Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988)
Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988)

Genre: Horror Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 29 min.

Release Date: January 15th, 1988 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Ken Wiederhorn Actors: Michael Kenworthy, Thor Van Lingen, Jason Hogan, James Karen, Thom Mathews, Suzanne Snyder, Marsha Dietlein, Dana Ashbrook, Jonathon Terry

 


 

I

n the fall of 1969, the U.S. Army’s experimentations with 245 Trioxin – a genetic reactivation chemical – was put to a halt. It was deemed too dangerous and volatile to continue researching. But this doesn’t stop the soldiers who transport the nerve agent from carelessly allowing a handful of barrels to fall into a reservoir near the sleepy little town of Westvale.

A short time later, two kids bully a third into joining their gang, which includes an initiation at a nearby mausoleum. When little Jesse Wilson (Michael Kenworthy) flees into a tunnel, with the other two boys giving chase, they discover one of the accidentally discarded Army barrels, which the ringleader, Billy (Thor Van Lingen), promptly opens – unleashing a green smoke across the cemetery grounds. Poor Jesse ends up getting trapped inside the mausoleum anyway, though he finds his way out when Joey (Thom Mathews), his girlfriend Brenda (Suzanne Snyder), and elderly pal Ed (James Karen) come along, planning to collect fresh body parts to sell. The goofy graverobbers have their work cut out for them, however, when the toxic gas begins to encircle them … bringing the dead back to life.

While the original film was obviously a spoof of “Night of the Living Dead,” this follow-up adds another layer of cinematic send-up by recasting Mathews and Karen (overacting to an outrageous degree) in new roles. Hilariously, they play the same characters as before, just with different names. Jonathon Terry also returns, though he is, in fact, the same colonel, while Allan Trautman again dons the guise of the lead “tarman,” whose signature line is, “Brains! Brains!” Still self-aware of the zombie nonsense, going so far as to include some slapstick routines, this sequel essentially just repeats the plot – and the happenings – from before. It’s still fun, but its insistence on repetition prevents it from feeling like a necessary (or perhaps even worthwhile) revisitation (it’s virtually a remake), even when the actors verbally acknowledge the strangeness of battling their way through yet another zombie apocalypse, as if deja vu or a feverish dream. “I think something is not right with those guys!”

There’s another romance brewing too, this time involving Big Valley Cable TV installer Tom Essex (Dana Ashbrook) and Jesse’s older sister Lucy (Marsha Dietlein), though it’s no more significant than Joey and Brenda. The characters are merely here for brief, comic conversations (Philip Bruns as a quack doctor is entirely comedy relief), for incessant bouts of hysteria, and as fodder for the ravenous undead. The main appeal is still the gore and makeup effects, which haven’t improved but nevertheless retain the over-the-top yuck factor from before. Limbs are severed, torsos are pierced with metal stakes, and brains are slurped up from shattered skulls. The abandoned town makes for an engaging environment for showdowns with reanimated corpses, particularly when armed forces with plenty of firepower enforce a quarantine, but the absence of originality or any ideas grander than what were seen in the 1985 picture drastically hurts this endeavor. The noticeable lack of scream queen Linnea Quigley is also detrimental to the entertainment value. Despite a couple of very minor additions to the formula, the novelty of it all is almost entirely lost.

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10