Category: Movie Reviews
Written by SuperNova
Published on Wednesday, 18 February 2009 17:32
Return of the Living Dead Part II DVD Review
Written by SuperNova
DVD released by Warner Bros.
Written and Directed By: Ken Wiederhorn
1987, Region 1 (NTSC), 89 minutes, Rated R
DVD released on October 5th, 2004
Return of the Living Dead Part II opens with a army convoy carrying contaminated barrels of noxious gases that predictably aren’t secured to withstand a few bumps, leaving one container to fall from the bed of the truck down into a secluded gully near a subdivision still under construction. Night turns into day and we meet young Jesse Wilson (Michael Kenworthy) being bullied by two classmates, a gangly Thor van Lingen as brace-faced Billy, and Jason Hogan as Johnny, one of his flunkies. The two decide it’s time to initiate Jesse into their club and forcefully persuade him to go with them to their clubhouse. As it turns out, the three arrive at a local crypt where Johnny and Billy try to lock Jesse inside, but he manages to escape from them and runs into a large drainage pipe. After he is caught, the three notice a large barrel and Billy and Johnny begin to mess with it, despite the reluctance of Jesse. Subsequent to discovering a corpse locked inside the container, the boys take off. Fearing that Jesse will tell on them, Johnny and Billy lock Jesse inside the crypt and leave him there for the night.
In the meantime. arriving at the same cemetery are grave robbers Ed (James Karen), Joey (Thom Mathews), and Joey’s girlfriend, Brenda (Suzanne Snyder). Ed and Joey plan to break into the crypt and steal jewelry off the recently deceased to earn some quick cash. Once inside, they begin their work, but not before Jesse is able to escape from the crypt without a trace. Throughout this disproportionate confusion, Billy and Johnny retrace their account with the sinister canister, and through much stubbornness open it and unleash a chemical known as ‘Trioxin’ into the air. This potent chemical, once inhaled or contacted through the pours in the skin, begins to slowly infect the immune and nervous system, turning you into a walking corpse whose only antidote is human brains. When the chemical seeps into the local cemetery it somehow revives the dead and all hell breaks lose.
Back at home, Jesse tries to convince his sister Lucy (Marsha Dietlein) that something is terribly wrong, but she doesn’t listen and locks poor Jesse in his room. At the crypt things don’t seem to be going too well for Ed and Joey, either. The corpse they were working on has now returned back to life and outside is swarming with the living dead. As Joey, Ed and Brenda flee from the cemetery they run into trouble outside of Jesse’s home. The five group together with a local cable installer (Dana Ashbrook) to try and escape from the town. But their operation is cut short once they discover the military has sealed off all exits leading out of town. Now they must somehow survive through the night with hungry zombies on their trail, will they make it out alive?
Arriving just in time for Halloween, Warner Brothers serves up horror fans a delicious treat this ghoulish holiday season by filling our local retail chains with a collection of horror titles. Today I get into the spirit and take a look at the sourest of the DVD releases with Return of the Living Dead II. This often scrutinized and slandered sequel left a squishy bitter taste in many fans' mouths upon its initial release in 1987 and all the sugarcoated cranium slurping and succulent bubblegum entrails still couldn’t disguise the aftermath of this junk food cinematic abomination.
Back in 1985, Dan O’ Bannon wrote and directed the first Return of the Living Dead, which was produced by Tom Fox, who bought the original ‘Living Dead’ title rights from George Romero. Dan O’ Bannon’s zombie romp was a distinctive attempt to portray as much satire and unconventional humor in a horror movie as possible and he succeeded by creating a truly original, ostentatious, and well paced zombie movie that blended the elements of lowbrow slapstick and terror together perfectly. A few short years later, writer and director Ken Wiederhorn (Shock Waves) would however take the aspect of humor one step further and turn his ‘Living Dead’ sequel into a clichéd and agonizing eighty nine minutes of pure déjà vu that assembled two original cast members and a premise attentively close to Dan O’ Bannon’s script. The only problem was: Ken Wiederhorn is not Dan O’ Bannon and the characters Joey and Ed from the original Return are not Freddy and Frank despite being reprised by Thom Mathews and James Karen.
Return of the Living Dead Part II is a less wittier and far less superior outing than its predecessor, and it’s clear to see why. Ken Wiederhorn doesn’t even try to tread new cinematic ground here and really why should he; a director who’s been credited to saying he “loathes horror movies.” The story’s biggest problem is that the pacing in Return of the Living Dead II is so off the wall that the film can hardly contain its composure before even taking off. And the comedy, which I believe is too forced, restricting any tension that would benefit the film, only serves to create moments of complete absurdity. The movie is essentially a congregated inside joke that uses straightforward humor to even poke fun at itself. But when the jokes start to become small irritating nudges and winks everything that is comical becomes mediocre and undemanding. Every character exchange becomes something of the past, something clichéd, none more than when Thom Mathews and James Karen get together and literally engage themselves in the same dialogue of the first movie.
