Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Frank Review of "Return of the Living Dead 3" (1993)

The Short Version? Romeo meets Zombiette
What Is It? Horror
Who Is In It? Lady Heather, Officer Jim Reed, Ursa
Should I See It? Probably not.

Brian Yuzna directed the overrated Society, and not much else you’d want on your IMDb page. He specializes in horror movies that look like ambitious but underfunded stage plays with bad lighting, including those straight to video jobs that trailer movies you suddenly realize from their presence you shouldn’t have rented. It takes a special kind of ineptitude to release a two million dollar sequel to a classic horror-comedy as a melodrama that only recoups a quarter of its budget. Still, if only because of late night showings in my formative years, I have a very small amount of affection for Return of the Living Dead III. It isn’t in any way objectively good, but it is surprisingly watchable, and has memorable moments.

The movie opens on the set of a Wilson Phillips video-- no wait, that’s just the overpowering presence of the early nineties at work. Acid washed jeans, floppy boy hair, those stupid hats-- if such a movie were produced today, I would howl over how insanely on the nose of 1992 everything was. Anyway, this is the story of an army brat boy having fallen for a bad girl to the dismay of his widowed daddy. Pops is involved in a very loose continuation of the previous movies, his idea to have the military use zombies as weapons against enemy nations soon falling out of favor and replaced by zombies acting as meat batteries for exoskeletons controlled through medieval means. Half of what I just wrote made no sense, but there’s enough idiocy in the script that focusing on any one inanity requires an impressive amount of tunnel vision on the viewers’ part. The script is wretched, the characters are all ridiculously deserving of dire fates, and Pitfall Harry couldn’t get over this many plot holes.

The boy sneaks onto a military installation that must be run by Gomer Pyle to show his girlfriend the reanimated dead, until whoops, she joins their ranks. Forgetting all that stuff from the first movie about zombies needing to eat brains to relieve themselves temporarily of the agony of being undead, the bad girl instead uses pain to distract herself from wanting to eat whatever human body part is readily available, specifically her boyfriend's. On the run through South Central Los Angeles, the star-crossed couple run into all sorts of offensive racial caricatures, including a magical negro derelict who shelters them in his sewer home while growling every moronic line. He’s still better than the boy, an actor so bad I’m not sure I buy his respiration, much less his delivery. The girl actually went on to better things, and deservedly so, but she’s still finding her way here.

Prior to the hour mark, things start to drag, but the film seems to reach its anti-climax within a quarter past. Disconcertingly, the movie then continues for another quarter hour, which feels inorganic, but is actually where most of the money and fucked up imagery ends up. What makes it weird is that it's 9/10ths of a vampire movie, then suddenly becomes a true zombie flick about the time you're ready to check out.

In summary, the movie is a mess. Everything looks cheap, the script sucks, the acting eats dick, fans of the earlier movies will miss the yucks, and zombie fans will miss the yuck. Still, our heroine zombie serves as an early alternative culture/piercing/cutting icon, there are some clever bits, a surprising presence (if not quantity) of tits, and it's generally better than the sum of its parts.


  • Director's Commentary Film geeks always appreciate tracks that go into this level of detail... unless it's for a Brian Yuzna production. So wait, you just kept repainting the same boxes and shining different colored lights through them to give the appearance of new set locations? Who'da thunk it? Besides everyone?
  • Cast CommentaryHoly shit! Two tracks for this turd? Someone's getting fired over this waste of company resources! Also, I don't know if you can technically call it the cast when one member and a technician shows up. Admittedly, it was star Melinda Clarke and Thomas C. Rainone (2nd unit/effects supervisor,) but still. It's fun to listen to the awkward silences whenever Tom hits on her or steers the conversation toward right wing politics. This would have been adequate on its own, but after a second viewing with the director, enough was enough.
  • Trailers Remember what I said earlier? All Yuzna features, including Progeny, Faust: Love of the Damned and The Dentist 1 & 2

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