If you’re looking for an excellent, fun little zombie film, filled with laughs, gore and general gross-outs... then watch ‘Return of the Living Dead.’ That’s ‘Part I’ that is. ‘Part II’ was basically ‘zombies for kids’ (even if it did try to follow on directly from the original and keep the humour/gore style intact. However, ‘Part III’ doesn’t really feel like part of the saga at all. Yes, it continues to chart what happens to barrels of the chemical ‘245 Trioxin’ (the stuff that creates zombies, if you’re interested!), but, apart from that, it’s a whole new film.
You can understand those who enjoyed the first one (and the second didn’t have too many fans to begin with) being disappointed with the third entry. It’s really a sequel in name only. But, believe it or not, not a bad film.
Yes, it doesn’t have a budget and no, it doesn’t really have any actors who are that famous, but it did have an original little concept (for its time). Back in 1993 the idea of zombies having an ‘inner conscious’ was actually something new. Since zombies came back into fashion, we’ve had all sorts of takes on that idea, but in the early nineties, when a girl dies before her time in a (easily prevented!) motorcycle accident, then her boyfriend uses his dad’s access to the military base and its stores of Trioxin to bring her back. Naturally, things don’t go to plan. Yes, his beloved Julie returns to him, but also with a desire to eat anyone not going out with her.
Don’t expect a masterpiece. It’s one of those films that, if you like the genre and can find it for free (it must be on Netflix or the like by now!), then you’ll probably enjoy it. The two primary characters are likable (if a little stupid at times) for you to care enough about and there’s some decent (non CGI) gore to keep the ‘claret-lovers’ happy.
on 12 June 2012
Much like Part II, this is a sequel that will not please all ROTLD fans, let alone all horror fans, let alone all viewers who might stumble onto it. Unlike Return of the Living Dead Part II, this one isn't much of a spoof and any comedy is pitch black and pushed right into the background. Classic comedy in this one is relegated to the "Gallow's humour" variety, such as the boyfriend propping his girlfriend's corpse up on his bike, Weekend at Bernie's style or the asian shopkeeper who hops into Curt's van, hoping to get away from some thugs, only to find a brain-eating zombie in the van and crying "OK, YOU LET ME OUT NOW!". Let's not forget the girlfriend, Julie's, "reprimanded-puppy-dog" expression in the classic moment where she is told she cannot eat brains. However different this may be, I would not go so far as to say this film has "nothing to do with the first two Return of the Living Dead films" or "has more in common with Brian Yuzna's Re-Animator series" as others have done.
Here, director Brian Yuzna and writer John Penney (also the editor of The Return of the Living Dead back in 1985) have crafted a story which is largely gleaned from elements of the first film. Essentially what they did was take the "Freddy/Tina" arc from Return of the Living Dead (and, to a lesser extent, the "Joey/Brenda" arc from Part II) of a lover watching their loved one die and return from the dead, reversed the genders and then examined it more seriously and closely. Throw in a dash of George A. Romero's original concept for Day of the Dead (the military using the dead as soldiers), a slice of Hellraiser's sadomasochistic Cenobites and a chunk of Pet Semetery for the setup and voila! Return of the Living Dead 3.
The military, which lingered in the background of Part I and came forward considerably for Part II are a major part of the story here and it's nice to see some small continuity from Part II in regards to how electricity relates to the living dead in this series and how it can also be used to stun and kill them. The only part of the writing I can't stand, and it's more subdued in the film than the advertising and interviews with the crew would have you believe, is the idea that this is some kind of profound, doomed love. I can appreciate it as a metaphor for grief, but trying to tie Kurt and Julie to "star crossed lovers" is a bit of a stretch. I don't consider Sid and Nancy to be a great romance, either, but I digress.
Acting is a mixed bag. J Trevor Edmonds (Pumpkinhead II) plays an aspiring grunge musician named...Kurt (could they have chosen just a slightly less obvious name?) and he does alright really. His part isn't written the best, but it's a fairly difficult role for a young person in a horror film and he certainly doesn't embaress or detract from the film and at parts you do feel for him. Speaking of parts today's MTV ready Horror actors and actresses could not play, the wonderful Mindy Clarke (KILLER TONGUE, the penultimate episode of "FIREFLY") gets the impossible task of playing a resurrected young lady with the inexplicable desires to eat brains or to mutilate her own flesh in order to stem the desire to eat brains. How's that for a motivation for an actress? As ridicululous as it is, she does a fine job, even making me gloss over the bad judgement on some of the dialogue and the body mutilation, which I have heard described as "sexy" (count me out) or reminiscent of body piercing, here seems to serve as a kind of metaphor to my mind. It's as if David Cronenberg's influence on Brian Yuzna did not run dry after SOCIETY, and here the body piercing reminds me of the abstracted-fictional drug in NAKED LUNCH or the unlikely car-crash fetish later in CRASH (which, admittedly, comes from JG Ballard). She has to keep doing this improbable thing to feel alive and to keep her own identity!
Also in the cast; Kent McCord as Kurt's father, who looks like he should be playing a general in an episode of The A-Team but manages to make it work to highlight the generation gap between his character and Kurt; Sarah Douglas, something of a specialist in bad sequels (and Superman II), playing a sexy go-getting soldier with some bad ideas for the applications of Trioxin ; and Mike Moroff, whose name won't ring a bell, but had memorable turns robbing a convienience store in ROBOCOP and playing a drug lord in DEATH WISH 4. Here some interesting things happen to his spine...
