7.09.2008

Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988)

DIRECTED BY
Ken Wiederhorn

STARRING
Michael Kenworthy - Jesse Wilson
James Karen - Ed
Thom Matthews - Joey
Marsha Dietlien - Lucy Wilson
Dana Ashbrook - Tom Essex
Suzanne Snyder - Brenda
Brian Peck - Doc Mandell
Thor Van Lingen - Billy

Genre - Horror/Comedy/Zombies

Running Time - 89 Minutes

Score - 2.5 Howls Outta 4


While films about zombies have been around since the dawn of film, the genre would be forever immortalized from now on due to the classic 1968 George A. Romero flick, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. It set the rules for the zombie genre, which still exist even to this day. Writer John Russo and director George A. Romero pretty much knew that the success of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD would eventually lead to another installment as a follow up to that film's events. However, the two men were unable to compromise on how to tell the next story, each having different ideas for the future franchise. The two men went their separate ways, although both were allowed to use the "LIVING DEAD" moniker and each of their films would be canon with each other. Romero eventually went to create one of the best zombie films ever in DAWN OF THE DEAD in 1978, while Russo wrote a horror novel that would eventually become 1985's RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD.

Russo had intended for THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE director Tobe Hooper to direct the film, but went to direct LIFEFORCE instead. Screenwriter Dan O'Bannon was now made director, creating a cult horror-comedy about zombies that actually acknowledged the events in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD as if they were true. With a slapstick style of comedy and some really great effects [Tar Man!], the film was a success both critically and commercially.

But as we all know, when a film is successful - a sequel must follow even if it's not necessary. Having no part with 1988's RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II, the studio hired MEATBALLS PART II director Ken Wiederhorn to direct. With the return of the original's main characters, hiring a kid as a lead, and focusing more on even sillier gags to make people laugh during the zombie assault while pretty much remaking the same film twice, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II didn't do that well commercially or critically. And while it's no where as good as the original, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II is still a film that will become a guilty pleasure for anyone with a great sense of humor and looking for a film where they don't need to think once.

PLOT
Two canisters of that wacky zombie gas fall off the back of some army convoy as it passes through a small town on a rainy night. The canisters end up near the town's graveyard, where Jesse Wilson (Michael Kenworthy), bully Billy (Thor Van Lingen), and Johnny (Jason Hogan) find them the next day. After Jesse runs away from these two bullies, Billy and Johnny decide to open one of the canisters. It releases the zombie gas into the air, making them sick and spreading it all over the graveyard, reviving the corpses that inhabit the place and their hunger for "BBBBRRRRRAAAAIIIINNNNNSSSS!!!" Due to his love of comics, Jesse seems to be the only one with enough knowledge to stop these zombies. Along with his sister Lucy (Marsha Dietlein), cable guy Tom (Dana Ashbrook), drunk Doc Mandell (Brian Peck), grave robbers Ed (James Karen) and Joey (Thom Mathews), and Joey's girlfriend Brenda (Suzanne Snyder), the group must find a way to stop the zombies and get out of the quarantined town before becoming zombie dinner.

REVIEW
I know a lot of people bash this film but RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II isn't as bad as many make it out to be. It's not as funny or visually cool looking as the original, but it's still a pretty entertaining flick that's gonna make you laugh at how dumb the whole situation is. This is a B-movie to the max, although it does have its flaws.

Let's get the bad news out of the way: the story isn't as strong as it could be. The main reason for that is because the sequel is nothing but a retread of the original RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD [give or take a few changes and a more dumb-down way of storytelling]. Obviously plagiarism or unoriginality weren't something to look down upon in 1988! This hurts the film alot because we've seen this film before in a much better form. Even the jokes are not as good here as they are in the original. The jokes were set around the story in the original, adding to the plot and the events that took place in an intelligent manner. Here? It feels like a spoof of the original film. Pop culture references are all over the place. The laughs sometimes feel forced [though much of the film is intentionally funny]. Zombies like aerobics? They get annoyed when they're shot in half? The dialogue is pretty silly or taken literally from the original film. The sequel doesn't feel fresh at all and that's sad because a follow up to RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD could have had a lot of potential going for it.

