown together without any real thought behind it. Yuzna and his cohorts came up with a good reason to return to the world of Herbert West and crafted a story worth telling. They put in a very commendable effort.
Herbert West gets the credit within the film itself, but his monsters were actually created by a special effects dream team including the likes of John Carl Beuchler, KNB, and Screaming Mad George, who did terrific work bringing these horrors to life. After death.