August 5, 2014

Movie Review: Return of the Living Dead Part II

So, the other night I decided to spend some time with old friends and popped in my Blu-ray of Return of the Living Dead. This movie, from Dan O'Bannon (Alien), John Russo (Night of the Living Dead), and others, is an absolute classic. The zombie comedy comes out firing on all cylinders, delivering laughs and scares alongside some of the most recognizable characters in all of horror. It was a great start to the darkening evening. I decided to follow it up with the 1988 sequel, Return of the Living Dead Part II. Then something happened that I did not expect, I did not recognize anything. I don't think I've ever seen the movie before! I know, right?

The movie was written and directed by Ken Wiederhorn, a genre filmmaker who reportedly held little affection for horror. He had gotten a start as a filmmaker some eleven years earlier when he delivered the Nazi zombie classic Shock Waves with Peter Cushing. Now, he finds himself hello g a zombie comedy that was not intended to be a sequel, but got reconfigured a bit to be one in order to assure funding. The result is a movie that feels like a toned down version of its predecessor.

This time around there is a military truck transporting canisters with zombies and other assorted goo in them. A canister gets bounced out of the back and is discovered by a couple of local kids. Of course the kids crack it open, releasing green as into a nearby cemetery, which predictably raises the dead. They claw their way, in true comedic fashion, out of the ground where they begin their search for brains. We are also treated to a return of Tarman (Allan Trautman reprising his gooey zombie role), although it feels more like a bit of fanservice. It is just a small appearance and the costume does not feel quote right. Still, fun to see the guy and see he still wants brains.

Anyway, as the mist does its work, we are introduced to a few more characters. You have a few young kids, their older siblings, and a few folks in the wrong place at the wrong time. Most notable among the potential victims here are James Karen and Thomas Mathews, returning to the franchise they helped launch three years earlier. Their characters may have different names, but the roles they fill are virtually identical. They play a couple of bumbling grave robbers who get a mouthful of the has that slowly kills them over the course of the movie. They even get some of the same dialogue they had in the first.

I have to be honest, I wasn't really feeling this movie. It is hardly a bad movie, it just feels insubstantial, inconsequential, and perhaps a little watered down. At times it feels a little like a zombie movie for the Monster Squad set. The violence and language seems restrained and there is nudity. It does carry over a similar feel and humor from the first, but I just had a hard time really getting into it. Then there is the conclusion which just sort of happens. It just didn't hit like it could have.

I sort of wonder what the original screenplay looked like, before it got worked into this sequel. Elements feel a bit crammed in, like Tarman and reused nits of dialogue, to make it a sequel, taken further inside with the presence of Karen and Mathews. I would like to think it was a better movie. It also could have used a bit more zombie goo and a roughness to the edges. I was entertained, but it was a touch too restrained.

I am really rather flabbergasted hat I had never seen it before, I have no idea how that happened. I have had the disk for years, there it sat on myself, unwatched and unloved. I felt so sure that I had seen it before, but nothing was familiar upon first watch. Well, with this viewing out of the way, it can go back on the shelf for awhile as I stick to the original and Part 3.

Mildly Recommended.

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