RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD II, directed by Ken Wiederhorn (Dark Tower) is the follow up sequel to Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 film, The Return of the Living Dead. The film stars James Karen (The Return of the Living Dead), Thom Mathews (Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI), Michael Kenworthy (The Blob), and Suzanne Snyder (Weird Science).
While passing through a new housing development, an Army transport carrying mysterious barrels hits a bump resulting in a few barrels falling off the back of the truck. While playing by a nearby sewer drain, a group of neighborhood kids find the barrels and upon curiosity, open it, not realizing that the contents inside will send a horrifying chain reaction through the sleepy town. Now the dead walk the earth once again, and it’s up to a small group of people to put an end to the rising corpses before the living dead succeed in their quest to devour everyone’s brains.
Having watched The Return of the Living Dead only a few years ago, and absolutely loving it, I was looking forward to seeing what the sequel had in store for fans of the undead. Though not as enjoyable as its predecessor, there is still a lot that fans of the original will enjoy. Interestingly enough, there were a few familiar faces, most notably James Karen and Thom Mathews. Though they did not reprise their original roles from the first film, it was still a welcomed surprise to see them in the sequel as two graverobbers who take in the toxic gas fumes that have been unleashed from the barrels. Having gone into this film relatively blind, it was also a surprise to see Dana Ashbrook, of Twin Peak fame, in the role of cable repairman Tom Essex. Other than the obvious 80s tropes and exaggerated acting style, the performances were mostly bearable as they rode that fine line of not being too campy. The only noticeable annoyance that came from these characters were their incessant need to scream and moan all the time. I didn’t mind it in the beginning when the undead first appear, but after awhile the sound of their screaming was like nails on a chalkboard. Ideally, I would have very much liked it if they had pulled back the reigns on that.
With a movie such as RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD II, there is a level of gore that is expected and this film does not hold back in that department. Whether it’s decaying flesh sliding off the bone, heads exploding, eyeballs popping out, or brains being eaten, anyone who has an appreciation for practical effects is going to be in for a real treat. I would say that this aspect of the film is the strongest and it’s executed (no pun intended) in a wonderful, blood-splattering array of body parts. Even when two of the main characters begin to turn into the undead, the process is gradual but noticeable enough that it allows for a level of believability; that is, of course, until they start to hunger for human flesh. For those who love a good gore-fest, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD II is going to be right up your alley.
All in all, I found RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD II to be an enjoyable watch even if I had some issues with the acting and relentless screaming. I still think the first film is far superior to this, but isn’t that usually the case? Rarely does a sequel match that of its predecessor, and though this may not be as memorable as the original, it’s still a half decent entry into the zombie sub-genre. Laced throughout with humor, homages to the first film, a Michael Jackson zombie, bloodshed, carnage, and the typical 80s-style score, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD II is a must-have for fans who love themselves some 80s zombie horror goodness. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD II is now on sale at ShoutFactory.com and is filled to the brim with special features that include audio commentary, interviews with the cast and crew, behind-the-scenes footage, and much, much more!