I’m not usually a fan of horror comedy movies. To be more specific, I’m not usually a fan of zombie movies that try to be comedies. Shawn of the Dead is one exception to that rule, and the original Return of the Living Dead is another. What usually happens is that they try too hard to be funny, and either end up too hokey or don’t do the horror element very well. Shawn of the Dead and Return of the Living dead put the immediacy of the horror first, and add the comedy bits on top with the realistic character portrayals, and that’s what make them good movies. Thankfully, Return of the Living Dead II continues building on top of the foundation that the first film in the series started.
Everything starts out with some hazmat drums on the back of a truck. One of those drums tumbles off the truck and down into an old culvert under a bridge where Jesse and a couple of neighborhood kids that are trying to initiate him into their gang find it. After Jesse won’t willingly join their gang, they lock him up in a crypt at the nearby cemetery. They go to investigate the drum and end up breaking the seal and getting sprayed by the noxious gas inside. Meanwhile, Jesse is still locked up in the crypt when Joey (Thom Mathews) and Ed (James Karen) end up letting him loose. See, they’re not any kind of heroes, they’re there to steal some skulls from the corpses – because skulls are worth good money to the people who are looking for that type of thing. While they’re there stealing skulls, the gas starts creeping into the crypt and they end up breathing in the gas too, and we all know that that can’t be a good sign.
When Jesse goes to see Billy, one of his friends that was messing with the drum, he finds that Billy isn’t looking so good. In fact, he’s looking a little…grey. It seems that whatever was in that drum wasn’t candy scented love smoke, it was some bad juju! Jesse runs off to check on the drum to get the emergency phone number he needs to call to report what’s going on, he not only finds the drum, but also another Tarman – just like the one from the first movie. Shortly thereafter, there’s a whole lotta zombies rising from their graves and roaming around, and they’re all hungry for brains! Now it’s up to Jesse to get in touch with the army, and it’s everyone’s job to stay alive until they can come and help out! As if the walking undead weren’t enough to deal with, Joey and Ed are slowly transforming into zombies in their own right.
Return of the Living Dead II doesn’t pull any punches with the gore or the claustrophobic feeling that zombies are always breathing down your neck. There was a definite sense of urgency for the characters to get to safety, but I never really felt scared at any time. I remember seeing this movie as a kid and thinking it was pretty scary, but after re-watching it as an adult, I feel like the first Return of the Living Dead was a better movie overall. I think as an adult I paid more attention to the comedy aspects and I think it holds up pretty well in that respect. It’s just a fun movie to watch, without having to worry too much about how the plot holds up (and it does a decent job of that too).
The special effects are a little hit and miss at times. Sometimes you see a zombie and it has a pretty realistic look to it, all bloody and oozy, but there are other times where the look comes across as too rubbery looking. There’s one scene where Jesse is being grabbed by a legless zombie. The zombie is walking on it’s hands which looks pretty impressive because it’s torso is in the air and it’s hard to tell where they hid the actor’s legs, but the makeup looks too much like a rubber mask.
Some of the best lines are delivered by Jesse the 12 year old kid that has to deal with being bullied by the asshat Billy, when he’s both alive and as a zombie. On the other hand, Joey and Ed are great characters, but I started getting a little annoyed listening to them whine during their transformation. Don’t get me wrong, I think that I’d probably be a little whiny too if I was slowly turning into a zombie, but when the rest of the movie has such a good comedy vibe going on, it takes you out of the moment. And while I’m on the subject of Joey and Ed – you might find something a little familiar about them… they’re the exact same actors who played the main warehouse workers – Freddy and Frank – in the original Return of the Living Dead.
Even with my few criticisms, this movie is a lot of fun, and definitely a good one to sit down with a few friends on a calm October night to get you all prepped for Halloween. Return of the Living Dead Part II gets 3.5 zombies looking for brains out of 5.