‘Return of Living Dead II’ – ’80s Horror at Its Worst

Scream Factory’s love for aging horror fare can’t be denied.

Some movies, sadly, don’t deserve that affection. “Return of the Living Dead Part II” should be Exhibits A, B and C. The 1988 sequel followed up a surprise delight, a zombie film with bite and humor.

Sometimes Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 original served up both at the same time.

We’re getting used to that combo by now, with modern classics like “Shaun of the Dead” lighting the way. “Return Of The Living Dead Part II [Collector’s Edition] [Blu-ray]” bungles that mashup so thoroughly it’s a shock it didn’t kill the sub-genre entirely.

Return Of The Living Dead Part II (1988) - Official Trailer

The sequel essentially traces the storyline from the first film, down to the actors who helped unleash the zombie menace in the first place.

Yes, James Karen and Thom Matthews return in “new” roles but the same conundrum. They play grave robbers exposed to an Army chemical that brings the dead back to life. It doesn’t do much good to the living, eiher. We watch them slowly assume room temperature for old time’s sake.

RELATED: Yes, Snyder’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ Is the Director’s Best Film

The main story follows a gaggle of “types” – the ditsy girl (Marsha Dietlein), the teen hero (Dana Ashbrook), the smarter than everyone kid (Michael Kenworthy) – as they flee the zombie assault.

That’s more of less it. Standard zombie tropes follow, including the always chilling visual of corpses rising from their graves. The FX here are solid for the era, a convincing Goulash of makeup and puppetry.

Not convinced? Just re-watch any ’80s era “Ghoulies” film and you’ll recall how bad the era’s FX could be.

Return Of The Living Dead Part II (1988) - Clip: Thriller Open Call

Humor abounds in every scene, but it’s of the broader than a bus variety. That style of comedy felt creaky in the 1950s. Here, it’s unwatchable.

You’ll cringe at every mugging, with Karen being the worst offender. Consider the sequence when a zombie hand is let free in a crowded car. The moment goes on forever. At least it feels that way. Every passenger gets a chance to interact with the squirming digits.

It’s almost anti-comedy.

Return Of The Living Dead Part II (1988) - Clip: Defensive Driving

The clever morsels can be counted on one hand holding two fingers back. They’re of the, “blink and you miss ’em” variety. The best sight gag connects to an iconic music video, but by then you’re begging for the end credits to ride to the rescue.

“Return of the Living Dead Part II” offers nothing we haven’t seen before. Part of that isn’t the film’s fault. We’ve been inundated with zombies over the past three decades. When a horror genre turns to Zom-Coms, you know every stone has been unturned.

Still, “Dead II” is so anemic, so lacking in character or pulse it stands out for not standing out at all.

The copious Blu-ray extras on “Return Of The Living Dead Part II [Collector’s Edition] [Blu-ray]” should be a slog. Who wants to see the cast and crew wave their poms poms for this? The old gang assembles all the same, and what transpires may surprise you.

“The Laughing Dead” lets writer-director Ken Wiederhorn explain why he went more slapstick for the sequel – to distance himself from the original. He also shares some personal notes about his film odyssey.

“Once you embark on one genre it’s really hard to move over into another one,” he confesses. He shares how his previous movie, “Meatballs Part II,” had no ties to Bill Murray’s 1979 original but Hollywood connected the dots for marketing purposes.

RELATED: Why Romero’s ‘Dead’ Films Still Speak to Us

“They Won’t Stay Dead: A Look at ‘Return of the Living Dead Part II'” starts in an amazing way. Veterans from the first “Living Dead” movie describe why they steered clear of the sequel.

That’s a level of honesty you rarely see in Blu-ray extras. That’s particularly true with mainstream studios.

And it’s just warming up.

“The script was, not a great script, I don’t think it was handled well,” Karen admits.

FAST FACT: The 1985 “Return of the Living Dead” spawned four sequels. The fourth and fifth installments were shot back to back (“Necropolis” and “Rave to the Grave”).

On and on it goes, with franchise players roasting both the material and the motivations behind the project. We eventually get some warm memories about the production, but the overriding emotion here is regret.

In short, the new featurettes are far more engaging than the film itself.

Here’s a full list of the Blu-ray features, both new and revived from previous home video releases, accompanying “Return of the Living Dead Part II.”

  • Audio commentary from actress Suzanne Snyder (New)
  • Audio commentary from Gary Smart, the co-author of “he Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead” and filmmaker Christopher Griffiths. (New)
  • “Back to the Dead; The Effects of ‘Return of the Living Dead Part II” (New)
  • “The Laughing Dead” (New)
  • “Undead Melodies” An interview with composer J. Peter Robinson (New)
  • Interview with actor Troy Fromin (New)
  • Audio commentary with writer/director Ken Wiederhorn and co-star Thor Van Lingen.
  • “They Won’t Stay Dead: A Look at ‘Return of the Living Dead Part II'”
  • Archival Featurette – Live from the Set
  • Archival interviews with Ken Wiederhorn, James Karen, Thom Matthews and Kenny Myers.
  • Behind the Scenes footage
  • Theatrical trailer and teaser trailer
  • TV spots
  • Still gallery of posters and stills
  • Still gallery of Behind the Scenes stills from makeup effects artists Kenny Myers and Mike Smithson

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button