The living dead are back for more brains in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3, finally uncut on Blu-ray as part of LionsGate's Vestron Video Collector's Series.
In the years since the discovery of the unfortunate side effects of marijuana-destroying herbicide Trioxin with zombie outbreaks in 1969 and 1984, the military has decided that a more sensible solution than encasing the indestructible zombies in barrels is to make them into the newest bio-weapons. Washington scientist Colonel Sinclair's (SUPERMAN's Sarah Douglas) concept of bolting them into controllable exoskeletons is nixed for the more humane project of Colonel John Reynolds (ADAM 12's Kent McCord) who has developed a projectile capable of freezing the zombies for storage in between usage. Reynolds' teenage son Curt (J. Trevor Edmond, HIGHER LEARNING) and his wild girlfriend Julie (Melinda Clarke, RETURN TO TWO MOON JUNCTION) sneak into the military facility with John's stolen pass card and witness a test on a reanimated corpse but sneak off before things go horribly wrong. When Sinclair takes over the project and Reynolds is reassigned, Curt defies him and runs off with Julie with the goal of making a life together in Seattle. When Curt's motorcycle crashes trying to avoid a truck, Julie is killed and a grieving Curt takes her back to the facility and exposes her to Trioxin, inadvertently setting free one of the canister zombies. Curt and the resurrected Julie flee the facility, but her newfound appetites horrify the both of them as she spreads the contagion to others, including a member of a Latino street gang (lead by FROM DUSK TIL DAWN's Mike Moroff) whose other members pursue them to take revenge. While hiding from the gang in the underground lair of derelict Riverman (MARKED FOR DEATH's Basil Wallace), Julie finds that the grisly realizations of her once latent pain fetish are the only way of forgetting her hunger for brains. When Sinclair takes over the containment effort and endangers Curt's life, Reynolds goes rogue to track down his son and Julie before her hunger gets the better of her.
A more sober-minded take on the RETURN strand of zombie films, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3 riffs on "Romeo and Juliet" and has a dramatic core but does retain some humor through the audacious BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR-esque zombie creations and some EC Comics-style just desserts for a few characters. Although the film's reputation has improved over the years, it is still debatable among fans of the living dead series in all its permutations whether the third film is the last good film or the second of a series of disappointing sequels culminating in the fourth and fifth DTV entries lensed in Romania around the same time as the equally unrewarding third and fourth PUMPKINHEAD sequels (Edmond also appeared in Jeff Burr's earlier DTV sequel PUMPKINHEAD 2: BLOOD WINGS). Like director Brian Yuzna's BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR (and the original RE-ANIMATOR), the effects work was parceled out among several companies under the supervision of Thomas C. Rainone (NECRONOMICON: BOOK OF THE DEAD) – who also supervised multiple effects crews on Clive Barker's LORD OF ILLUSIONS – including Steve Johnson (NIGHT OF THE DEMONS) who did the various appliances and full-body cast of Clarke, Tim Ralston (THE GUYVER) who designed the exoskeleton, KNB's Wayne Toth (whose former Alchemyfx partner Mike S. Deak has a cameo as a police officer) and Chris Nelson (KILL BILL), and animation by Bret Mixon (THE TERMINATOR).
Released on tape and laserdisc by Vidmark in an unrated edition (as well as an R-rated version on tape), RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD arrived on DVD through LionsGate with two commentary tracks but the anamorphic transfer was unfortunately the R-rated version while the unrated version could only be found abroad in DVDs derived from the fullscreen tape master. A German Blu-ray release of the unrated version turned out to be an upscale while a Japanese Blu-ray release from earlier this year featured the R-rated version in HD and the unrated version in 4:3 SD on a bonus DVD. LionsGate's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer of the unrated version is a most satisfying rendition, preserving the somewhat cheap nineties look of the photography (comparable to the Arrow master of HELLRAISER 3 which was also shot by Gerry Lively), betraying the rubberiness of the foam latex effects but also detailed enough to reveal some close-ups where the make-up artist was a little too generous with the pancake make-up on the uninfected actors. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track does what it can with the low budget stereo mix with some good directional effects amidst some rather bland atmosphere and synth scoring.
Ported over from LionsGate's R-rated DVD are the two audio commentary tracks synchronized to the unrated feature. On the first, director Yuzna describes the film as "ROMEO AND JULIET in hell" and attributes the script's strengths to writer John Penney (THE POWER and THE KINDRED) while Clarke and visual effects supervisor Rainone provide a more lively talk about everything from the story developments, the other actors, and the effects (with Rainone revealing that you can take the boy out of Texas but…). In addition to the commentary tracks, LionsGate has produced a handful of new video featurettes in association with Michael Felsher's Red Shirt Pictures. In "Ashes to Ashes" (26:48), Yuzna and Penney rehash the origins of the project with producers who did not actually have the sequel rights approaching Yuzna who then mentioned the project to Trimark who pursued the rights. Penney reveals that he was contacted because he had worked on the first film as an assistant editor and that the film adhered to his original pitch for the most part, but the third act was originally a long set-piece in a cemetery. Penney attributes Yuzna for the reasoning as to why the zombie eat brains while Yuzna admits to some reverse engineering of the concepts he contributed, including the reasoning for the piercings.
In "Living Dead Girl" (18:56), actress Clarke proves herself well-informed about the state of horror films in the late eighties/early nineties period in between the heyday of FRIDAY THE 13TH/HALLOWEEN and the later SCREAM series. She attributes the film to her avoidance of roles requiring extensive prosthetic make-up after the eight hours spent applying a hundred appliances to her for her look during the climax, but also praises Johnson and Bill Corso (who went on to win Prime Time Emmys for the miniseries of THE SHINING and THE STAND and an Oscar for A SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS). In "Romeo is Bleeding" (17:21), actor Edmond attributes getting his first lead role in this film to his having played Shakespeare's Romeo several times. A fan of the first film, and horror films in general, he speaks enthusiastically about the effects crew (apart from the technician who accidentally blew menthol crystals into his eyes to produce tears) and expresses disappointment about the small theatrical release's lack of press due to the Malibu fires that started the same week.
In "Trimark and Trioxin" (13:33), production executive David Tripet discusses how the project came to Trimark and assembling the behind the scenes talent, including editor Christopher Roth who had worked on Trimark's previous success LEPRECHAUN. They touch upon the ways in which the film was meant to be more serious without alienating the series' fan base as well as the dealings with the MPAA (Roth edited the unrated cut but left for other commitments with Yuzna and his assistant utilizing replacement shots, cutaways, and dissolves for the rated version). "The Resurrected Dead" featurette (18:47), effects artists Johnson and Nelson – who worked initially for Deak's Alchemyfx but would go on to work for Johnson throughout the nineties – discuss their contributions to the effects. Johnson notes his concern over the parceling out of effects work to several companies and its effect on the consistency of design before discussing the work he did on Clarke. Nelson goes into more detail about the work he did on the film's first zombie. Filmmaker Anthony Hickox reveals that his special appearance in the film came about through DP Lively who had previously shot the two WAXWORK films and HELLRAISER 3 for him. Also included are a storyboard gallery (5:51), still gallery (3:54), and two trailers for the film (2:45). (Eric Cotenas)
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