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Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988)

Shout! Factory
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/14/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/3/2018

We live in a world where sequels are inevitable, especially to horror movies, especially back in the 80s. But, it still takes a lot of guts to make a sequel to a movie which ended with nuclear annihilation. And yet, that's the case with Return of the Living Dead Part II. The 1985 original concluded with an atomic bomb obliterating everything in sight. In most cases, that would have been the end of the series. However, when the first movie turned a profit in its opening weekend, the gods of money most likely spoke and said, "Make a sequel, no matter how illogical." And so, we have Return of the Living Dead Part II.

The Army is transporting a collection of canisters through a small-town when falls off of a truck. The next day, while exploring a local graveyard, Jesse (Michael Kenworthy), and two neighborhood bullies (Thor Van Lingen and Jason Hogan), find the canister, which opens, emitting a green gas. Meanwhile, graverobbers Ed (James Karen) and Joey (Thom Mathews) have infiltrated one of the crypts, and are very surprised when a corpse sits up and starts moving. Soon, zombies are everywhere. Having returned to the cemetery to check the canister, Jesse sees this. He runs home to warn his sister, Lucy (Marsha Dietlein). It's not long before their cul-de-sac is overrun with reanimated bodies, and Jesse must joins his sister and a few others in an attempt to flee to safety.

1985's Return of the Living Dead was a game-changer. A loose sequel to Night of the Living Dead, the film took the zombie genre and turned it on its ear. On the undead side, it brought us zombies who could talk and run and who were virtually indestructible. As for the humans, some of the main characters were punk rockers and for once, this didn't come across as plea for attention. These were (semi) well-rounded characters. The last piece of the puzzle was to add a generous dash of black humor to the film. Along with Re-Animator, which was released the same year, Return of the Living Dead showed that a movie could show something which was genuinely disturbing and then offer the audience a laugh.

As noted above, it wasn't necessarily surprising when a sequel arrived, and it's understandable that the filmmakers wouldn't want to make a carbon copy of the first movie. However, some of the decisions which they made are mind-boggling. Writer/Director Ken Wiederhorn had made a name for himself with 1977's Shock Waves, a somber Nazi zombie film. With Return of the Living Dead Part II, he has jettisoned such an approach and brought a level of slapstick comedy to the movie. The zombies are weird-looking, as the special effects makeup actually makes them look puffy, as opposed to emaciated. But, the weirdest idea here was to make this an R-rated kids movie. The original film is a decidedly adult affair, as it takes a serious, mature approach to the material. Here, we get a kid's adventure which just happens to have flesh-eating monsters.

In fact, if it weren't for the canisters, this wouldn't feel like a sequel to Return of the Living Dead. The film probably wouldn't have been as disappointing if we weren't comparing it to the original the entire time. The fact that Karen and Matthews appeared in the first movie, but show up here playing different characters is an interesting twist. But, outside of that, there is little here about which to get excited. There are no jump scares, no gore, and it's never suspenseful or creepy. The jokes fall flat and most of the characters come across as unlikeable. Return of the Living Dead Part II isn't a total disaster, but it's simply so misguided that it's almost painful to watch. Do yourself a favor and stick with the original entry into the series.

Return of the Living Dead Part II rips off Evil Dead II with a rude hand on Blu-ray Disc courtesy Shout! Factory. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 34 Mbps. The image is clear, showing some very mild grain at times. However, some shots display a softness which was en vogue at the time, but looks like a defect today. The colors look good and the image is well-balanced, as it's never overly dark or bright. The picture does not show the flat effect which can plague older movies. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The score never overpowers the actors and we do get some stereo effects which demonstrate good separation.

The Return of the Living Dead Part II Blu-ray Disc contains a host of extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Actress Suzanne Snyder. This is followed by a second COMMENTARY with Actor Gary Smart and Filmmaker Christopher Griffiths. We then get a third COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Ken Wiederhorn and Co-Star Thor Van Lingen. "Back to the Dead: The Effects of Return of the Living Dead Part II" (25 minutes) focuses on Special Effects Make-up Creator Kenny Myers who, along with some other members of the crew, discusses the zombie make-up effects from the film. "The Laughing Dead" (19 minutes) offers a lengthy interview with Wiederhorn who shares in-depth memories from the production. "Undead Melodies" (13 minutes) allows Composer J. Peter Robinson to talk about his work on the movie. "Interview with Troy Fromin" (2 minutes) is a brief talk with the actor who has a very small role in the film. "They Won't Stay Dead: A Look Back at Return of the Living Dead Part II" (30 minutes) is a mini-documentary which, surprisingly, opens with comments from participants in the first film who state why they weren't involved in the sequel. (William Stout states that he was "appalled" and "disgusting" by the script.) From there, we get comments from many others who don't have nice things to say about the movie. (I mean, I agree, but it's still weird.) "Vintage Featurette - Live From the Set" (6 minutes) offers an on-location footage from 1988. "Vintage Interviews" (3 minutes) offers comments from Wiederhorn, Karen, Matthews, and Myers from the film's set. "Behind the Scenes Footage" (4 minutes) offers random video from the set. The extras are rounded out by two TRAILERS, TV SPOTS, and two STILL GALLERIES.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long