Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator is, easily, one of the best horror comedies of the 1980s. A worthy follow-up to that seemed nearly impossible, in part because the movie is so great and in part because it has an incredibly bleak ending for a feature of that type. All of the pieces were so scattered that there was really no way to just put them back together to form a sequel.
But of course, there was a sequel. It followed almost five years later, after Re-Animator had begun to build a cult audience. Although Stuart Gordon had intended to helm the sequel, directing duties ultimately went to the original’s producer, Brian Yuzna. While Gordon’s script would have been directly tied to the first, seeing Dan re-animate Barbara Crampton’s Meg, those plans eventually changed to a much more loosely connected entry.
While most viewers were initially frustrated with the way Bride of Re-Animator opens, I’ve come to actually think it’s pretty great. The movie doesn’t start out feeling like a direct sequel, even though it is. It just opens up with original duo Dan Cain and Herbert West—Herbert who is somehow alive and Dan who is somehow still working with this schmuck—continuing their research in Central America. We have no idea how long after the events of the original this is.
But that’s a lot easier than getting a sequel going over everything that happened after the ending of the first. Bride of Re-Animator allows the viewer to imagine what happened between the two features while jumping head-first into an expectedly bizarre new story. Having re-animated a severed head in the original, West knows he can now animate individual pieces and it leads him to the Frankenstein-ish experiment of the title. He’s using pieces, combining them together, to create a new life. Dan’s back in the action because West gets him on board by showing him that the creation will contain the beating heart of his beloved Meg.
It’s all a very obvious homage to James Whale’s classic Bride of Frankenstein. But what I love about this silly sequel is that it actually manages to hit those homage notes on every level. Bride of Frankenstein was more emotional than the first, while satirizing it at the same time, and that’s exactly what Bride of Re-Animator does.
While the chemistry between Dan and Meg was great in the original, his journey is much darker and possibly more interesting here. This is Dan finally realizing how much he and West have in common, how much he actually believes in their research, for completely different reasons. But he also realizes how much he can take before he sees his colleague for the mad scientist he truly is. He’s still the Dan we met in the original who couldn’t stand to lose a single patient. West’s relationship with Dan, alternatively, makes him more obviously sinister than in the first film.
Meg was the only one who saw West for how unsettling and cold he really was, and now she’s gone. There’s a surprisingly strong emotional core to the movie as we see West use the motivation of Meg’s heart to ensure that Dan will help him in the experiment. He could have used any heart, realistically, but he used the heart of the woman Dan loved and the body of a woman Dan tried to save so that Dan would not leave him.
Many have noted the homoerotic subtext between Dan and West in the Re-Animator series over the years, but to me that’s all much clearer in Bride than it even is in the first. The jealousy between them, the emotional manipulation—it may be an abusive relationship, but it’s a relationship nonetheless.
These character arcs provide a serious emotional core that a film like Bride of Re-Animator needs in order to work. But at the same time, the whole premise is inherently ridiculous. The original film was a cult classic horror comedy. The only way a sequel like Bride works is to be even more ridiculous and that’s exactly what it does.
Just look at the overreaching villain and that’s clear. In the first, you had Dr. Hill’s severed head being carried around by his body, and it was hilarious, but now all grounded reality and logic is out the window as Hill returns with bat wings attached to his head. Every single shot of the severed head flying through the air, badly superimposed as it might be, is hilarious. Much of Bride seems to be built on heightening those absurd moments from the first and uping the ante to the point that the viewer can’t not have fun with it. In that respect, it’s got a lot in common with the classic Evil Dead II.
Bride hits a lot of the same beats of the original, but that’s intentional. It’s sending up the first in an interesting way, more overtly funny with some ridiculous sight and gore gags, but bringing an emotional centeredness as well. That’s why I think it works better than it should as a sequel and why it succeeds where I think Beyond Re-Animator didn’t. This is a solid follow-up that brings a lot of the quirky, raw, perversely humorous emotion that Yuzna would eventually serve up in Return of the Living Dead 3.
The film even recreates the ending of Bride of Frankenstein, essentially, with West actually taking the place of the Karloff creature when his creation shows no interest in him. It’s a colorful sequence, playing off the traditionally moody and gothic tone of Frankenstein and others of the type. It’s also an incredibly gory sequence, maybe one of the goriest I’ve ever seen, to the point that even I have a seriously hard time watching when the bride removes her heart to present it to Dan and then literally comes apart at the seams.
Easily one of the most underrated horror sequels of all time, Bride of Re-Animator is as gory as it is goofy, but that’s part of what’s made it last this long. It might not be the near-perfect horror comedy that the original is, but it’s still fresh enough in our eyes.