Another bad thing: using a kid actor as your lead in a horror flick. Only on rare occassion has using a child character as a horror film's hero worked. Here, it plainly does not. Jesse is just an annoying brat of a kid who you'd get a kick out of giving an atomic wedgie to before shoving his big head into a toilet bowl before flushing it. He thinks he knows it all. He has a big mouth and likes to use it to talk back to his elders. He actually gives away a mint copy of a Spider-Man comic to bullies to join their club and not get his ass kicked [I would love to kick his ass for selling a future cash cow just to be popular - dumbass!]. He's just not someone I can relate to or respect at all. And what's worse is that you know he's gonna live! Children usually end up staying alive in these genre efforts. Pretty much defeats the purpose, don't you think? Then, they needed to add that ugly Billy kid and that Johnny doofus. More kids in a zombie flick - fuckin' super! If only an atomic bomb had dropped on these brats like in the ending of the original. I would be a lot happier.

Also, the rest of the characters aren't really all that interesting. Lucy and Tom are as bitchy and bland as they can be respectively. Brenda is your typical airhead while Ed and Joey are just dumber versions of Frank and Freddy in the original [played by the same actors no less!]. The only one with a personality was Doc Mandell, who is probably the funniest motherfucker in the entire film. That dude never failed to make me laugh with his thirst for alcohol and sarcastic remarks. That's my kind of character. Even the zombies had more life to them than the actual living characters did. Pretty pathetic.

I will say that the film still makes me laugh to this day [not as much when I was younger, which led me to cry my eyes out from laughing so much]. I think everyone's favorite part from this movie [including myself] is the severed head getting impaled by a screwdriver and yelling at everyone to "Get that damn screwdriver out of my head!!". To this day, I still say that line at least twice a week. If you haven't seen the clip, reading it doesn't do it justice. You watch it and you'll die laughing at how ridiculous a head without vocal cords attached can scream in pain over a screwdriver. The head's exit at the end of the film is also hilarious.

I also dig the scene where the zombies rise from their graves. Unlike the original film where it's more serious, ROTLD II gives it a more comic approach. Zombies get trampled on. Some need to put on their glasses in order to see. Some cough up dirt and fix their clothes to look good. It's the dumbest thing you can ever witness but it makes you laugh.

And of course, we have the Michael Jackson cameo when the zombies get electrocuted. Dressed in his red leather jacket from "Thriller", the film would not be complete without seeing the Gloved One getting shocked before doing a twirl to his death. It's not as funny as it used to be but I still smile everytime he comes on.

And like I said before, Doc Mandell steals the show with his one-liners. My favorite is when he sees a zombified version of a former patient, greeting him and apologizing for running out of Type O blood. He also has some classics in the hospital scene where he diagnoses the dying Ed and Joey, wanting a biopsy. When Brenda asks him if it's cancer, his reply is "If we're lucky!" Probably the only well-written character in the whole bunch. This dude rocks!

The direction is decent. The picture looks nice and the edits are nicely done. But it's just really a "point and shoot" type of affair. Barely any tension or suspense in this one. The film is played for laughs and laughs only. Ken Wiederhorn even thinks this film is crap. Not true. The film is not total crap but his work on it is. There's a difference. Obviously he believed that horror and comedy don't mix. Um...EVIL DEAD II? The original RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD? GLITTER? Someone didn't do his homework!

The acting is horrible here but it's supposed to be. It adds to the comedy factor. Michael Kenworthy is a decent child actor but he annoyed me anyway. I would smack him with my dick if his priest didn't already take initiative. Thom Mathews is pretty funny as Joey. He does the zombie thing well and I appreciated his line where he stated that it was like he had experienced this whole situation before [referring to the original]. Pretty clever. Plus his scene with Brenda about eating her brains always makes me laugh. Whatever happened to this dude? James Karen as Ed may come off as annoying or hysterical with over the top performance. Personally, it cracks me up. Suzanne Synder played the dumb bitch role well and looked really hot too. She reminded me of a cross between Tiffany and Samantha Fox. Growl! Marsha Dietlin as Lucy didn't do much for me at all. She was a bitch who did aerobics. Kind of annoying. Dana Ashbrook as Tom did his ho-hum thing. He was neither good or bad in this. And Bruce Peck as Doc Mandell is awesome. Nuff said.

