If the title Return of the Living Dead Part II strikes your ear as just a bit redundant, be advised: This whole movie is a retread. In other words, the zombies aren’t the only things that get resurrected.
Return Part II borrows most of its effective moments from the 1985 Return of the Living Dead, a graphic and amusing horror flick. That film was directed and written by Dan O’Bannon, who struck a giddy balance of comedy and horror. O’Bannon came up with a lot of audacious black-humor moments, and conceived a wicked send-off for his living dead. Of course, that film was a spin-off of George Romero’s series of Living Dead films.
O’Bannon has departed and left the writer-director duties to Ken Wiederhorn, who follows the formula exactly, but with less original inspiration. Once again a barrel, containing the results of a chemical experiment gone awry, falls into the wrong hands; when opened, said barrel releases a gas that has the power to re-animate the dead. The gas seeps into a graveyard, and the underground denizens are soon up and at ‘em.
The uprising catches a couple of grave-robbers unawares (they are played by Thom Mathews and the shamelessly hammy James Karen, who played similar roles in the first film). These two morons band together with a few other dippy live folks to do battle with the dead.
As in the first film, the dead basically walk around with their hands outstretched and moan, “Brains.” Eating the brains of live persons is the only thing that will assuage their pain.
The special corpse effects are quite state-of-the-art. It’s all here: worms extending from rotting heads, gooey faces collapsing in on themselves, and an expressive skull that says, “Get that damn screwdriver out of my head.”
If you’re still with me, the film builds to the moment when one of the living spots a meat-packing plant and says, “They want brains? We’ll give ‘em brains!” A great line, and the beginning of the end—again—for the dead. Temporarily, of course: Return of the Return of the Living Dead Again is probably already in the works.
First published in the Herald, January 1988
From the director of King Frat, Eyes of a Stranger, and Meatballs Part II.