Return of the Living Dead 3 1993
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3: ZOMBIES FOR DUMMIES
Dan O’Bannon gave us The Return of the Living Dead in 1985 to the delight of many. Written by Dan O’Bannon (screenplay), Rudy Ricci (story) and John A. Russo (story). The original Night of the Living Dead was written by George Romero and John A. Russo so it was nice to have the influence of Russo on a zombie film removed from zombie-meister George Romero. O’bannon’s RofLD film was a hit with this fan delivering great zombies, humor and tweaking the zombie mythos created in Romero’s films just enough to make The Return of the Living Dead seem fresh and unique. A sequel followed in 1988, Return of the Living Dead 2, written and directed by Ken Wiederhorn. Wiederhorn should be remembered for the Nazi-riffic Shock Waves (1977) and Eyes of the Stranger (1981). RotLD 2 was not bad but the magic of the original was not present and the film ventured into the campy near the end. In 1993 Brian Yuzna of Re-animator (1985) fame took on the challenge of producing the third film in the RotLD franchise. Not only did Yuzna produce but he also directed the film from a John Penney screenplay. Yuzna, normally working behind the scenes as a producer, had directed Society (19889) and Bride of Re-Animator (1989) so RotLD 3 would not be his first time “around the block”. Does Return of the Living Dead 3 recapture some of the magic of the original or is the return dead on arrival?
Curt (J. Trevor Edmond), a rebellious military brat, and Julie (Melinda Clarke), a wild child hottie, leave their friends and head to explore a restricted military base where Curt’s father, Colonel John Reynolds (Kent McCord), is supervisor of a secretive research project. Curt has stolen his father’s access card and he and Melinda will explore the compound for the thrill of it.
Curt and Julie make their way into the facility and arrive just in time to watch an experiment where a corpse is brought back to life using the military canisters from the original RotLD. Curt and Julie watch as Curt’s father presides over the bizarre events. Curt and Julie make it out of the facility before being caught and head back to Curt’s house where they revel in the moment and their love for one another.
After a squabble with his father, Curt and Julie storm out and head out into the night on Curt’s motorcycle. An accident occurs and Julie is killed. Curt makes the decision to do whatever it takes to be with Julie and decides to take her dead body back to the military facility and use the canister to bring Julie back to life. Monkey’s Paw anybody? Pet Cemetery? Anyone? Bueller?
The story elements involving Curt and Julie’s relationship are derivative of W. W. Jacob’s short story “The Monkey’s Paw” or Pet Cemetery (1989) which is also derived from “The Monkey’s Paw”. I refer to the dire consequences of bringing a loved one back from the dead. These elements are also used as a device in the film to bring about the unleashing of the zombie scourge. These elements are dropped into the context of a RotLD sequel and produce RotLD 3.
I don’t mind RotLD 3 using story elements from “The Monkey’s Paw” as Bob Clark and Alan Ormsby’s Deathdream aka Dead of Night (1972) does just that and does it well. The problem is the writing and direction are so simple and pedestrian that the film never generates and kind of interest or momentum. Dialogue is flat and characters are just “cardboard cutouts” or stereotypes. The exception is the Riverman character played by Basil Wallace. Wallace delivers the most interesting performance and steals the show whenever he is on screen. It doesn’t hurt that he is in the two most interesting segments in the film, the attack of Riverman’s sewer home by the Vatos and the finale where River man becomes a Frankenstein-like tragic hero during an all out zombie attack.
There are no campy elements this time around as film plays it straight. Unfortunately the film still comes off as silly as the dialogue is over explanatory, walking the viewer through exposition that should be obvious to anyone watching the film and even to the characters in the film. Add to that goofy moments that steal any seriousness that the film may develop. Curt and Julie enter and leave the military facility at will and nobody stops them. The guards at the facility are the most inept ever to grace a film. The Mexican Vatos encountered in the film are lame stereo types and their vernacular is not even accurate. Yes Vatos refer to one another as “ese”, an equivalent of “dude”, but the expression does not have a female form like “esa” as is used in the film.
This being a Brian Yuzna film one can expect some interesting special makeup effects and RotLD 3 does not disappoint. The majority of the good stuff is weighted in the second half of the film but it is present. The effects are probably the best thing about the movie and Yuzna cleverly packs it all into the second half and mostly into the finale of the film. This way the film ends on a high note and makes the film experience feel like it was stronger than it really was.
Return of the Living Dead 3 is not a good film. It is easily the worst of the first 3 but regardless it is a fun watch if you can get through the goofy first half. Watching the Riverman outfitted with a military exo-skeleton reminiscent of Terminator was fun. Watching him get blown to bits with a shotgun was even more fun. The film ends strong with a wallop of special makeup effects gags. I concede that the film is lacking in many areas but by the time the credits roll it does manage to deliver some measure of entertainment. A flaccid endorsement I know but an endorsement nonetheless. Check it out.