Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Return of the Living Dead, Part II (1988)

...aka: Revenge of the Living Dead

Directed by:
Ken Wiederhorn

While the original did an excellent job bringing a sense of humor to the modern zombie film without short-changing the horror in the process, this mediocre sequel is far less successful. A couple of bullies pick the wrong military drum to start poking sticks at, release a toxic chemical and once again unleash the brain-hungry brain-dead from their graves, who descend upon an unfinished and ever-expanding suburban tract home development. How Spielbergian of them. James Karen (one of the best character actors in the business, though directed to go as annoyingly over-the-top as possible here) and Thom Mathews both return from the first film, though playing completely different characters (Karen an experienced grave digger; Mathews his frustrated new protegee), though one quips about having a feeling of "deja vu." They, along with Mathews' irritatingly fidgety girlfriend (Suzanne Snyder) are in the cemetery when the zombies start popping up, so they take off and end up teaming (sort of) with one of the kids who found the canister (Michael Kenworthy), his bitchy older sister (Marsha Dietlein), a friendly cable installer (Dana Ashbrook) and a senile doctor (Philip Bruns). The military gets news about what's going on and order an evacuation, but the principals gets trapped inside their barricade with no way to escape.

The zombie / gore make-up is excellent this time out, and there's a fun supporting role for Bruns, who helps relieve some of the tedium in his comic role. The production values are also pretty slick and there's plenty of brainless action to keep it moving along. Unfortunately, most of the humor is stale, forced and juvenile this time out. Come on now... a Michael Jackson zombie? Ok, I'll admit. I actually laughed at that. But the majority of the characters are annoying assholes and it's nowhere near as scary, funny, entertaining or inventive as the original.

Director Wiederhorn also did the above average Nazi zombie film SHOCK WAVES back in 1975, which, despite being pretty rough around the edges and a much lower-budgeted affair, is superior to this one. Watch for small roles played by Mitch (Shocker) Pileggi and Forrest J. Ackerman ("Famous Monsters") as a zombie. Several other people from the original also appear here, including Brian Peck (who played Scuz in the original) as various zombies, Jonathan Terry (army colonel), plus the return of Tar Man.

It was followed by Brian Yuzna's Return of the Living Dead III in 1993 (which was an improvement over this one), as well as two more dreadful sequels made over ten years later; Return of the Living Dead 4: Necropolis (2004) and Return of the Living Dead 5: Rave to the Grave (also 2004), both of which debuted on the Sci-Fi Channel before heading to video. Watching the last two films actually made me boost the score of this one by a full point.

★★

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