For the past 13 years, Dr. Herbert West has been serving a prison sentence due to a murder at the hands of one of his zombies.
With what scant supplies he has on hand in the prison medical center, Dr. West has been capable of performing only extremely basic experiments on rats. However, his lack of supplies does not prevent him from uncovering a key element in his re-animation process. Dr. West has discovered "NPE" (Nano-Plasmic Energy), an energy that can be extracted from the brain of a living organism through an electrocution-like process, to be stored in a capsule resembling a small light bulb. The capsule can then be connected to a corpse and used in conjunction with West's previously developed reagent to restore the former dead to a lifelike state. The NPE prevents the degeneration seen in previous instances, where the reanimated are nothing more than mindless zombies. Used together with the re-agent, reanimated corpses regain their skills, memories, and motor functions and nearly fully resemble normal humans.
When a young doctor named Howard Phillips comes to work at the prison, West is assigned to assist the new doctor. Due to Phillips' interest in Dr. West's research, West is able to attain the supplies and tools needed to bring his experiments to the next level. It is revealed that Phillips is the younger brother of the teenage girl who was killed by West's zombie (he is shown watching West being taken away by the cops) and came to the prison for the explicit purpose of working with him. Despite his interest, Phillips still maintains an ethical reluctance to allow West's research to full completion. In the meantime, journalist Laura Olney, covering a story for her newspaper at the prison, meets and begins an affair with Dr. Phillips, and they fall in love. This new romance only temporarily postpones West's experiment, however. After the warden of the prison, also infatuated with Laura, attempts to seduce Laura himself, she resists and he angrily kills her.
Crushed by Laura's death, Dr. Phillips succumbs to Dr. West's wishes and his experiments are allowed to literally take on new life. West & Phillips revive Laura with the NPE, although it is quickly seen that the dangerous side effects of West's past work are still present with the NPE. Eventually, the warden of the prison uncovers West's experiments and moves to put an end to them, but he is killed by West, and subsequently re-animated. West uses the NPE from a prisoner's pet rat, causing some unexpected side effects in the warden's behavior. It quickly manifests itself as the prison descends into utter chaos as a riot breaks out, with vials of the reagent circulating through the population. Soon, it is unclear who is dead, who is alive, and who has been exposed to the agent.
When the chaos finally settles from the bloody prison riot, West escapes captivity before the guards appear by stealing Phillips' I.D. when he comes across Phillips weeping over Laura's decapitated body. As police and authorities take control of the prison, Phillips is dragged away as he and Laura's head start laughing. Herbert West is shown putting on his glasses outside the prison and disappears into the night to continue his research.
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