Continuity is pretty good. The design of the TRIOXIN drums is close to the previous films, but without the protective top (and the phone number has changed, but I digress), added to the backstory laid out in Part 1 and hinted at in Part II is the idea that the army had a lot of Trioxin drums with no way to dispose of them and so now are experimenting with them. The idea from Part I that the dead eat the brains of the living as a kind of drug to numb the pain of rot is combined with the use of electricity as a method of dispatch in part II so now we know the electricity-charged neurons of the human brain are what the dead crave. If I may indulge in pedantry, there is some discontinuity with the first two films in some important areas, though nothing like what will happen in parts 4 and 5...Firstly, in Return of the Living Dead 3, a bite from the living dead is enough to communicate, erm, zombification. Earlier in this series, only dying *and* being exposed to the gas (or vapors derived from something exposed to the gas) would make a person a zombie, dying or being bitten just would not do it. If you pay attention here, while most of the "returners" are exposed to the gas in addition to dying, and some who are killed by ghouls do not return, there are definetely three or four that do return after bites without being exposed to 2-4-5 Trioxin...Brian Yuzna correctly notes that in the original Night of the Living Dead by George Romero, any dead person would return to life and any non-lethal bite would just be a flesh wound. However, in Dawn, Day, Land et cetera, it was changed so that a bite would turn someone and simply dying, apparently (if Day is anything to go by) is not enough. Since I didn't have a problem there (indeed, did not even notice until directed to by Mr Yuzna's remarks), I can't hold it against this one. However, remember in The Return of the Living Dead and Return of the Living Dead Part II, the classic scenes where Thom Mathews and James Karen unknowingly die from exposure to the 2-4-5 Trioxin gas and slowly transform into the living dead? Hilarious scenes, yes (even if Part II doesn't make much sense on this count), but we also learned, in both films, that despite moving and talking, they had no "blood pressure, no pulse, no reflexes, no pupilary response...". Well, in the first scene here, a heart monitor is used to gauge when a zombie is revived. If I can accept in Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND that a heart monitor would be attached to a corpse for literally no conceivable reason, apart from giving the audience a signifier of revival other than showing a chest heaving with a pulse, then I really shouldn't be upset about it here, but it does annoy me slightly.
Moving on to the bad aspects of this film, chiefmost would have to be the music, or at least the main theme. As was unfortunately common in genre films of the time, such as JASON GOES TO HELL, DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE/CEMETERY MAN, Brian Yuzna's own BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR, the score is often a synthesised imitation of an orchestral score. Now, I love synthesiser scores - the previous two films in the ROTLD series made good use of them, Twin Peaks would be nothing without it's synthesised pieces - but it will never replace an orchestral score and attempts to are always the worst of all worlds.
Here, I have grown SOME appreciation for the music when I heard Brian Yuzna describe the score as being influenced by Christopher Young's HELLRAISER score. A lot of the film features unremarkable, but effective, riffs on the kind of synthetic score Brad Fiedel did for Terminator 2. When it comes to the big crescendo in the opening and end credits I still don't like it much, and the final scenes ape the cues "Futile Escape" and "Bishop's Countdown" from James Horner's ALIENS score far too closely for my liking. As for soundtrack songs in the mode of the previous two movies (part one had punk, new wave and rockabilly, part two had thrash metal, hair metal and general cheese), there's two or three light-grunge songs (presumably made for the film), one of which I've learned is to replace Guns 'N' Roses' version of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" (hey, it could have been worse after all!) and that's it. Brian Yuzna tells in the Complete History of Return of the Living Dead (a great, great book you should get) that he originally wanted wall to wall Ministry songs for the soundtrack!
The budget for this one is allegedly $2, 000, 000, half the budget of the original and a third of the budget of Part II, but still not really small fries. However, while what's on screen is GENERALLY quite good, there is definetely a step down in the scope of this one. It serves okay because the story is much more intimate this time out, with a zombie BREAKOUT of the first two films being mostly absent from the film, but it is also definetely noticeable. The effects are a mixed bag - the design is pretty cool, reminding me of the vampires from FROM DUSK TILL DAWN at times, with a more serious take on the rotten designs William Stout, Bill Munns, Kenny Myers and Tony Gardner did for part one, with little of the cartoon spoofery of Part II. Puppets, which had minor roles in the first two films, do show up here and they look pretty cheesy. Since these lack the goofy feel of the Half-Lady corpse or the first zombie in Part II, it does not work for the film. The design, particularly of the TARMAN (whose arm and face are fused to his body until he painfully pulls them away), is memorable enough.
So, in the end, what you have is definitely a worthwhile watch. Your reaction may range from love to hate or somewhere in between. I'm halfway between love and indifference. The problems keep me from moving any closer to love, but I do respect it a lot and enjoy it each time I watch it. If you've never seen any of the films in the series, see Part I first, then if you choose to proceed, I recommend watching Part II and 3 back to back. Their conflicting flavours help each other, like I find with juice. Blueberry is too sweet (Part II), Cranberry is too bitter (3), but mixed together you get something very refreshing.