Get Lovecraft-y With the Latest Vestron Video Classics: ‘Beyond Re-Animator’ and ‘Dagon’

Beyond-Reanimator-Dagon

There is a subset of Team GeekDad—specifically Preston and me—who simply can’t get enough of cheesy horror movies. As such, Lionsgate’s Vestron Video Collector’s Series has become a topic of some discussion around the (virtual) water cooler. For fans of the works of H.P. Lovecraft in particular, the latest additions to the line should prove particularly interesting.

First up is Beyond Re-Animator, the third installment of the film series based on Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West: Reanimator.” Like the 1985 original and 1990’s Bride of Re-Animator, Beyond Re-Animator stars Jeffrey Combs as the dry, sardonic, literally death-defying Dr. West. Unlike those older films, however, Beyond was released in 2003, meaning that its distinctly old-school slant runs rather counter to its actual production timeline.

Beyond Re-Animator opens with a grisly killing at the hands of one of West’s resurrection experiments, then flashes forward 13 years into his subsequent incarnation. Young doctor Howard Phillips comes to work as the prison’s physician, only to request Dr. West as his assistant. Unsurprisingly, Phillips is revealed to be the grown-up younger brother of the teen slaughtered in the movie’s opener, and his interest in Herbert West’s green glowing reagent leads him to provide the mad doctor with both supplies and assistance in his ghastly experiments.

Central to the film’s plot are journalist Laura Olney (who becomes Howard’s lover and, subsequently, Herbert’s test subject), the sadistic Warden Brando, and Dr. West’s latest discovery, Nano-Plasmic Energy. NPE, West theorizes, can be harvested from dying subjects and, when used in tandem with his reagent, can return otherwise crazed zombies to a more rational, lifelike state.

This, of course, turns out not to be the case, and what follows is a veritable orgy of violence and death, all set to the rousing tune of a good, old-fashioned prison riot.

While Stuart Gordon’s original Re-Animator remains a cult classic, Beyond tries its best but never quite gets there. The creature and body-horror effects—most achieved using traditional practical and green screen techniques—are starkly uneven, if not universally nauseating. The acting and writing are laughable, even by B-movie standards, and much of its over-the-top violence is unfortunately sexualized.

To put it in perspective, the theatrical cut of 1985’s Re-Animator was so violent that it was famously rated X, specifically because the video rental facilities at the time were not permitted to rent unrated content. Beyond Re-Animator‘s claim to fame, on the other hand, is an extended sequence in which a zombie mouse absconds with a severed penis. Which, I reckon we can all agree, is a far less grandiose legacy.

For fans of the series or schlock cinema in general, though, this Vestron release isn’t without its charms. The limited edition Blu-ray boasts a stellar transfer with crystal-clear audio, and it certainly doesn’t skimp on the bonus content.

There’s an interview featurette and audio commentary featuring director Brian Yuzna, a “Death Rode Sideshow” interview with fan-favorite Combs, production art, trailers, and a special sit-down with I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft author S.T. Joshi. Best of all, there’s an isolated score selection and audio interview with composer Xavier Capellas, whose music is the unquestionable highlight of the movie.

Like Beyond Re-Animator, 2001’s Dagon is another American-Spanish co-production based on the works of Lovecraft. Set in the desolate beachside squalor of Imboca, Spain, though, the mix of native English- and Spanish-speaking cast is a bit easier to swallow this time around than in the previous American house of detention.

Based more on 1931’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth than 1917’s titular “Dagon,” this film sees Paul Marsh (Ezra Godden) and a handful of unfortunate yacht-mates washed ashore near the aforementioned Imboca. This quaint Spanish hamlet, it turns out, is more than it seems—meaning in this case that it’s inhabited by bloodthirsty fish-people… and a single human town drunk (Francisco Rabal, in his last role), specifically for narrative flashback purposes.

In short order, Paul’s friends Vicki and Howard are dispatched and his girlfriend, Barbara, offered as a sacrifice to the fishy Great Old One himself, Dagon.

That’s not to totally gloss over the plot, which concerns young Mr. Marsh slowly realizing that he, too, is genetically tied to this perpetually waterlogged fishing village, or its (sort of) twist ending. Still, it’s all fairly straightforward Lovecraftian fare, but with a few notable exceptions.

First and foremost, the film is decidedly low-tech, which helps add a kernel of verisimilitude to the outlandish conceit of devolving Spanish fisherman. Secondly, while the acting is decidedly mediocre overall, the inclusion of Rabal and, to an even great extent, young Macarena Gómez as the tentacled mermaid/high priestess/half-sister/creepy new love interest Uxía Cambarro adds a nice element of scenery-chewing to the requisite grunts, groans, and screams.

Personally, I have a soft spot for Dagon as an unsung Stuart Gordon classic, and (again), like Beyond Re-Animator, the disc’s supplementary materials will prove fascinating to genre fanboys. Audio commentary tracks from Gordon, screenwriter Denis Paoli, and star Ezra Godden are a nice starting point, but the interview featurettes with Stuart Gordon (“Gods & Monsters”), producer—and, coincidentally, Beyond Re-Animator director—Brian Yunza, and H.P. Lovecraft biographer S.T. Joshi are the real meat on that bone.

If you, like me, are a horror-hound with a passion for both B-movies and Lovecraft’s weird fiction, definitely check out these latest Vestron Video Collector’s Editions when they hit shelves next Tuesday, July 24. Both are rated R for strong graphic violence/gore, sexual content/nudity, and language, though, so maybe don’t include them on your next family movie night.

Review materials provided by: Lionsgate Home Entertainment

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