October 25th, 2009

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)>


KICKBOXER 4: THE AGGRESSOR (1994) **

David Sloan (Sasha Mitchell) gets set-up and sent to prison by his arch nemesis Tong Po (Kamel Krifa).  While David is in jail, Tong Po kidnaps his wife and keeps her captive in his fortress.  With a little help from the DEA, David gets out of the slammer and sneaks into Po’s secret martial arts tournament so he can rescue his wife and get some revenge.

 

Albert Pyun (who recently stopped by The Vacuum to say a few kind words… Al, if you’re reading this, welcome back) was back behind the camera for this puppy.  He took a break from the franchise, opting not to direct Part 3 (smart move).  If you ask me, Pyun should be made to direct all even-numbered Kickboxer movies because they are fairly enjoyable for the most part.  (This one is a lot better than 3, I’ll tell you that.)  It’s no Sword and the Sorcerer or anything, but it’ll do for action fans looking for a quick fix who will watch anything with the number 4 in it.

 

The plot is more or less just like every other Kung Fu movie ever made; Enter the Dragon in particular.  (Even right down to the part where Sasha sneaks around at night dressed like a ninja and beats up guards.)   I’ll let that slide though because the tournament is more or less just an excuse to pad the running time with endless scenes of inconsequential characters kicking each other.  Along with the five minute flashback filled opening, there’s probably only about 45 minutes of actual “movie” here.  I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing.

 

But if we are going to discuss BAD, let’s broach the subject of Tong Po’s make-up.  Apparently, they couldn’t get the original Tong Po back, so they slapped the most unconvincing Oriental make-up since Peter Lorre was Mr. Moto on Krifa.  In some scenes, it just looks like a bad Halloween mask.  Seriously, I saw in the paper that Rite Aid had 75% off of all their Halloween supplies.  I am absolutely sure this is how the make-up department found the mask used in this movie.

 

The most bizarre thing about Po in this movie though is that while he doesn’t look a thing like the original Tong Po, he sounds EXACTLY like Jean Claude Van Damme.  (If you don’t believe me, just close your eyes during some of his line readings.)  It’s a bit disconcerting to say the least. 

 

Another thing that puzzled me was Mitchell’s performance.  I mean the dude has starred in three Kickboxer movies in a row playing the same character, yet he’s played him in three completely different ways.  In Part 2, he was an easygoing guy trying to do right by some inner city kids.  In Part 3, he basically just replayed his role from Step by Step.  Here, he apes Clint Eastwood and pretty much growls all of his lines.  He isn’t imposing or anything and resembles a sullen teenager as he spends most of the movie walking around glowering.  Still, it’s a big improvement over his awful performance from the last film.  (Must’ve been Pyun’s instinctive tutelage.)

 

And here’s something I didn’t get about the movie:  Why the subtitle, “The Aggressor”?  I mean who exactly is the “aggressor” in this situation?  Is it David for crashing the tournament or is it Tong Po for instigating David’s involvement by kidnapping his wife in the first place?  That part was never really spelled out.  Maybe if Albert stops by again he can clarify that part for me.

 

I’m not going out on a limb and calling Kickboxer 4:  The Aggressor “good” but it had it’s share of head-scratching moments of pure “HUH!?!?”  Like the final round of “To the Death” matches.  In previous scenes, the guards dragged the dead fighters away.  During the last portion of the flick though, the bodies start piling up on the outside of the ring like cordwood.  The guards musta been on a smoke break or something.  Maybe it was just me but I thought that was funny.

 

Even funnier was the final showdown between Tong Po and David, which takes place on a long banquet table.  The two continuously pound on each other while breaking plates, glasses, and centerpieces.  This probably set Tong Po back a pretty penny because I bet it cost a fortune to cater that thing.  I’m sure Tong Po wouldn’t get his deposit back on that either.

 

While we are on the subject of fighting here, I have to say that for all the shit people give Pyun, he did direct one of the greatest barroom brawls ever captured on celluloid in this movie.  It’s not quite Road House, but it comes close.  This scene is (intentionally) very funny and features some kind of record for broken glass.  Simply put, the barroom brawl in Kickboxer 4 is to low budget straight to video kickboxing sequels what the boot eating scene in The Gold Rush was to silent comedy.  It’s that good.  If Pyun had put the same style, energy, and fun from this scene into the entire movie, we would’ve been talking Video Vacuum Awards out the wazoo.  Still, it’s good enough for a solid Two Star rating.

 

Special Note:  Thom Mathews has always been a favorite of mine from his stellar work in the Return of the Living Dead films (speaking of which, I just reviewed Part 2 earlier today) and Jason Lives.  Did you know that Mathews has starred in no less than ELEVEN Albert Pyun movies?  De Niro and Scorsese haven’t even pulled that off!