Thursday, March 26, 2009

Review: Return of the Living Dead 3

Starring Melinda Clarke, J. Trevor Edmund, and Sarah Douglas. Directed by Brian Yuzna.


Generally, the only way "difference" comes across in the zombie genre is the speed at which the monsters move. It's hard to craft a zombie movie that's different. And this movie, believe it or not, is one of the few to succeed. What does it have to do with the original Return of the Living Dead? Absolutely nothing, but neither did the second one (save for a short Tar-Man appearance). Despite it's title, the film certainly stands well enough on its own.

Director Brian Yuzna is no stranger to zombies. He produced one of the best, most original zombie movies (and horror comedies, for that matter) ever with Re-Animator, and he directed both its sequels. All three were tongue-in-cheek, humorous attempts, and it was reasonable to expect the same here, as Return of the Living Dead may be the ultimate horror comedy.

Instead, Yuzna delivered Return of the Living Dead 3: a serious, emotionally driven dark love story. While the film is plagued in early '90's low budget feel, it makes up for it with an intriguing story and surprisingly decent acting, not to mention the well-crafted effects.

As for the story. Kurt (Edmund) is the son of a military officer, which calls for them to move around a lot, but for once he's perfectly happy in the arms of his punk-goth girlfriend Julie (Clarke). He has no idea what his dad is doing for actual work, and doesn't care. Because for once, he's happy, fitting right at home in the "wrong crowd".

Well, it turns out what dad is doing is trying to control and produce zombies for the military. Obviously, indestructible undead soldiers would be the best kind to have on the battlefield. But his plans fall through (causing three casualties) and the father is taken off the project. When he informs Kurt they'll be moving yet again, the boy will hear none of it, and he and Julie take off. Now, there's the perfect opportunity here to turn both father and son into cliches, but the film surprisingly avoids the cliche at nearly every turn. Kurt's dad actually does only want him to be happy, and Kurt does momentarily find himself torn between the girl he loves and the father he respects.

The story picks up in full when the two lovers get in a motorcycle accident that breaks Julie's neck, killing her. Kurt sneaks into the military compound (as the two have done before) and resurrects Julie, foolishly thinking that everything is going to be okay. Of course, it isn't. This becomes obvious with each passing second, but both Kurt and Julie try to tell themselves that nothing has changed, and that everything is going to be just like it was. But Julie's cravings for flesh can't be ignored forever, and she's changing with each passing second.

The two come toe-to-toe with a gang and Julie gets her first taste of human meat, while Kurt has to begin to own up to the decision it could mean. As Julie learns that pain can provide release for the hunger, she shapes herself more and more into a sadomasochistic, Hellraiser-esque creature as the film progresses. The action does not make up most of the movie, but when it comes it does deliver. The acting, especially between Julie and Kurt, is convincing, and the "River Man" must be seen to be believed. The humor is sly, dark and much more subtle than previous entries. Overall, this is a well-crafted, almost touching zombie flick and probably one of the most original to come out of the genre, no small feat for a low budget '90's horror sequel.