The Return of the Living Dead part II (1988)

This is a sequel to one of the better non-Romero directed zombie movies, sort of that is.  If you aren’t familiar with the original a couple of incompetent medical supply workers unleash a contaminated corpse on a nearby cemetery, which brings the occupants there back to life seeking brains.  Here it is much the same; instead this time around it is a couple of kids that do it.  Don’t worry though our familiar comic relief from the first movie do show back up again in very familiar characters as both James Karen and Thom Mathews play basically the same characters.  After some brain eating and attempts at comedy the movie finishes up with a silly, but typical horror movie ending. 

You know when I first saw this movie (I’m old enough to have checked it out in the theater) I really liked it.  I thought that the movie was funny and had just enough mayhem for my inner zombie nerd to be satisfied.  While I don’t dislike the movie I don’t think it has held up that well.  Or maybe my palate for zombie cinema has become more sophisticated (how snooty does that sound?).  Unlike the original Return of the Living Dead (ROTLD for short) this sequel has the zombies being played for laughs.  In fact they actually do a lot of slapstick with them as hands get stepped on, some fall in holes, and many more pratfalls.  I guess that I can see where the filmmakers were going this time around, but this kills any chance of the zombies being scary.  While the first movie had funny moments can any one really say that Tar Man wasn’t creepy as hell?  And that is what is missing here.  This is a horror comedy without any real horror. 

Another thing that I used to think was funny, but has worn on me is how they shamelessly bring back a couple of the actors (the already mentioned Karen and Mathews) as characters that are identical to those from the first movie.  The only thing different about them are the names.  This only serves to remind the audience of the much better 1st installment and also serves to point out how much inferior the writing is here.  Even the line that they attempt to use to acknowledge this recasting isn’t that funny and comes off sort of cheap.  Sadly these actors and their performances are also the highlight of the movie, at least as far as the cast goes. 

Now I’ve spent most of this review telling you about what I dislike about ROTLD part II.  But there are some things that I enjoy about the movie.  The zombies look pretty good and there are several featured undead that look sort of creepy.  The movie also isn’t afraid to go with some animatronics that might not look realistic, but are very cool in an EC comic sort of way.  They also manage to pull off a couple of funny gags, including a zombie getting blown in half that still walks around, a jaw getting ripped off, and they show you why punching a zombie in the nose can be gross!  What can I say I’m a sucker for the gooey bits.

While Return of the Living Dead part II doesn’t hold a candle to the first in the series it isn’t a terrible movie either.  I would say that basically it is an average entry into the zombie genre, and honestly is much better then the other sequels in the franchise (though part III has it moments). 

2 ½ out of 4

reviewed by John Shatzer

© Copyright 2010 John Shatzer