Return of the Living Dead Part II

October 25, 2012

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.

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Meatballs Part II

December 29, 2011

I never would have believed that any movie could make the huge-grossing (in every sense of the term) Meatballs look good, but here it is: Meatballs Part II, a dead-in-the-water comedy about summer camp.

The fact that it’s about summer camp is the sole similarity with the original Meatballs. That film, the most successful Canadian release in history, cleaned up at the turnstiles solely on the strength of a hilarious central performance by Bill Murray.

Meatballs Part II doesn’t have Murray, and it doesn’t have anything to replace him. It’s a summer-camp session with the usual jokes about counselors trying to make whoopee under difficult conditions.

The main plot has the zany Camp Sasquatch trying to best military Camp Patton (“Where Outdoor Living Molds Killers”) in the annual boxing championship. Sasquatch’s boxing hope (John Mengatti) is a street kid who starts to like a shy girl (Kim Richards).

The only remotely humorous moments in the film are had by Hamilton Camp, doing a rabid disciplinarian number as the leader of Camp Patton, and John Larroquette, who plays his swishy assistant. It’s old and disreputable humor, but these two actors have a certain chemistry.

Otherwise, funny Richard Mulligan (of “Soap” and S.O.B.) is wasted, as is Paul Reubens, better known to one and all in his comic incarnation as Pee-wee Herman. It’s too bad the producers didn’t see Reubens’ potential, because a passable comedy might have been constructed out of this mess with Reubens as a manic center, as Murray was for Meatballs.

There are two oddities about Meatballs Part II. One is that there is an outer-space angle: a little E.T. imitation is dropped off by his parents to enjoy the summer camp. Apparently, he does. Very strange.

Also, one of the main campers is a handicapped boy in a wheelchair. This is not a first. There was a paraplegic kid who was a victim—er, character—in the summer camp of Friday the 13th, Part 3.

But it’s unusual to see a handicapped character as simply another person in an exploitation comedy. Except for a joke at the beginning when this guy’s motorized wheelchair outraces the camp bus, the handicap is barely mentioned. No cheap pathos, no sob story. He’s just another camper. That’s a peculiarly enlightened attitude for this otherwise uninteresting film.

First published in the Herald, August 1, 1984

If I’m using the phrase “make whoopee” I must be pretty disengaged. No excuse for that, except the movie itself, which is grueling. The original Meatballs might be awful, but Bill Murray is heroic in it—in his early movies he seems liberated not just as a comedian but as someone unwilling to pretend to be part of a movie. The director of Meatballs Part II is Ken Wiederhorn, who previously helmed King Frat and Eyes of a Stranger, and whose next film would be Return of the Living Dead Part II. That’s a helluva movie marathon for some lost weekend.