The first in the Return Of The Living Dead series saw a bunch of fairly unlikeable teenagers, the owner of a medical surplus warehouse and a mortician deal with an attack of the undead, and despite a script from Alien scribe Dan O’Bannon it was a quite poor affair. The main problem with it was the very slow pace, though that the characters acted in such annoying ways that it was impossible to care whether they lived or died didn’t help matters either.
I skipped the second film in the series due to hearing that it was even worse than the first, but the third is quite highly regarded, and offers a slightly different spin on the world of the undead as its central characters Julie (The O.C.’s Melinda Clarke) and Curtis (J. Trevor Edmond) are a couple who are madly in love with each other, but when Julie is killed in a motorbike crash Curtis drags her off to the local military base his father works at, where he uses the Trioxin gas from the first movie to turn her in to a fairly sentient and chatty member of the undead.
Though initially Curtis is overjoyed to have Julie back from the dead there’s a slight problem in that she’s suddenly got a craving for brains, and somewhat understandably Julie’s not quite certain this is a great direction to take in life. That becomes more apparent when she bites a guy and his friends are hellbent on making their lives a misery, and a suicide attempt fails to take, she’s dead again briefly but soon rather frustrated that she’s still, well, not breathing, but she can walk and talk without any issue.
It’s one of those times where I can’t understand the fond responses that this has received from many quarters. Sure, it’s not your standard zombie fare where the flesh obsessed sods stumble or run about desperate for flesh, mainly because there’s not many zombies out and about at all, and most of the time it concentrates on the central couple’s antics while every so often we cut back to those in the army and their attempts to track down Julie and Curtis, and it only becomes fun in the final half hour as the tension is ramped up and lots more brain munching bastards get some screen time.
Before that there’s a few amusing moments, including some grotesquely funny zombie madness as they’ve decayed to such an extent that it’s impossible not to giggle at the over the top make up, while Julie and Curtis have some amusingly naff sex both before and after Julie dies, and there’s some pretty funny over-acting from a character only known as “The Riverman”. But most of the time this feels like an 18 rated soap opera and its attempts at making us care about Curtis fall rather flat as the actor portraying the character is of the variety who is never going to win an award, bar perhaps a Razzie.
Even around the hour point I considered stopping watching it as I wasn’t convinced that it was going to offer up an entertaining finale, but I’m just about glad that I stuck around as the film’s final act is definitely its best. The way it fetishizes self harm is a little problematic but the gore is mostly ridiculously over the top and so fun to watch, and all of the people who deserve to die get their just desserts. Yet despite being fond of the denouement it doesn’t save the movie though, and this is one for diehard zombie fans as that first hour really is the genre at its most boring.