How do you top one of the most influential and punk rock horror movies of the eighties? You—uh—follow it up with a sequel that repeats everything we saw from the first film. It’s as if someone said “Let’s make “Return of the Living Dead” again, but crappy this time.” To say “Return of the Living Dead II” is bad is pretty much an understatement as it’s only mostly acknowledged for being the poorer brother to the highly superior and excellent original. That’s ironically also part of its appeal, too, as it takes some twists and turns that’ll leave you laughing in disbelief and confusion.
While shipping canisters of Trioxin (?), a military truck drops a barrel in to a local swamp that resides near a small town. When a group of mischievous boys go exploring, they’re exposed to the gas, releasing the toxic fumes on the surrounding graveyard, and unleashing Tar Man. As the dead rise to feast on brains once again, a small band of survivors struggle to make it out of their town before the military moves in to obliterate it. One of the reasons I dislike “Return II” a great deal is that is openly breaks all of the rules and mythology explored in the original film.
The original zombies were husks of corpses that ate warm human brains to ease the pain of rotting. These zombies eat any kind of brains, with even a huge sequence staged of the heroes tossing cow brains out the back of a truck to lure them in to a trap. There’s even a goofy moment where our heroes spot zombies raiding a pet store for animal brains. Inexplicably, Thom Matthews and James Karen return once again as grave robbers caught in the middle of the zombie uprising, and rapidly give in to their lust for brains when they’re bitten. A lot of “Return of the Living Dead II” relies on slapstick comedy and repetitive callbacks to the original that never land as well as we’d hope it would.
The original “Return” had comedy but it undercut it with a distinct menace and sense of terror that came with the brain eaters darting out of the darkness. At times, this follow up feels like a premature spoof of the original film. If you approach it with a very forgiving nature and morbid curiosity, you might find something worth enjoying here. This is a definitive version.
The new release from Scream Factory comes with the original cover reversible on the case. There’s an audio commentary with actress Suzanne Snyder, an audio commentary with Gary Smart (co-author of The Complete History of the Return of the Living Dead) and filmmaker Christopher Griffiths. Finally there’s an audio commentary with writer/director Ken Wiederhorn and co-star Thor Van Lingen. “Back to the Dead: The Effects of “Return of the Living Dead Part II”” is a twenty five minute in depth look at the making of the movie, and its legacy from the view of the special effects and make up crew. This is quite an honest and candid look at the movie, and how the crew lacked confidence in the film itself, and the direction it was headed. They tried their best, nonetheless.
“The Laughing Dead” is a nineteen minute interview with writer/director Ken Wiederhorn, who expresses his trepidation on doing the film since his last film was turned in to “Meatballs 2” considering it had absolutely nothing to do with its original. He talks candidly about his experience on the film. “Undead Melodies” is a twelve minute interview with composer J. Peter Robinson, who talks being brought in to replace the original score that the creators disliked, as well as how a lot of musical stings during comedic moments were wholly unintentional. There’s an “Interview With Actor Troy Fromin,” a two minute interview with the actor who plays the pot smoking military truck driver, “They Won’t Stay Dead: A Look at Return Of The Living Dead II” a twenty nine minute segment originally featured on the “More Brains!” documentary from years back.
If you haven’t seen it yet, it warrants a viewing as its painfully honest toward the quality of the movie. The “Vintage Featurette: Live From The Set” is a five minute talk with director Ken Wiederhorn who discusses wanting to make the “Police Academy of Horror Movies.” There’s also interviews with the cast and zombie actors. “Vintage Interviews” is two and a half minutes of more left over interviews from the previous segment. There’s four minutes of Behind the Scenes Footage, a Teaser Trailer, the original Theatrical Trailer, and two minutes of TV Spots. Finally, there are two still galleries, one of Special Effects Make Up, and the other featuring Posters and Lobby Cards.