Film Review: Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988)

Written and directed by Ken Wiederhorn, and starring Michael Kenworthy, Marsha Dietlein, Thor Van Lingen, Dana Ashbrook, Thom Mathews, James Karen, and Suzanne Snyder.

"Curious kids open a barrel of green gas linked to a mysterious military experiment, and soon a tenebrous green cloud of fog is making its way through the creepy town cemetery. Knowing exactly where this is headed is, of course, part of the fun in this tongue-in-cheek zombie sequel. Maybe it's not as fresh as its successful predecessor, but all of the key zombie ingredients are still well preserved in this second installment: ravenous "undead" in search of human brains, severed limbs with a life of their own, and lots and lots of shrieking! Taking a hackneyed premise that is a close retelling of part I, director Ken Wiederhorn (Freddy’s Nightmares, Shock Waves) rejuvenates the genre with sporadic genuine scares, lots of plain old silliness, and some literally eye-popping special effects. Followed up a few years later with the equally enjoyable Return of the Living Dead Part III, this is a fun franchise that reminds you of what '80s horror was all about: bad synth music, and perms."
I just previously mentioned director Ken Wiederhorn's Shock Waves (1977) yesterday in my review for Dead Snow. Shock Waves was the first movie to ever feature Nazi zombies. Now, fast forward to 1988, and Wiederhorn's sequel to John Russo's The Return of the Living Dead finds him back in familiar territory. Unfortunately, Part II is much less inspired than its predecessor, with its fault found firmly in the main character being a child, who for better or for worse, can't act at all, and only leads the viewer to becoming annoyed and fatigued. It had only been three years since the first movie released, but, rather quickly, the landscape and overall feel had drastically changed. Gone are all of the vibrant, colorful characters of Russo's sequel to Night of the Living Dead, and in its place are boring, clich├ęd suburbanites that you can only hope meet a timely demise at the hands (or teeth) of the living dead.

But that's not to say that Part II is all bad. The gore is still top notch, there's a few laughs thrown in the mix, and despite all of the movie's cons, the familiarities found in the sequel are a definite plus. Thom Mathews and James Karen both return for the movie, though playing different (and yet, still the same characters), with homage lines such as: "If you like this job." and "Like this job?" It's one of the few nice touches really. But even the Tarman makes an appearance, albeit a short one. Though, just to clear the confusion, his head didn't grow back. It's simply another zombie from the same kind of Trioxin barrel. Though the comedy elements of the film are generally too tacky to enjoy, a few scenes gave me a chuckle: "A zombie dress up and looks like Michael Jackson makes a cameo appearance at the end of the film. While being electrocuted he performs some signature Michael Jackson dance moves."
While keeping the same rules of the undead from the first film, Part II adds one necessary new law for the zombies of the Return of the Living Dead series: "In this film it's revealed that the only thing which truly stops the zombies, without the risk of reanimating more corpses, is powerful electric discharges. The electric discharge can stop the reanimating effect created by Trioxin without generating Trioxin fumes the way cremation can." This ultimately sets the stage for a final showdown at an electrical station (which also happens to involve cow brains). While nowhere near as interesting or satisfying as the conclusion to Part I, the second film's ending is still rather amusing. Even though this movie is essential viewing if you're a genre fan, that doesn't necessarily make it an enjoyable viewing. I wouldn't go beyond a rental or late-night viewing on cable. I may be in the minority, but I found the follow-up, Return of the Living Dead 3, slightly redeeming of this mess of a movie. Make sure to listen for a cover of Boby Brickett's classic song Monster Mash playing over the end credits.

Best quote: "Look, they're ugly and they're dirty and they're dumb, and I don't even care if they are dead. I hate 'em, there's no way they're touching me!"

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