Director: Ken Wiederhorn
Warner Home Video

Three cheers and a kick in the 'nads for Warner Home Video, for, in the spirit of the ghoulish season, putting a welcome but slightly sour piece of sweetmeat in our hungry Halloween bags: 1988's RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II has arrived on our subgenred doorsteps. This unfairly maligned film, a childhood favorite, has a warm place in my cold heart, compadres. Lemme guess, I reckon I must've been about ten when I first digested this R-rated, lame brained (be a man and take the pun!) wonder. After that red-letter day in Bergen County, New Jersey, my Yugoslavian, next-door pals (also young PART II fans) and I could never, ever stop mimicking the titled party animals. C'mon, everybody say it with me: "Brains!!!!" We never had much interest in catching the first installment, and even if we did, we still would've preferred this.

We cheered on the picture's hero, Jesse Wilson (Michael Kenworthy), sneered at his bully, Billy (Thor Van Lingen), and slapped our knees at that numbskull Joey (Thom Matthews). But, members of the committee, it was trash-film favorite James Karen (portraying the cuddly Ed) who, second only to the colorful undead, relentlessly busted our funny bones. (I still get a warm feeling whenever I walk into a Pathmark). Here, in a manic performance, Mr. Karen pulls every face and presses every button on the histrionic control board. And there's the severed head of a Southern zombie that vehemently demands his captors remove a screwdriver from out his gourd. And there's a hand--just a rotting hand--that gives a middle finger. And then there's the zombies in a pet store! And the plot? The dug-up plot is your basic naughty kids-release-dead-reviving-Army-manufactured-toxin-into-graveyard-and-fight-medulla-chomping-zombies scenario. Anyway, then there are zombies who watch an exercise program on TV and…

This is a squishy, slippery, hectic romp that delivers the bubblegum viscera in showers. Lots of neat-o ways of dispensing with the living dead, those hooligans. Lots of cranium-crunching and vein twirling. The characters are, given, paper-thin and a jot too annoying; the effects, including animatronics, and makeup range from okay to super-duper; some of the jokes fall flat; and the fashions are dated. This is still a fine, fast-paced piece of junk food filmmaking--think of it as a bowl of too-sweet cereal with a rat in it.

Yeah, we know, the grave robbing duo of Karen and Matthews, as well as "Tar Man," the first (and my favorite) flesh-eater of this opus, are nearly reprising their kooky roles from the superior, wittier, and scarier RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. But did you know director Ken Wiederhorn, long after his underwater Nazi zombie phase, had a tough time making this low-budget freak show for Lorimar (R.I.P.). Don't believe me? Well, listen to the informative commentary track, actually two separate ones conjoined, and discover for yourself. Then again, listen to certain parts of that audio track, because too much of Thor Van Lingen's simply relates what's happening on the screen.

Now the bad news: Warner dropped the ball in the sound department. Probably the worst sin: if you want to hear the original score, you have to, strangely enough, listen to the French mono track. Granted, Wiederhorn is more content with the new track and had a tough time with the original composer. So what! This addition subtracts from the film's off-the-wall flavor. Just compare tracks one and two, 13 and 23 minutes into the film. For purists, this is un-friggin'-forgivable. For $20, this is a high crime. At least the widescreen anamorphic transfer and print is better than what was previously served up. The theatrical trailer is also thrown in. That incredible trailer announcer (Percy Rodriguez?) harkens back to an era when there were voices other than Don LaFontaine. The cover art, a reproduction of the original poster art (remember that?), is probably the most chilling thing about this film besides the new score. Dig in and enjoy. (Anthony Vitamia)