She's to die for.
Some movies stick with you long after the lights go up. When I was a kid back in 1988, I remember renting a movie that looked pretty darn scary: The Return Of The Living Dead. Released theatrically in 1985, Return Of The Living Dead was a horror/comedy based on the idea that George A. Romero's 1969 classic Night Of The Living Dead actually happened. The movie was a mix of giddy laughs and icky horror, featuring some fun performances and great music—in other words, a classic staple from the 1980s. The year I saw that film was the same year a sequel was released, The Return Of The Living Dead Part II. Mostly reviled as trash, I was one of the few that found the sequel to be a fun and goofy romp. It would be over five years before a third (and final?) sequel hit video shelves, the grotesque and somber Return Of The Living Dead 3. Though we're not lucky enough to have the first two movies on DVD yet, the third installment directed by Brian Yuzna (Bride Of Re-Animator) arrives on DVD care of Trimark Home Entertainment!
Facts of the Case
If you've missed the first two films, here is the idea behind the Return Of The Living Dead series: the United States army produced a chemical called Trioxin 2-4-5 that was supposed to be used to combat marijuana plants. Instead, the government found out that this chemical actually brought the dead back to life with gruesome results.
In Return Of The Living Dead 3, a new research operation is being held to see if the Trioxin chemical can be used successfully on cadavers. The idea is to re-animate corpses, use them in military wars, then bundle them back up when their "missions" are complete. In a top-secret lab, Colonel Reynolds (Kent McCord, Predator 2) is overseeing these new tests on the living dead. Unbeknownst to Reynolds, his son Curt (J. Trevor Edmund, Lord of Illusions) sneaks in with his punk girlfriend Julie (Mindy Clarke, Spawn) to watch "the big test" that's about to take place. Hiding above the rafters Julie and Curt watch in horror as one of the living dead test subjects is brought back to life. Shortly after the youthful couple flees, the subject rises again and attacks two scientists with deadly results.
Since the test is a failure, Col. Reynolds is assigned to a new project in Oklahoma City. Curt doesn't take this news too well, seeing as he's pissed that he's had to move around all his life. In a fit of anger he and Julie flee on his motorbike, assuming that their love will keep them save and happy.
Boy, were they wrong. After a few miles, Julie starts getting all hot and bothered. While attempting to play with Curt's…uh, throttle, Curt swerves off the road, throwing Julie straight into a telephone poll (insert your own "reach out and touch someone" joke here). Because their love is so strong, Curt believes that he can bring Julie back from the dead using the Trioxin gas used in the army tests. Sneaking back into the base, he re-animates Julie, as well as another sticky, slimy corpse.
Julie is alive again, but she's hungry. Hostess cupcakes won't fill her up. Neither will Little Debbie snack cakes. Only one thing can satisfy this little vixen…human BRAINS! Once Julie starts getting her fill of cranium juice, it's only a matter of time before she leaves a trail of blood…and some newly awakened zombies!
Out of all the horror movie ideas floating around out there, I find the idea of the living dead to be the most terrifying premise of all. Put me in a room with Leatherface, Norman Bates, and the Wolf Man, and I'd get along just fine. However, lock me up with a gaggle of zombies and I'd fold up faster than an origami swan. There's just something about the undead that scares the crap out of me. Maybe it's because they only have one singular function in life (and death): to eat your brains!
Dan O'Bannon's original The Return Of The Living Dead is one of my favorite horror films. I think it successfully captured a mood that was part fun, part fright, and part gore. The Return Of The Living Dead is one of those rare films that I have a hard time pinpointing why I like it so much. In fact, it belongs in that special genre of movies where it's by no means a great flick, but for some perverse reason is still entertaining. Strange Brew, Stay Tuned, and John Carpenter's Escape From L.A. also fall into this category. Maybe when I die I'll be judged harshly for finding Lucky Stiff hysterically funny. Until then, I'm sticking to my guns!
Return Of The Living Dead 3 is very different in tone to the first two films in the series. When I first rented this movie in 1993, I was somewhat disappointed with the end product. Maybe I was just a bit nostalgic for the first two movies. It would be a few years until I warmed up to Return Of The Living Dead 3 and actually enjoyed it for the cheese fest it is. Watching Return Of The Living Dead 3 again, I realized that on its own merits the movie a pretty good horror flick (though still the weakest of the trilogy).
