Scary looking cover huh? Strange…
So how do you follow up a successful zombie movie that combined laughs, punk rock edginess, some serious gore & a helping of nude Linnea Quigley?
3 years later we found out…
Released in 1988, 3 years after the first film the Return of the Living Dead 2 decided the best route to take was to amp up the comedy to slapstick levels. Yep…Return 2 would be aimed squarely at a young teenage audience, how could it fail?
Well technically it didn’t, it fact it was minor box-office success making its budget back & little bit more. However box office success does not mean Return 2 is a good movie, far from it.
The story goes something like this… (Hang on ‘cause it’s connections to the original make it confusing as hell).
We see an army truck transporting a load of barrels filled with Trioxin during a wet & stormy night. The driver is listening to music so doesn’t notice when a barrel breaks free & falls over the side of a bridge into the water below. The next day a young boy called Jesse (the hero of this movie) is with 2 older bullies who show him the barrel of Trioxin. Jesse is scared of it so they lock him in a decayed mausoleum. Afterwards the 2 bullies accidently unleash the gas inside the barrel in a similar way from the first movie.
The gas spreads across the nearby graveyard prompting the arrival of zombies later in the movie.
Shortly afterwards Jesse is freed when 2 grave-robbers, Ed & Joey arrive to help themselves to the bodies in the mausoleum. (Ed & Joey are played by original favourites James Karen & Thom Matthews). He returns home to his older sister who is playing baby-sitter but she is more interested in the cable-repair guy. Jesse goes to see the bully from earlier to find he is sick from the Trioxin gas. He pays a visit to the barrel again & finds the number for the army on it. Tarman version 2 then attacks, Jesse escapes but not before seeing the zombies begin to rise from the graves.
Here we go again….right?
Not quite….my first proper clue that something was different about this movie was the zombie breakout scene. It involved zombies stumbling into grave holes, standing on each others hands & a short-sighted zombie putting on glasses. It was very strange, not even funny particularly.
From this point the film seems to be incapable of mixing the balance of comedy with horror. One moment you have a great looking zombie with worms hanging off its face, the other it’s a talking zombie head with dumb sarcastic comments. It makes the film hard to enjoy even though the acting is pretty much top stuff (almost).
I’m not a big fan of horror movies led by kids but Jesse does a good job managing to out-act his older sister & the cable repair guy who is just…awful.
He can’t touch the returning James Karen or Thom Matthews though, the major thing the movie does right. If you don’t remember they played Frank & Freddy in the original. They caused the outbreak & had some of the greatest moments in the film. Well in Return 2 they once again get sick (by being in the graveyard as Trioxin spreads) & their fate heads in the same direction as the first movie. However this time they get to act a lot differently. James Karen’s Ed is a creepy coward & Thom Matthews Joey is a bit more level-headed but still gets to eat his girlfriends brains.
There are plenty of references to the first film none more obvious then the excellent back & forth between Ed & Joey about having serious déjà-vu over their situation. Some of the others were:
• Joey & Ed doing the ‘like this job?’ routine.
• Jesse & his sister’s last name is Wilson (like Burt from the first movie).
• The army operator conversation with Jesse is word for word the same as it was with Burt in the first movie.
It’s stuff like this that isn’t obvious plugs to a fan of the original that makes a bad movie like this way more appealing. Return 2 also has a really strong ending with a tongue-in-cheek reference to Michael Jackson’s thriller video.
Were Return 2 ultimately fails is with its lack of horror…the original had moments that were scary; this one doesn’t even come close to that. Zombie make-up might be good but when they are stumbling about like fools it’s hard to care.
Terrible? Not at all but it fails miserably at what it was trying to do. Take what worked for the original but tone it down for a younger audience. The horror is minimal, the gore is minimal & the actual laughs are non-existent. Great references, decent acting mostly & some good make-up make it an enjoyable watch at least once.
Return Of The Living Dead: Part 2