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Thursday, October 4, 2018

Return of the Living Dead part II (1988)




Since I covered the original Return why not the sequel? This time around director Ken Wiederhorn takes over for Dan O’Bannon as we see that the military has lost yet another batch of barrels filled with zombies. Now you might be worried that the architect of what made the first one so good is gone, but Wiederhorn is responsible for one of my favorite non-Romero zombie movies ever, Shock Waves. I think we will be okay.

The plot here starts out with two groups of people that end up meeting after the zombie outbreak. One is a pair of grave robbers who look very familiar with a girlfriend in tow. They are about their business when the gas leaks from the drum and into the graveyard waking up all the locals. By that I of course mean the corpses! They also breath in the gas which isn’t a healthy thing for them to do. In an effort to escape they try to steal a cable installers truck and end up crashing it. This leads us to the other group of survivors.

The cable guy is at an installation at Jesse and Lucy’s house. Earlier we saw Jesse get bullied by some older kids who find the barrel and eventually open it. They also breath in the gas, which is again not healthy. Lucy is his hot older sister who is doing aerobics when the cable guy arrives. The three of them meet up with the other group when Tom, the cable guy’s name, chases down his wrecked truck. And then the zombies arrive. They all end up trying to get out of the neighborhood before getting their brains eaten by the recently no longer deceased. Along the way they pick up an alcoholic doctor to round things out. After much comedy and brain eating they have a big showdown at the power plant.

Squishy
Clearly this isn’t as good as the original Return of the Living Dead. That movie is a classic and if you watch the documentary on the new special edition Blu-Ray it turned out way better than it had any right to. So, there was some special magic involved that any sequel couldn’t possibly recapture. In a way, I think that they acknowledged that with the casting of Thom Matthews and James Karen as similar characters from the first movie. They breath the gas, die, turn into zombies, and Matthews’ character chases his girlfriend around a church trying to eat her brain. They even do some lines lifted right from the first movie. Heck Joey, Matthews’ character, even has the line, “I feel like we’ve been here before. You… Me… Them!” If you have to follow up a classic this is a clever way to address it.

While it doesn’t measure up to the original film Return of the Living Dead part II is still decent. I liked the characters, the humor is spot on, and the story is different enough to not feel like a retelling of the same story. I’ve always thought that the big finale at the power plant was great and making Jesse’s bully the villain was a neat twist. It also sets up a satisfyingly “shocking” ending. Hah I made a joke…

Zombies look good
Can’t talk about a zombie movie without looking at the makeup. This is where I notice a big difference between these movies. The makeup is okay on the featured zombies, but we get a lot of masks and shoddy looking costumes in the large crowd shots. Some of them are terrible looking and are on screen long enough that you can’t not notice them. They also make a huge mistake and bring Tarman back. Same actor is in the costume, but it is nowhere near the quality of the original. Probably should have skipped that one. The kills are okay, but we don’t see much of the brain eating. Certainly not as many cracked skulls being scooped out as in the first installment of the series. That was a bummer.

I did like the ending. It isn’t as much of a downer as the original and fits the more comedic tone of this movie. This one leans more towards the laughs and less towards the horror, which might be why so many Return of the Living Dead fans are dismissive of it. Obviously not as good as the original but I like it. Give it a shot if you can find a copy.


© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer

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