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John’s Horror Corner: Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988), pales compared to the outstanding original which it basically reimagines.

June 28, 2020

MY CALL: This is basically more of the same yet not nearly as good as 1985’s original, which it basically remakes in the same vein as Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987). The only notable improvement is in the zombie special effects. MORE MOVIES LIKE Return of the Living Dead II: First off, just make sure you see Return of the Living Dead (1985). Looking for more gory 70s-80s zombie fare? Try Dawn of the Dead (1978), Zombie (1979), City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), Day of the Dead (1985), Re-Animator (1985) and Flesh Eating Mothers (1988).

Not really acknowledging that part I ever happened (at least, not clearly other than the arrival of the military), this second installment of our chemically-induced zombie franchise continues to blame the brain-craving wave of reanimation on the army’s experiments in biological warfare.

Our undead menace is unearthed when some kids find one of the army’s cadaver barrels and release the toxic gas near a cemetery. Then, like part I (but not as tactfully executed), it rains and the chemicals in the contaminated precipitation reanimate the buried corpses.

Returning but not reprising their roles of Frank and Freddy from part I, James Karen (Poltergeist, The Unborn, The Willies, Girlfriend from Hell) and Thom Mathews (Friday the 13th part VI) play the very looney grave diggers Ed and Joey… and boy are they hamming it up for our amusement. Also reprising his role from part I is Jonathan Terry (Return of the Living Dead, Halloween III) as the army colonel behind the whole cadaver canister debacle.

Our first zombie does honor to the “tar man” (and is cast by the same name) by being the slimiest thing this franchise has seen so far. In general, all zombies in this sequel have received a latex effects upgrade complete with bony visages and rotting cheeks. The special effects are really the only franchise improvement. We enjoy an extremely gross, green-gooey punch to a caved-in face; wriggling earthworms in the face; a lower jaw being ripped out; and a zombie being shot in half at the waist.

These zombies are even more intelligent and communicative than in part I. They even sprint… sometimes. Like most zombie movies, their locomotive abilities seem to vary from scene to scene with some being rickety stumblers and others adroit runners. Oh, and watch out for the Thriller zombie.

In many ways, this feels like a pseudo-remake of part I (much in the manner of Evil Dead II). These films all use some of the same cast, do not acknowledge their respective part I predecessors, and enjoy a healthy does of humor interspersed with grossness. James Karen’s whiny humor is a nonsensical delight, and both Karen and Mathews again undergo a slow turning process as their bodies die. These guys whine like cartoon characters to such extent that some may find it as annoying as laughable. But I rather enjoyed how it wallowed in its own lunacy.

Overall, I find part II quite inferior to part I in all ways imaginable except for the quality of the visual effects. The zombies look much better here, but the story doesn’t go anywhere new or interesting. It’s been a loooong time since I’d seen this and, I gotta’ say, this is the first time I recall not being impressed by it. I mean, it’s an alright thing to watch and I enjoyed it for the nostalgia it tendered. But it’s nothing special… not anymore. I’m afraid director Dan O’Bannon (The Resurrected, Return of the Living Dead) left some big shoes to fill, and part II’s writer and director Ken Wiederhorn (Dark Tower, Shock Waves, Freddy’s Nightmares) is like a 9-year old trying on his father’s over-sized slippers; it’s endearing, but it’s just not going to work as well as you’d hope. I’d say the same about the ending.

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