J. Trevor Edmond - Curt Reynolds
Melinda "Mindy" Clarke - Julie Walker
Kent McCord - Colonel John Reynolds
Basil Wallace - Riverman
Sarah Douglas - Lieutenant-Colonel Sinclair
Mike Moroff - Santos
Pia Reyes - Alicia
Sal Lopez - Felipe
Fabio Urena - Mogo
Genre - Horror/Zombies
Running Time - 96 Minutes
Curt Reynolds (J. Trevor Edmond) is the rebellious son of Colonel Reynolds (Kent McCord), the head of researching the military chemical Trioxin, which is able to bring back the dead to life. Apparently, the military wants to use zombies as a force to combat opponents during potential wars. Hearing about a test that his father and colleagues are doing one night, Curt invites his girlfriend Julie (Melinda Clarke) to check it out. Sneaking in using his father's stolen security card, Curt and Julie watch as a corpse is re-animated with Trioxin, then shot with some sort of tranquilizer. However, the experiment fails and leaves a couple of causalities. With all the commotion, Julie and Curt escape.
Colonel Reynolds, upset that his experiment failed, learns that he's being transferred to another department. Curt is upset by the news, not wanting to move away from Julie or their friends. Curt and Julie angrily leave and ride their motorcycle down a road. However, Julie begins seducing Curt on the bike, causing them to crash. Curt is fine, but Julie hits a telephone pole, snapping her neck and killing her. Distraught, Curt decides to bring Julie back to the research facility to bring her back with Trioxin.
The Trioxin brings Julie back to life. But instead of getting the old Julie back, the current Julie doesn't feel like herself. Her skin is cold, her body aches, and she's hungry for brains and human flesh. After a bad incident where a gang shoots a grocery store clerk for money, Julie bites one of the members. Upset about this, the gang [as well as the alerted police] chase Curt and Julie off. The couple heads into the sewers, where they meet a homeless man named Riverman (Basil Wallace), who gives them shelter and advice. However, the gang finds them and wants revenge. But Julie, now having pierced her skin with metal to ease the pain, is starving for human flesh - with the gang as her targets. Will the gang satisfy Julie's hunger for good, or did Curt make the worst mistake of his life bringing Julie back from the dead?
ROTLD 3 is pretty much the zombie version of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet". They're a couple who will stop at nothing to be together - even if parents or death want to interfere. Even as a zombie, Julie refuses to satisfy her hungry for brains and flesh on Curt due to her love for him. And Curt, knowing Julie is a zombie he can't really control, refuses to abandon her. It's a totally different idea than what Dan O'Bannon had for the original film, but the franchise did need a welcome change. And I felt the love story angle really elevated the drama and the tension in ROTLD 3. I think the love story was especially helped by the fact that nothing bad would have gone down if Curt wasn't so selfish in bringing Julie back to life. Some may say he re-animated Julie for her sake. But Julie's resurrection was really for him to ease the guilt in being the reason she died in the first place. The fact that he couldn't help but criticize her zombie actions, thinking that she would return as she once was, made the angle stronger - as I could buy this dude being in denial when it came to his actions. Love can be a good thing, but it can also lead down a dark road that's hard to get off of. Love isn't perfect and is self-serving in many ways. Julie had to suffer with her metamorphosis just so Curt could feel better about things. It's true that we do hurt the ones we love.
And of course, we do get some zombie action. Julie begins biting people, which leads to a zombie outbreak outside the research center [as well as inside towards the end]. This goes back to Curt, again. Still, it's nice to see the zombies inside those Trioxin canisters again, as well as the experiments the military were doing with the gas. It explains why the zombies hunger for brains, and why they hurt themselves [to ease the pain of being dead]. It's a cool throwback to the other films that doesn't need to rely on humor to move the story forward.
- Mindy Clarke and the other actors. The actors take the material much more seriously, which really helped the surreal story work better than one would think. Melinda "Mindy" Clarke is just sensational as Julie. Not only is she super hot, pre- and post-zombie, but she's great at bringing out the emotion of being an unwilling participant in the zombie world. Her confusion to what she's hungry for, her struggle to not eat people because it scares her boyfriend, and her anger towards Curt for bringing her back are really believable. I think for those who only know Clarke for her roles on The O.C. and Nikita ought to check her out here. She's really good and carries the emotional weight of the film well.