Return of the Living Dead II just feels imbalanced to me, the comedy doesn’t correspond well with the horror, because the ‘horror’ itself is exposed as funny, making the movie one dimensional. Ken Wiederhorn says in the commentary on the DVD “Horror comedies don’t work”, but they actually do if you are able to balance both elements of the genres. Return of the Living Dead II doesn’t work here, because there is no real ‘horror’ like it was to be expected. And the story doesn’t stick to a solid medium, instead it constructs itself and orients itself to what is ordinary, removing the aspect of terror to appeal to a wider foundation of consumers, only this abandonment reaches out to a market that many are unfamiliar with and that is why horror comedies don’t appear to succeed.
As a brainless comedy, Return of the Living Dead Part II works because the special effects are silly and the dialogue is intentionally laughable. But there isn’t much beyond that, save maybe a little pity. The movie’s only redeeming factors are the returning actors James Karen and Thom Mathews who can brilliantly feed off each other. But even their chemistry can’t change the fact that they are only reliving a moment in the past of some less surprising and stark movie. Maybe my sense of humor is too refined for these films anymore, even a zombie that appears to be dressed as Michael Jackson from his music video “Thriller” doesn’t even stir a hint of laughter now. Perhaps if you suspend your brain for ninety minutes you will be able to find some satisfaction and enjoyment out of Return of the Living Dead II.
Video and Audio:
This 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation of Return of the Living Dead Part II is certainly a lot better in terms of detail and clarity compared to the old video cassettes and cable broadcast, but the color is still a tinge too soft and in some daytime exterior shots where colors should be defined, considerable grain is noticeable. While not really the fault of the print, which does display some nice individual saturation, I believe it has to do with the way Return of the Living Dead II was shot using a vintage color palette. With the minor quips aside, Warner Brothers does an adequate job with the transfer and give fans of the series something to hold them over.
Warner Brothers presents Return of the Living Dead Part II in an English and French 2.0 mono soundtrack. There has been a lot of discussion regarding the film being re-scored and the music being rearranged and altered even so much so that during the director’s commentary Ken Wiederhorn mentions his displeasure with how Warner Brothers has handled the English audio track. If you are a purist you’ll understand how music can severely alter a film and while the music from Return of the Living Dead II is hardly noteworthy or even memorable you have to consider and appreciate the original for what it is. Surprisingly though, fans can access the original soundtrack by switching the audio to the French track. The audio overall is clear and consistent, with dialogue being projected well from the speakers without any blemishes to speak of.
Also present are English, French and Spanish subtitles.
- Audio Commentary from Director Ken Wiederhorn and CO-STAR Thor Van Lingen
- Theatrical Trailer
Warner brothers opts to release Return of the Living Dead Part II in an almost bare bones DVD release, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering the film is hardly worth a second viewing, but the advantage of extra material would have been a nice addition for fans wanting to see what Thom Mathews and James Karen were up to these days, the latter being quite the busy man. Return of the Living Dead Part II opens to a static menu with twenty three remote access chapter stops. A solid DVD release with a theatrical trailer of Return of the Living Dead Part II and an audio commentary.
Audio Commentary from Director Ken Wiederhorn and CO-STAR Thor Van Lingen – There’s something odd about this audio commentary; I don’t believe Director Ken Wiederhorn and CO-STAR Thor Van Lingen are watching the movie together as the comments are too precise and too clear. There are no interruptions or abrupt moments of silence. When one man stops speaking the other picks up seemingly ignoring what the last had to say. It’s apparent both audio tracks were recorded separately then pieced together. While it certainly is different to say the least, director Ken Wiederhorn does a nice job explaining the process of how his script came to life, but his overall tone is seriously negative while Thor Van Lingen contrast that by openly joking around about Return of the Living Dead II being his only screen credit.
Every genre has its bad offspring and by now it’s no secret Ken Wiederhorn’s sequel to Return of the Living Dead is an outcast in its own series. Blending humor with horror will always have dramatic results. If the combination is evenly balanced the film could be successful, but if one element outweighs the other, which it does here, the inequity usually leaves much to be desired. Some fans can find comfort in knowing Warner Brothers took the time to release this movie on DVD (boasting a nice transfer and an interesting audio commentary), because those fans actually like Return of the Living Dead II, and while I can’t whole heartedly agree I enjoy the movie; I will say it has its moments even if they are few and far between and don’t hold up well with repeated viewings.
Want to comment on this review? Head over to the Horrortalk Review Forum.
© 2004 HorrorTalk.com. No use of this review is permitted without expressed permission from HorrorTalk.com.