The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Return of the Living Dead Part II

Return of the Living Dead, released in 1985, is one of the craziest horror movies of that decade. It put a fresh spin on undead cinema, filling it with dark humor and a kickin' rock soundtrack. Three years later came the first sequel, Return of the Living Dead Part II. It did respectably at the box office, yet didn't make the same impact. A cult audience sprang up around it as the years went on, though, and Scream Factory's Collector's Edition Blu-ray is the best gift any fan could want. It will be released on August 14.

There really isn't a plot here, just a situation. One of the zombie canisters seen in the original gets opened by some mischievous kids. The gas spewing from it causes the dead to rise up out of the grave and go searching for brains to eat. Three grave-robbers, a cable TV repairman, a little boy, and his teenage sister are among those trying to survive. Interestingly, James Karen and Thom Matthews return for the sequel, although they don't play the same characters. The reason for this is never explained. Just part of the quirky appeal, I guess.

Return of the Living Dead Part II lacks the stinging humor Dan O'Bannon brought to the original. That film tweaked zombie conventions, allowing the creatures to talk and use logic (“Send more paramedics!”). There was also a subversive streak to it, with some outrageous gore scenes that intentionally shot way over the top. Sequel writer/director Ken Wiederhorn doesn't bring that level of wit to his movie. Some chuckle-worthy bits can definitely be found, but the comedy veers more toward slapstick with zombies. At times, it plays like Abbott and Costello meeting the undead.

Another issue is that the characters aren't as well-developed here as they were the first time around, in part because of the aforementioned lack of plot. The actors scream all their dialogue, too, since everyone is in a perpetual state of horror. That quality proves a bit grating after a while.

Despite those not-inconsiderable flaws, Return of the Living Dead Part II still manages to generate some fun. The zombie and gore effects are outstanding. Truly gruesome moments can be found within the film. One of the best scenes has a zombie's chopped-off hand getting loose inside a car full of people and wreaking havoc. The creepy “tar man” makes another appearance, and a climactic battle between the humans and a zombie army offers up some cool undead slaughter. Ultimately, these elements are in sufficient-enough supply to help compensate for the things that don't quite work.

What really sweetens the deal is Scream Factory's extras-laden Blu-ray. It takes a couple of hours to get through all the supplementary material. Aside from a new 2K scan of the film, there are three audio commentaries – one from actress Suzanne Snyder, one from filmmaker Christopher Griffiths, and another from Ken Weiderhorn and actor Thor Van Lingen. Needless to say, you'll hear all kinds of fascinating backstage stories.

“They Won't Stay Dead” is one of those classic Scream Factory retrospective documentaries that make their releases so satisfying. Many of the cast and crew members appear to reminisce about the production and their experiences working on it. These docs are always must-see viewing after watching the main feature. It's wonderful that the company is able to secure the cooperation of so many participants.

“Back to the Dead: The Effects of Return of the Living Dead Part II” has interviews with Make-up Effects Creator Kenny Myers and artists Andy Schoneberg and Mike Smithson. They discuss creating all the various zombies and gross-out bits seen in the movie. Because those are highlights of the picture, getting to hear how they were accomplished is enlightening.

“The Laughing Dead” is a new interview with Wiederhorn, who discusses conceiving of and making the sequel. “Undead Melodies” brings us composer J. Peter Robinson who, obviously, talks about creating the film's score. A three-minute interview with Troy Fromin (who plays a pot-smoking soldier) is also here, and years later, the actor still seems incredibly enthused to have been part of the movie. An assortment of archival featurettes, interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage follows.

Finally, there are the promotional materials – two trailers, a handful of TV spots, and a couple of still galleries.

Even if Return of the Living Dead Part II isn't as good as the original, the combination of the movie and the copious bonus goodies makes this an outstanding Collector's Edition Blu-ray.

For more on this and other great Scream Factory titles, please visit their official website.

Return of the Living Dead Part II is rated R for language and violence/gore. The running time is 1 hour and 29 minutes.

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