The performers all step up to the plate and do a fairly admirable job with the script. Mindy Clarke is effectively attractive as Julie, and J. Trevor Edmund is fair as a blundering army brat who unwittingly brings the dead back to life. Neither of these actors will win awards for their characters, but they do an admirable job. The rest of the cast is on screen to stand around, look terrified and be eaten by zombies. They all come through in shining form.
In a way Return Of The Living Dead 3 is a mish mash of O'Bannon's idea, Romero's Night Of The Living Dead, and Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." Curt and Julie are star-crossed lovers who will stop at nothing to be together. It's obvious that director Brian Yuzna wanted to go in a different direction this time out (as he states in the commentary track). Ultimately, the new direction succeeds, though not before alienating some old Return Of The Living Dead fans. If you're looking the laughs and fun from the first two films, you'll be better off looking elsewhere. This script focuses more on Julie and Curt's dark romance than it does on the rampaging zombies. Of course, there's still plenty of blood and guts galore for you gore hounds, but this time out it's more about the love than it is the dripping entrails. The sight of re-animated corpses crawling out of their Trioxin bins still manages to send shivers up viewers' spines, but it's not as effective as having them crawl out of the ground. Some effects tended to look a tad fake, but that's all just part of the fun. Overall Return Of The Living Dead 3 provides good scares and some grisly looking zombies.
Return Of The Living Dead 3 is presented in anamorphic widescreen. I was fairly impressed with how good this transfer looked considering the budget of the film. Colors were usually sharp with blacks being dark and solid. There were hardly any blemishes in the picture, and though there was some grain, it was kept to a nice minimum. Slight edge enhancement was also spotted. This may not be of reference quality, but it is ten times better than any VHS copies floating around out there.
Audio is presented in Dolby Surround 2.0 in English. As usual with a 2.0 mix, this is nothing impressive but it does get the job done. Dialogue was clean and clear with effects and music mixed evenly. No distortion or hiss was present. Also included are Spanish, English and French subtitles.
Return Of The Living Dead 3 seems like a movie that studios would just throw out on DVD without any care of thought for the fans. Trimark apparently felt differently, as there are a few extra features that make this an above average product! First up there is not one but TWO commentary tracks for your listening enjoyment! The first track is by director Brian Yuzna, who also helmed the squishy sequel Bride of Re-Animator. This track features Yuzna discussing the ideas and inspirations behind Return Of The Living Dead 3, as well as casting choices, how many of the effects were accomplished, and the title of the film (Yuzna thought "Curt and Julie" would have been less "bulky" a title). Because the track features only Yuzna, it tends to lag in spots and comes off as a bit dry. Though it's not overly entertaining, it is informative and should enlighten Return Of The Living Dead 3 fans on its production history.
The second track features actress Mindy Clarke and special effects supervisor Tom Rainone. This track is much livelier and the stories tend to be a bit funnier. Rainone sounds like he's pretty flirtatious with Ms. Clarke, though she's smart enough to dismiss his seeming "infatuation." Ah, true love. Rainone fills us in on all the behind-the-scenes effects while Clarke gives us some inside scoop on many of the actors and actresses featured in Return Of The Living Dead 3. Taken together these tracks are a very nice addition to this feature and should provide viewers with hours of listening enjoyment!
Finally there is a trailer for Return Of The Living Dead 3, as well as bonus trailers for Faust, Progeny, The Dentist and The Dentist 2.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For searching for lots of splatter in Return Of The Living Dead 3 will really disappointed—this is the R-rated version, not the "uncut" version that was previously available on VHS and laserdisc. Why Trimark has decided to release just the R-rated version is beyond me. However, the edits are not that severe and shouldn't hinder your enjoyment of the film.
My hopes are that we'll see the release of The Return Of The Living Dead and The Return Of The Living Dead Part II on DVD someday. Until that time fans will have to whet their appetite with this semi-special edition of Return Of The Living Dead 3. The video and audio portions are above passing, and the extra features are much more plentiful than you'd imagine a film like this would receive. Return Of The Living Dead 3 is worth the purchase, or at the very least one night's rental…just don't watch it ALONE!
Brains…live brains…must eat brains…
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Brian Yuzna
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