A military convoy passes through a small town haulin’ barrels containing corpses pickled in that heady cocktail patented by the Darrow Chemical Company known as 2-4-5 Trioxin. Of course one of the creepy containers bounces it’s ass right out of the transport and is soon discovered by two juvenile delinquents and their unwilling new recruit Jesse (Michael Kenworthy) right next door to the town graveyard. And as is always the way, those pint-sized heathens just have to fuck with the barrel (after locking Jesse in a mausoleum) which results in both the bad kids getting Trioxin down their pie-holes (and into the air surrounding the cemetery), and the dead returning to horrifying and hungry life! This makes life difficult for some grave robbers (James Karen and Thom Mathews returning from the first installment albeit as different characters) who immediately become accosted by those zany (and I do mean zany…more on that below) zombies. Soon it’s up to Jesse (Spoiler: he escaped that mausoleum), his sister Lucy (Marsha Dietlein), those grave robbers (and their gal pal Brenda, played to hilarious perfection by Suzanne Snyder) and a handful of others to fend off the zombie apocalypse until the military arrives!
Say what you will, the main crime of Return of the Living Dead II is that it isn’t Return of the Living Dead. Sure some of the actors are the same, one or two lines of dialog occur in both pictures, and some of the gags are identical (Karen and Mathews slow transformation into the undead, the Tarman, the severed head zombie)…but this film has it’s own, broadly comedic sensibilities that are way over-the-top compared to the first film…and with it’s more youthful protagonists it definitely serves the narrative well, and makes it it’s own thing (hell, the events first film are barely even mentioned as a throw away line). It also doesn’t hurt that there are plenty of fantastic zombie make-ups and gore on hand in among all the laughs and lacerations…plus the military versus zombie action is a ton of comic book style fun (though admittedly our heroes see more action then the men in green)!
Now, as you can see, I think Return of the Living Dead II is one entertainin’ time in the ol’ horror biz; but those delightful devils at Scream Factory have provided a coffin full of extras to keep fans of the film eerily entertained! First up we get an alternate audio track that contains the altered soundtrack and opening narration that has been featured on releases of the film subsequent to it’s original release, as well as three (!) commentary tracks featuring actress Snyder; Gary Smart, co-author of The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead, and documentary film maker Christopher Griffiths, Director Ken Wiederhorn and actor Thor Van Lingen (though the last one is an archival piece). To further elaborate, Snyder’s piece is personable and full of anecdotes, but is plagued by those dreaded silent gaps where the participant gets wrapped up in watching the feature at hand, Smart and Griffiths present a lively conversation with plenty of tales of their experiences as fans of the film, and Weiderhorn and Van Lingen provide tons of insight into the film’s production, but there is a tendency to describe the action on screen…and it doesn’t seem as if the two are in the same room at all.
Moving on we get so much, much more, including: an excellent featurette detailing the multiple special effects and make-up utilized in the creation of the film, a piece on the film’s use of broad comedy as well as Weiderhorn’s recollections of making the film, interviews with composer J. Peter Robinson and actor Troy Fromin (the stoned army vehicle driver), a segment from the documentary More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead that covers the sequel (and those involved’s disdain for the picture), a vintage EPK. a brief series of vintage interviews, and a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette. Bringing up the ass end are the film’s teaser and theatrical trailers, TV spots, and still galleries for special effects and promotional materials.
Return of the Living Dead II is cartoony, goofy, and a good deal of fun…as long as you don’t expect the same experience the first film brought you…and if you dig on the flick, you’ll go positively ape shit over the eerie extras!
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