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John’s Horror Corner: Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993), the masochistic zombie love story you never knew you needed in your life.

July 3, 2020

MY CALL: This film is to Return of the Living Dead (1985) what A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) is to A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Yes, I said it! It’s the Dream Warriors of the franchise; the best sequel the series has to offer by a landslide of brains tumbling down the mountainside. MORE MOVIES LIKE Return of the Living Dead 3: For more horror love stories, try Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Let the Right One In (2008) or Crimson Peak (2015).

For this third installment to the franchise, the military continues to refer to the incident in 1969 and the cadavers in canister-like drums, perhaps the only points of continuity linking any of the movies together. But this sequel makes no accident of the unleashed zombie outbreak. Led by Colonel Reynolds (Kent McCord; Predator 2), the military continues the research referenced in past movies by deliberately reanimating zombies. Naturally, these experiments get out of hand and people die deaths as gruesome as the franchise has yet offered.

Unlike its predecessors, there are no comedic elements to this movie. With director Brian Yuzna (Society, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead, Faust, Bride of Re-Animator) in charge, you know the gory effects will be abundant and chunky! The first death is a testament to this as a scientist’s head is slammed against a wall a dozen times until the back of his head looks like a burst pinata!

The zombie latex effects are really engaging. A preposterously gross zombie tears itself asunder from its fused contorted form; another zombie missing the top of his head with his scrambled brains bare; there’s a Henrietta-inspired long-necked zombie and the long-necked shenanigans are awesome; steam melts the faces off some of them; there’s a friendly yet monstrous mecha-zombie; and Julie gives herself a provocative Cenobite makeover. It’s delightful.

At odds with his father with devastated by the death of his girlfriend in a motorcycle accident, teenager Curt Reynolds (J. Trevor Edmond; Lord of Illusions, Pumpkinhead II) tries to save Julie (Melinda Clarke; Killer Tongue) using the reanimation procedure involving the cadaver canister gas. The experiment works! Well, it sort of works. With her body slowly doing and her hunger for brains unbearable, Julie masochistically discovers that pain is her only relief—and that pain can be tough to watch as she pierces her skin with whatever implements she finds lying around while they flee the police and the military.

At this point, yes, Curt’s girlfriend is slowly turning into a zombie and eating flesh. And yes, even in undeath she blames him for her suffering. But somehow this doesn’t feel as campy or ridiculous as you’d think. Their emotional connection is palpable. Curt suffers as he watches Julie suffer and, losing her will to live, she is as emotionally fragile as ever… and we viewers really feel for both of them. As her turning progresses and her pain augments, she loses control. She needs Curt to help end her torment; she begs for it. When Julie pleas “don’t leave me,” I’ve never felt so much sympathy for a zombie.

This movie is to Return of the Living Dead (1985) what A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) is to A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Yes, I said it! It’s the Dream Warriors of the franchise; the best sequel the series has to offer by a landslide. And I don’t care that Melinda Clarke spends a shocking amount of screen time topless. It’s done with a straight face and I refuse to call this campy or raunchy or cheap. Clarke did a fantastic job with her role.

There are those who may call this movie dumb, but I’d ask them to defrost their cold hearts and give this another chance. I’m not gonna’ lie. I get a bit choked up at the end. This is no epic love story. But for a “part 3” horror movie, it’s as powerful of a love story as you’ll find and it’s far better than any “part 3” deserves to be. It just might tug at your heart strings before it snaps at your skull for your brain. Enjoy…

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 5, 2020 8:16 am

    Love the title!

  2. rdfranciswriter permalink
    July 6, 2020 10:25 am

    Yeah, when they start to get into the faux-franchise mode . . . but this one is a winner. ROTLD I is always a classic. But III over II for me. Yuzna always brings his A-Game. When his name was on the box, you rented it. Even as producer, such as Dagon.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      July 6, 2020 5:29 pm

      Oh I love Dagon!

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