Ah, the much-maligned art of the sequel. For every Evil Dead, there is an Evil Dead 2 (Yay!), for every Halloween, there is a Halloween II (Yay!), and for every Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there is a Texas Chainsaw Massacre II (Stop crying). While some movies definitely deserve their sequels, usually they end up paling in comparison to the original. Sure, Poltergeist IIís tequila-worm-monster was pure gold (and designed by Swiss lunatic/artist H.R. Giger), but the movie as a whole couldnít hold a candle to the original. Same goes for any of the Jaws sequels, many of the Halloween sequels, so on and so forth. Other times, the sequels can surpass the originals, such as in the aforementioned Evil Dead series (duh), or...umm...okay, so itís rare as hell.
Return of the Living Dead Part II is an interesting paradox: itís a sequel thatís more of a remake of a movie thatís a sorta-sequel for George Romeroís original Night of the Living Dead. Remember the mysterious circumstances behind Night of the Living Deadís rampant reanimation? Well, Return had the interesting theory that it was caused by a herbicide called Trioxin, which was created by the government to squelch the crops of marijuana popping up during the late Sixties (Drugs were around in the late Sixties? I did not know that!). Unfortunately, Trioxin killed the pot, but it had the nasty side effect of raising the dead. Whoops! Well, the army moved in quickly to contain the zombie problem, and they did, pretty much eliminating the timeline of both Dawn and Day of the Dead. How respectful! When I say they contained the zombie menace, I mean it literally: they canned up the walking corpses in giant vats full of Trioxin, which wind up being redistributed all over the country through the ineptitude of our nationís armed forces. The first ROTLD attempted to blend horror and comedy (a Herculean task which is rarely accomplished) with moderate quality results. Basically, it featured some pretty badass special effects (Hooray for the Tar Man!) stuffed into a mediocre screenplay, which ended in nuclear holocaust. An entertaining film, but not one that really warranted a sequel (let alone four, as parts 4 & 5 are being filmed as I type this), nonetheless sequels were made, the first of which is, logically, Return of the Living Dead Part II.
The plot is eerily similar (plagiaristic?) to the first film: army loses canister of Trioxin, hapless knuckleheads crack open mysterious carcass-containing drum, releasing Trioxin gas (and its creamy zombie center!) to waft over the countryside. The dead rise, the living fall ill only to join the ranks of the dead, the military is called in to "contain" the situation and be another obstacle for our team of plucky survivors to overcome as the shit hits the fan. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Itís all extremely familiar territory here, folks. Hell, you can practically smell the hairspray of the last Eighties skank who ran shrieking from the shambling dead, leaving the L.A. Gear-branded footprints weĎre walking in. Unfortunately, Return II screws things up by losing almost all of the charm its forebear had: a decent mix of horror and comedy that provided a few good laughs in with some great scares. Instead, they attempt the up the comedy quotient, which simply doesnít work. See, last time I checked, comedy was supposed to be funny. Return of the Living Dead Part II is not. Its (plagiarized) "severed hand flipping the bird" scene doesnít work, its "zombies confused by people on TV" bit doesnít work, its lame slapstick violence doesnít work. Simply put, it doesnít work. Sure, I caught myself smirking once or twice, and I actually laughed at the ridiculous Thriller sight gag, but besides that, my eyes were rolling so much I think I saw more of my eyebrows than the movie, which sucks for one, big, rubbery reason: it was a waste of the effects.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the practical effects are completely awesome. A great mix of prosthetic appliances and animatronics, the dead never looked so alive! For 1988, theyíre simply breathtaking, and quite helpful to the look of the film. Instead of just the freshly dead, there are some old, desiccated corpses joining in the brain-chomping fun (including a cool-looking but obnoxious severed head). Zombies are dismembered convincingly, skin is seared off, and bodies blow in half, only for the two halves to try and reunite! Thereís even a return of my beloved Tar Man (although not nearly as cool as the previous filmís Tar Man). Itís just a damn shame that such pretty effects had to be stuck in such a crappy flick.
Trapped for years in a VHS tomb, ROTLD2ís DVD presentation is mediocre at best. Colors seem bland and muted, and thereís plenty of grain and print damage, and the overall image seemed way too soft. Audio fared a little better, with clean mixes in either English stereo or French mono. Unfortunately, WB took it upon themselves to re-do the soundtrack, adding a "last time on Return of the Living Dead..." voiceover, and playing musical chairs with the movieís 80ís metal-flavored soundtrack. Songs are shuffled around, stuffed in the end credits, or removed entirely. Even odder, they left the soundtrack intact on the French language track...peculiar. Extras are slim, consisting of audio commentary and a trailer. However, the commentary by co-star Thor Van Lingen and writer/director Ken Wiederhorn, who was also responsible for Shock Waves (review here) and the short-lived TV series Freddyís Nightmares (review here), is of strange note: they both seemed pretty cheesed off about the soundtrack issue as well. Very interesting...
Ultimately, ROTLD2 is another bad sequel. If you simply must watch a ROTLD movie, watch the original. If you simply must watch a ROTLD sequel...what the hell is wrong with you? Regardless, if you must watch a sequel, watch Brian Yuznaís mediocre (but still superior to this dreck) Return of the Living Dead 3. Hell, at least that one features the luscious Mindy Clarke ramming shards of glass into her skin! Thatís hot...right?