Phil caps off his reviews of one of the most disjointed zombie trilogies with RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3. Tonally, this series couldn’t be more out of whack.
Black comedy, broad comedy, no comedy at all. After the original RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD’s dark humor transformed into a light, joking tone in Part II, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 hit with a grim tone that eschewed humor altogether. In doing so, it’s a much better zombie movie than the second film, but it really doesn’t belong in this franchise at all.
The movie begins in a military laboratory, with some army types working on reviving the dead, so the government can use them as soldiers. The old “super soldier” idea was clichéd by this time, but it sets up for some quality zombie action later in the film. When army brat Curt and his girlfriend Julie sneak into the lab for a night of fun (don’t ask me how kids get their kicks), they discover a corpse’s reanimation by way of our good friend Trioxin. Later in the night, as defiant Curt breaks off from his dad on his motorcycle, Julie in tow, he gets in an accident that kills her. Anyone with a brain not eaten by zombies should be able to piece together where this is going.
Fortunately, this turn of events leads to plenty of well done gore. As Julie tries to stave off eating Curt, the two cross paths with a surly gang, and hide in the sewer with the Riverman, a raggedy old black guy. As her appetite increases, Julie pierces her flesh in a multitude of places, hoping the pain will dull her need to feed. Actress Melinda Clarke is beautiful, so the effect of her half naked body run through with steel and glass is both repelling and alluring. She certainly rivals the Cenobites in the competition for disgusting sexiness. As this is a zombie movie that delivers what it should, there’s plenty of brain eating and a torn head with accompanying spine that would suit the Mortal Kombat universe well. And even though my DVD isn’t the unrated version I’ve heard so much about, there’s still plenty of brutal bloodshed to satisfy the gorehounds. More so than got past the censors in many horror films of its day.
The film does have a few downsides, the first of which is the acting. Clarke holds her own, crafting a sympathetic victim, but J. Trevor Edmond as Curt is God awful. His acting makes him a lot less sympathetic than this film’s hero should be. The gang members are played as stereotypes, as is an Asian grocery store owner. Sarah Douglas and James T. Calahan (the guy who played the grandfather on Charles in Charge ) mail in their performances, and Kent McCord, as Curt’s military dad, has that stiff, military look the whole film. Sure, poor acting is par for the course in lots of horror films, but it doesn’t do this one any favors. But by far the major problem I have with RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 is that it functions as a sequel to the first two Return films at only the most minimal levels. Take out the barrel of Trioxin and substitute any other revivifying agent, and you’ve got just another run of the mill zombie flick. Taken on its own, it’s a fine horror film. Taken as a sequel to Dan O’Bannon’s first film, it doesn’t fit at all.
As with the discs for the first two Return films, this sequel sports commentary tracks. Writer/director Brian Yuzna, familiar with zombies from his work on the RE-ANIMATOR films, provides the first. His discussion of the film’s Romeo and Juliet aspects is interesting, as are his comparison of Romero’s Dead franchise with RETURN’s mythology and thoughts on when a zombie becomes a zombie; but much of it functions as a nuts and bolts talk about background and production, with frequent spots of dead silence. The second track is a discussion between Clarke and 2nd unit director Thomas Rainone. I really like Clarke. Her recollections from the actor’s perspective are interesting. Unfortunately, Rainone cuts her off almost every time she speaks. I guess nobody ever taught the man common courtesy. Worse, he’s boring and cracks jokes that only he would find funny. This second track is a missed opportunity. If only Clarke had joined Yuzna. I think that would have made an interesting conversation.
An absolutely mirthless sequel to a sequel bent on comedy, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 is a perfectly good zombie movie. Just don’t go into it expecting a real sequel to Dan O’Bannon’s master work, and you should enjoy this one.