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RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 2 (1988) **

Jesse (Michael Kenworthy) is a little kid who lives in one of those housing developments like the ones Spielberg used in E.T. and Poltergeist.  He tries to get in good with a bully named Billy (Thor Van Lingen) by giving him a Spider-Man comic and hanging out with him in a graveyard.  Jesse wimps out though and runs and hides in a sewer pipe.  Billy follows him and finds a canister of Trioxin gas which he stupidly opens.  The gas sprays Billy in the face and turns him into a zombie.  The gas also seeps into a nearby cemetery and brings the dead back to life.

 

This mediocre sequel just doesn’t live up to the original.  Then again, the original was arguably the best zombie movie ever made, so I guess that’s understandable.  The problem is that writer/director Ken (Meatballs 2) Wiederhorn’s approach is all wrong.  He apes Dan O’Bannon’s style from the first film but he has no idea what made it work.  The zombies were truly scary in the original and the comedy was all situational.  Here, the undead all pretty much act like morons, falling into graves, getting stepped on, speaking in cartoonish southern accents, and watching aerobics videos.  (The Thriller parody is especially eye-rolling.)  Without a credible menace, the movie fails to deliver any chills.

 

Another example of Wiederhorn’s futile attempt to re-capture lighting in a bottle is the fact that James Karen and Thom Mathews return from the first film; albeit playing different characters.  As much as I liked seeing them both again, their material was nowhere near as good as before.  He even has them recite the same dialogue too, which is kinda depressing.

 

Wiederhorn also miscalculated the need to have a bunch of kids in the movie.  I’m sure he was figuring that if kids love horror films, they’d love it if there were some characters representing their age group.  Speaking as a youngster who loved Return of the Living Dead Numero Uno, I can tell that what made the original work was the fact that it was so adult in nature.  By having the kids be the protagonists, it kinda pussifies the whole thing.  I mean this flick features absolutely no nudity, which is a major bummer.  I’m sure with a few snips here and there it could’ve passed with a PG-13 easily.

 

The only time Wiederhorn really scores a big laugh is the throwaway scene where the zombies invade a pet store and eat all the animal’s brains.  It’s pretty hilarious seeing the zombies devouring all the kitties’ brains because Wiederhorn doesn’t hit you over the head with it.  The ending where the humans lead the zombies to their demise by leaving a trail of cow brains is also inspired (and sorta practical). 

 

The gore is acceptable, although nowhere near as juicy as the first flick.  There’s a fist through the face, a crowbar to the skull, worms in the face, a screwdriver to the head, jawbone ripping, and of course lots of brain eating.  We also get an impressive scene where a zombie gets shotgunned in half but Wiederhorn fucks thing up by having more lame comedy shit as the legs walk around by themselves and bump into things. 

 

You know, I remember liking Return of the Living Dead 2 as a kid.  (I have fond memories of seeing in the theater.)  Viewing it as an adult, it’s kinda grating but it moves along at a steady clip and certainly has it’s moments.  There are definitely worse horror-comedies out there, that’s for sure.

 

<Tomorrow’s Horror Franchise Movie:  Dawn of the Dead (1979)>


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