In the Re-Animator series, Jeffrey Combs plays his new-school Frankenstein character, Dr. Herbert West, as an asexual alpha nerd intent on rendering women disposable. Combs brings to the fore the subtext of most mad-scientist movies, which pivots on the need for men to co-opt reproduction, otherwise known as the one tenet of human life that indisputably belongs to women. The comedy of the first Re-Animator springs from the divide between what West says and does, as he spouts high-minded gibberish about breaking the ceiling of creation, while gorily doodling with body parts that manage to outsmart him, suggesting a relationship between a boy and his better-equipped laboratory frog. Combs has a delicious manner of throwing a haughty line away, seemingly dipping it in acid, underling West's resentment and delusion. In Re-Animator, he has a particularly sharp and telling remark in which he upbraids a newly deceased and dismembered (yet animate and amorous) rival for “trysting with a bubble-headed coed.” This is Herbert West in a nutshell. Women are meat for him, as they might be for many jocular thugs, but he dresses that inhumanity up in white-collar intellectualization.
Re-Animator is a classic blend of comedy and slapstick horror-movie ultra-violence, more exhilarating and resonant than the better known Evil Dead II. Stuart Gordon, a master of staging violence that reveals character, tethers his gore to the triangle existing between West, Dan (Bruce Abbott), and the latter's fiancé, Meg (Barbara Crampton). Meg wants Dan to build a life with her, while West beckons him to come and figuratively play out in the backyard, skipping dinner. The madness that results is a direct explosion of that tension, and every scene locks precisely into place, propelling the narrative forward, while also reveling in a looseness that gives the film a wild and wooly poignancy.
By contrast, Bride of Re-Animator is a cold and limp retread of the first film that seems to share West's contempt for the opposite sex. The story remains the same: Dan falls into bed with a well-endowed woman who worships him, which West homoerotically begrudges, leading to an orgy of limbs and guts. Brian Yuzna directs Bride of Re-Animator with little of Gordon's wit, dialing up the material's gothic overtones—the sets are clearly meant to recall the Universal monster movies of the 1930s and '40s—but fatally sleepwalking through nearly an hour's worth of exposition before revealing the titular corpse bride (Kathleen Kinmont). An assemblage of body parts topped with the head of a patient that Dan simultaneously lost and loved, West's newest creation reminds Dan of the deceased Meg. In fact, this body has Meg's heart, inspiring one to wonder, then, why West and Dan didn't merely bring Meg back wholesale (which would've fulfilled the first Re-Animator's cliffhanger), rather than navigating this convoluted route that only serves to underline the loss this film suffers with the absence of the charismatic Crampton.
The film opens with a pointless and barely comprehensible prologue in Peru only to bring West and Dan back to the hospital where the first entry was set. There's no sense in this narrative of inevitability—of an escalation of the characters' emotions into the realms of the surreal. The sketches lumber when they should sing, particularly a lame slapstick routine with West, Dan, a meddling cop, and an animate fusion of an eye and fingers that skitters across the floor like a spider. As in many horror-movie sequels, a lack of inspiration begets callousness, as it's apparently supposed to be uproarious when a corpse beats a dog to death and tears one of its legs apart from its body. The violence in Bride of Re-Animator has no finesse.
The film offers one unnerving image: of the Bride, her breasts exposed under a mesh lab outfit, begging Dan for an explanation of what he wants from her. In this moment, she stands for any wronged woman who has wondered what their abuser expects of them. But Yuzna doesn't film Kinmont with the sort of reverence that Gordon extended to Crampton, who was also put through potentially humiliating paces. Underneath its gleefully blasphemous trappings, Re-Animator is humanistic, and that unexpected counterpoint is the source of its kick. Bride of Re-Animator is simply blunt and sadistic.
The image is clean, though there are certain inconsistencies that are probably inherent to the source material, such as mismatched screens in the stop-motion sequences. But these imperfections give Bride of Re-Animator a lurid texture that's enriched by the bold colors, particularly the painterly reds and the soil-y browns that define the primary mad-scientist setting. Faces look a little pasty, but that's also of a piece with the film's evocatively low-rent vibe, which is the closest that Bride of Re-Animator comes to achieving style. Blacks are vivid and stable, and probably offer the strongest conventional testament to the benefits of this 2K restoration. The soundtrack foregrounds many of the big aural effects, providing a likeably blunt horror-movie blowout with plenty of popping, chopping, exploding, and ripping.
A new audio commentary with Brian Yuzna covers the bases concerning Bride of Re-Animator's storied production history, though the director tends to narrate the film as it unspools. Two older commentaries, the first featuring Yuzna and several special-effects technicians and the second spotlighting actors Jeffrey Combs and Bruce Abbott, respectively, are less interesting. In the first of these tracks, the number of participants serves to cancel everyone out, resulting in a conversational cacophony. In the actors' commentary, Combs and Abbott passively react to the film as they watch it, taking it about as seriously as it warrants, though they occasionally land an amusing zinger.
A new featurette with Yuzna discusses other ideas that were tossed around for Bride of Re-Animator, which are all annoyingly far superior to the premise that was used. Primarily known as a producer, Yuzna appears to think like a businessman rather than an artist, prioritizing the financing first and the film itself a distant second. (Stuart Gordon didn't direct because he wasn't willing to rush the story's development.) Yuzna contextualizes the film's nonsensical first act, confiding that Barbara Crampton passed on the project and that sequences explaining her absence (included in this set as deleted scenes) were cut. The most entertaining featurette covers the creation of the special effects, discussing the practicalities of making severed body parts that appear to move with sensibilities of their own. New artwork and an archive featurette round out a solid yet skippable supplements package.
Arrow's restoration of Bride of Re-Animator is affectionately beautiful and gnarly, though you're advised to stick with the first, vastly superior film.