Return of the Living Dead II
Director: Ken Wiederhorn
Stars: James Karen, Thom Mathews, Michael Kenworthy
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons
Return of the Living Dead is one of the all-time greats of not only zombie films but horror and humor as well. It is also one of the most influential. You know how zombies eat brains? Yeah that’s because of RotLD. Yes, I’m sure all you horror fans know that, that’s mostly for the normies out there. But then there is the sequel when things looked noticeably cheaper and the whole thing was played far, far, faaaaaaaaaar more for laughs than chills. And for me, it just never worked. But the movie does have a small, but very loyal, cult following and this new Blu-ray is put out by the always awesome Scream Factory. So yeah, I was very interested in watching this for the first time in a couple of decades. Did my new watch of this film make me part of the cult that loves it or did I retain my first opinion of the movie, that it was a deeply flawed missed opportunity? Let’s find out.
This time the army is transporting those nasty, zombie Easter eggs from the first film, and of course they lose one. Some kids find it and open it and of course, it just so happens to be right next to an old, very packed cemetery. Before you can say, “here we go again” the dead rise looking to eat some brains and well, you know what happens then. This sense of déjà vu is heightened by the return of James Karen and Thom Mathews, vets from the first RotLD, but not playing the same characters…although yeah, they basically are. With them this time are no kickass punk rockers, instead we get a little kid, his high-school-aged sister, a cable guy, and a “wacky” doctor. Yay.
There are some real problems with this sequel for me. First, everything just looks so cheap, and this is never more obvious than when it comes to the zombies themselves. Sure there are a few good ones, such as a blatant rip-off of “Tarman” from the first movie. As for the rest of the shambling horde, many look like they are wearing bad Halloween masks and their overall look has been softened and are noticeably not as ghastly or grotesque as they were before. The gore, what little bit remains here, has also been turned way, way down. The reason for both of those things is confusing since the movie is still rated R, but in no way does it earn that rating. I think that is a direct result of my biggest gripe of the film: it was meant to be more funny than horrific right from the start. As the writer/director of this film admits in some of the special features on this Blu-ray, he planned it that way. Well, that (comedy?) just didn’t work here. At all. The final straw to break the zombie’s back here was the lack of a killer soundtrack or a sense of identity, two things that the original movie had in abundance. Everything just feels so…generic. And safe.
That said, there are some good moments in here, not many but some. There is also some fun to be had if you really try hard to forget the first film and go with what this movie is doing. But even in its own right, standing on its own two rotting feet, I don’t think this is a great movie, or even a good one. At best it’s passable and as a sequel to one of the all-time horror greats. Honestly, it should have been much more than that.
On to the extras that Scream Factory has given us on this new Blu-ray collector’s edition. First off there are an impressive three audio tracks on here. There is one with actress Suzanne Snyder, another with author Gary Smart and filmmaker Christopher Griffths, and the last with writer/director Ken Wiederhorn and co-star Thor Van Lingen. If that’s not enough extra audio goodness for you, there is an “alternate audio track” that has an entirely different soundtrack for the movie. I guess one was theatrical and the other an alternate take for some odd reason. There is a featurette on the special effects used in the movie that is 25 minutes long, there is a 20-minute look at the intentional increase in the comedy, and then there is a 13-minute featurette on the music used in the film. There is a general look back at RotLD 2 that is pretty brutal in its honesty that runs for 30 minutes, a live-from -set-feature that’s five and a half minutes long, and a four-minute collection of behind-the-scenes footage. There is an interview with actor Troy Formin who was the pot smoking truck driver who started the whole mess in this film that is two minutes long, and a two-minute collection of vintage interviews with various cast and crew made back when the movie was being made. There is a teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, a collection of TV spots, a special effects makeup still gallery, and a poster and lobby card still gallery. So yeah, there is plenty extra bang for your buck on here.
I am still not a huge fan of Return of the Living Dead II, but it has grown on me some. A little. It’s not a patch on the masterwork that is the original, but for some silly, stupid, brainless (ha) fun, it’s not as horrible as I once thought. If you are a fan of this film (I know you’re out there, my wife is one of you), then I can highly recommend this new Blu-ray from Scream Factory. As the fine folks at the factory so often do, this is easily and by far the single best version in terms of looks, sounds, and extras out today. If you are not a fan, consider this one a maybe, as in maybe you will end up liking this movie more than you did with a new watch. I did.