And if you do want to watch this film, see it on VHS [which I own]. The DVD version pretty much destroyed the entire film's soundtrack and replaced it with a score that just makes the film worse than it's supposed to be. Especially during the "rise from the grave" scene. Total WTF? moment right there. Only the French dub has the original score for the film. Someone in Warner Brothers fucked up. Oui! Oui!

THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE STILL BELIEVING THAT HARRY TRUMAN IS OUR UNITED STATES PRESIDENT

- While driving, don't smoke pot. Drinking and driving may kill people, but driving high will lead to a zombie invasion. Anna Nicole Smith coming back from the dead? Nobody wants that.

- Whenever zombie gas is mixed with rain, it reanimates the dead. Gee, I would hate to see what happens when gas is mixed with snow. What...serial killing snowmen who like raping women with their carrot nose would be created? Yeah, like anyone would have the snowballs to do a film based on that!

- There's a comic book hero called Masterman. I don't know anything about this character but I have a feeling he may be a jerk off.

- Don't ever slam a crowbar into a corpse's skull. Instead of killing it, you'll only give it a splitting headache. Literally.

- If you ever want to get out of a jam, make some smoke and fire. If 50 Cent can get away with it [ALLEGEDLY!], so can you! G-Unit!!

- Don't ever stick a screwdriver in a zombie's head. That's not where you hit the G-Spot. If you don't know which hole to insert into by now, I can't help ya!

- Zombies like aerobic videos. Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons living forever? Now that's a scary thought!

- Electricity kill zombies. What a shocking revelation!

- Good girlfriends will offer their brain to their zombie boyfriend. Unless you're dating Heidi Montag. In that case, you'll be severely disappointed when you find out she has nothing to offer upstairs.

- Don't shove something long and pointy in a zombie's mouth. Save that for a college frat party. Or a Jenna Jameson film.

THE FINAL HOWL
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II
is an entertaining and funny B-movie sequel that wasn't needed but I'm glad is around. It doesn't do alot of things right but what it does do right totally makes up for it. If you ever wanted to see annoying kids, bland characters, pop culture references, a complaining zombie head, screwdrivers, zombies drive jeeps, 80s fashion, and Michael Jackson all in one place - then ROTLD II is for you. Now if you'll excuse me, I finally got that screwdriver out of my head. Now if only I can get it out of my ass. Oy...

1 comment:

  1. the sneering (homo-phobic) snobJune 20, 2009 at 8:44 AM

    Suzanne snyder was such a hot chick back in `87 (even though she was 24 at the time and there-fore strickly speaking already 6 years past the peak of her physical attractiveness and desirability), she must`ve been really busy in february and march of that year because according to IMDB "RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD: PART II" and "KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE" were filmed at almost exactly the same time, its odd that she didn`t go on to become a really big star after appearing in those two cult classics in quick succession (especially when you consider what a gorgeous bird she was). Now onto another breathtaking 24 year old sexpot namely the astounding "MINDY CLARKE", in 1993 she appeared in the quite magnificent "RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD: PART 3" a movie which i beleive to be perhaps the most ludicrously under-rated horror film of all time, for me its easily the best of all the 5 return of the living dead movies, it would be great to hear your opinion on that film (make sure you see the uncut version not the R-rated one) and the incredible mindy clarke, i`m not kiddin` fred, mindy clarke really was one of the most incredibly gorgeous birds i`ve ever seen both before and after her transformation into a zombie and the film itself is pure brilliance, brian yuzna`s masterpiece as it were, my main reason for liking the film so much (besides the breathtaking mindy clarke obviously) is that it jetisons all that comedy crap that almost ruined the first two movies, "RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD: PART 3" plays it completely straight and is all the better for it, if only mindy clarke could`ve been 18 at the time of filming instead of 24 but beleive me thats my only complaint about an otherwise perfect horror film, i look forward to reading your reveiw of it soon.

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