The other actors are decent, but not as good as Clarke. But they all fill their roles to the best of their abilities. J. Trevor Edmond is pretty good as Curt. He also deals with the emotional stuff pretty well. I also thought he had good chemistry with Clarke, which elevated the love angle quite a great deal. Kent McCord as John Reynolds is okay at times, but too wooden during certain moments. Sarah Douglas didn't do much for me as Lt. Sinclair. Her performance seemed forced and off most of the time for me. Luckily, she wasn't in the film all that much. Basil Wallace is a bit over-the-top as Riverman, but I still thought he was pretty likeable. The actors who play the thugs, Mike Moroff and Sal Lopez, were good in their stereotypical roles. I thought the cast was alright for this sequel.
- Brian Yuzna's direction. Always a master in using smaller budgets to his advantage, Brian Yuzna does a fine job with ROTLD 3. His love for body horror is truly at play here, especially when it comes to the way the zombies are presented. Instead of the usual rising from the grave deal, the undead are treated like lab rats by the military. They're chained, prodded, and sometimes mutilated just to see how they would react. Julie, in particular, must stick herself with metal objects just to take the pain of being dead away - to the point where her body is mutilated with sharp objects sticking out. And Yuzna doesn't shy away from these moments. Sure, ROTLD 3 is pretty tame compared to his other works, like SOCIETY. But Yuzna's trademark is at play.
Also. Yuzna gives the film plenty of style, with cool angles, nice pacing and editing, and even some great tense moments towards the end. I also thought the quieter moments between Curt and Julie were visualized well. Just really strong filmmaking and a great move to steer away from what had established the franchise earlier. I've always been a fan of Yuzna's work, and ROTLD 3 is no exception.
- The middle act. When it comes to filmmaking, it's always easy to write a beginning and write an ending. But that large chunk in the middle? Yeah, it can be a bitch at times. While not terrible, ROTLD 3 does suffer a bit with its weak middle portion.
I think it had to do with the characters that were introduced more than anything. I get that they were added to give Julie food to chew on, but I wish they weren't so damn stereotypical. I mean, the gang of antagonists that want to mess with Curt and Julie are probably some of the most unoriginal, cliche portraits of people I've seen in a film in a very long time. It doesn't help that they were Latinos who had to act like some snob would perceive them as. They speak uneducatedly. They're good with weapons. They need to rob stores to make ends meet. They like to sexually assault women. I'm Puerto Rican, so this sort of thing offends me - not just because it's sort of racist and ignorant, but because it's so expected that it takes away what the film should have really been about - the love story between Curt and Julie. I don't think these characters really helped that angle advance in anyway. They were just fodder for Julie's rampage. And the homeless guy, Riverman, was a black man. I mean really...couldn't the screenwriters come up with something more clever than this?
I also felt the sewer location didn't add much either. I think ROTLD 3 should have taken advantage of a more open world where Julie could really cause some chaos. I'm sure the budget had a lot to do with the setting, which is unfortunate. I don't mind the sewers, as cool stuff can happen down there. But for the entire middle act to take place in that one area ruined the flow and made the narrative somewhat boring at times. I thought the first act set up the film well. I loved the final act. And while I didn't hate the middle act, I wish more interesting things had happened to maintain the level of interest.
- The special effects. Every zombie film needs to have some decent special effects going for it. ROTLD 3 does have some cool looking zombies, like the one that was more mechanical than anything. But compared to the uber-awesome Tarman from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART 2, these zombies were nowhere close.
Most of the time, the effects looked kind of fake to be honest. Whenever Julie poked herself with a metal object, you can tell it wasn't piercing actual skin [it looked a bit rubbery]. Some of the zombies looked like dummies or mannequins sometimes. It's great when a director has a concept for the effects. But if the budget can't match his imagination, it's pretty disappointing not only for him, but for the audience as well.
There's probably a reason why ROTLD 3 isn't as talked about as much as the first two films. The make up and the effects don't really hold a candle to the other films, with nothing really sticking out but Julie's transformation - and that's only because she's a hot zombie to look at. I can't blame the producers for having to use the budget they had to work with. I can only judge the final product. At least the gore was pretty good, so it wasn't a complete let down.
THE FINAL HOWL
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 is a sequel I feel is pretty underrated. It's not as good as the first film [not many zombie films can match the quality of the original], but it's a step above the juvenile second installment. While the low budget hinders some of Brian Yuzna's ambition with less-than-spectacular looking zombies and a static middle act, this sequel does have some pretty good performances [Melinda Clarke in particular] and a love story that works better than it ought to. ROTLD 3 is the last good sequel in this franchise, as it completely nosedived after this one. Definitely worth a look or two if you want to see "Romeo & Juliet" mixed with zombies.