For one glorious moment in 1985, horror fans were treated to a movie directed by massively underrated film writer Dan O’Bannon. The movie was an exploitation of Night of the Living Dead and it was a gloriously unique horror comedy the likes of which this world had never and would never see again. Return of the Living Dead is a magical experience that knows how trashy, how funny, and how scary to be at any given moment. There have been many attempts to make a movie equal to this one, there will never be one.
A plan was made to make a sequel to Return of the Living Dead Part 2, for some reason somebody thought that the guy who directed Shock Waves and Meatballs 2, Ken Wiederhorn would be the perfect man for the job. Somehow the situation in Louisville got cleared up after the end of the first film and the world at large seems unaware of what happened. One of the drums of Trioxin-infected corpses falls off a truck and lands in a road culvert.
Thom Matthews and James Karen return as new characters for no apparent reason, it’s even lampshaded with a line where Matthews says “I feel like we’ve done all this before.” They’re not important, though. They just happen to join up with the main characters as they attempt to survive the zombification of their small suburban town. The invincibility of the zombies is written off now, they can now be killed with large amounts of electricity.
Does It Hold Up?
Nope. Return of the Living Dead was a perfect stew of wonderful elements that made an amazing movie, Return of the Living Dead 2 was never gonna beat it but it still manages to make a handful of mistakes on its own. Right out the gate, the biggest problem is that it’s a horror comedy that’s unfunny, I don’t mean that it’s too serious or doesn’t have enough jokes, I mean that it tries really hard to elicit laughter and it fails miserably. The jokes in this movie are painful and I cringe every time, the talking head is particularly excruciating. James Karen does a broader version of what he did in the first film and it’s crazy annoying. I also can’t figure out how Thom Matthews can play essentially the same character with the exact same plot trajectory and fuck it up so bad. He was one of the high points of the first movie and one of the lowest of this one. The one glorious light in the darkness is Philip Bruns as an alcoholic milquetoast doctor, he’s got a great above-it-all air and jovial sense of humor that never fails to make me chuckle and is easily my favorite character in this movie.
That being said, I really genuinely like Return of the Living Dead Part 2. It doesn’t have that perfect balance of the first movie but it is scarier than the first. I never thought anything would top the Tar Man from part 1 but sequel Tar Man is even more horrifying. The budget doesn’t really have a way to show the zombies taking over more than a handful of houses but the empty streets with all the lights on and the hordes of zombies roaming about have a wonderful nightmarish quality that I love. The characters in the first film were under siege but the ones here are on the run which changes the dynamic entirely.
Return of the Living Dead Part 2 is a mess but there is a good horror movie in there and more often than not it shines through.
Watch, Toss, Or Buy?
Where Can I Find It?
It’s available on DVD and Amazon Instant.