Reviews of The Return of the Living Dead (1985) and related work

The Return of the Living Dead (1985Moving picture, 91 minutes)

When the dead rose in Night of the Living Dead (not 1969), it was not because of any “mysterious radiation” but because of a chemical which is still around, misplaced by the army. The chemical, and the corpses it once animated, are in the basement of a warehouse for medical supplies. Its containers are just waiting to break when roughly handled. Once released, nothing would stop the chemical, especially not a reduction of zombies to hot ashes when the clouds are heavy and there’s a cemetery right nearby. Incidentally, it’s a cemetery full of nihilistic punks, and one of them seems to be taking her clothes off.

Like Zombi 2 (1979), this franchise claims to be related to the Dead series, but this one does not position itself as a sequel. It treats Romero’s original as if it were based on a true story distorted only for dramatic and legal reasons. The result is a black comedy with a keen edge of shock. It goes to surprising lengths to preserve psychological realism, unlike Re-Animator (1985), qualifying itself as one of few successful comedy/horror combinations in existence. It’s vaguely dystopian to boot.

There are lots of neat touches throughout, such as the disclaimer reading “The events portrayed in this film are all true. The names are real names of real people and real organizations.” Beware of some amusingly bad supporting acting. Read up on the original script (which dodges the cheap epilogue of this one), and ask yourself what Ernie was probably doing in the 1940s.

References here: Super 8 (2011).

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Return of the Living Dead II (1988Moving picture, 89 minutes)

A barrel containing trioxin and a second “tarman” drops off an army truck, into a river. The military is on top of the situation with relative speed and leniency, but the shit still hits the fan, centered on a bullied young boy.

A comedy with gore, but less of it, and no real horror. The edge of seriousness is gone, and the jokes are less congruous. There’s even a Michael Jackson impersonator. Kids’ stuff. The main point of interest is in fact the sheer oddity of inserting an undead brain-eating disaster as the adversity in Hollywood’s traditional story of a plucky little kid triumphing over adversity.

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Return of the Living Dead III (1993Moving picture, 97 minutes)

Young lovers looking for adventure use a borrowed key card to peek into a secret military experiment. Later, one of them is killed in traffic, and the other one remembers what he saw.

No proper outbreak, hence a more personal/dramatic story, again with very limited humour, and a slower pace, and now a little bit of mecha. This time it’s a love story, with altered premises: The trioxin now propagates very effectively even through small bites, it is the absence of pain rather than the presence of it that causes the hunger, and the military thinks it has a solution.

It feels primarily like a roundabout comment on self-injury (“cutting”) dressed up as a zombie flick. Some good creature effects, sadly inept secondary antagonists (arcade games are serious business!), and a post-“Desert Storm” improvement in the image of the military.

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