Return of the Living Dead Part II Blu-ray (Collector’s Edition)
Director: Ken Wiederhorn
Screenwriter: Ken Wiederhorn
Cast: James Karen, Thom Mathews, Dana Ashbrook, Suzanne Snyder, Michael Kenworthy, Marsha Dietlein, Phil Bruns
Distributor: Scream Factory
Rated R | 89 Minutes
Release Date: August 14, 2018
Written and directed by Dan O’Bannon (screenwriter of Alien, Dead and Buried), 1985’s punk rock horror-comedy The Return of the Living Dead is known for introducing the concept of zombies feeding on human brains, as opposed to just eating flesh. The wildly entertaining film tells the story of how a warehouse owner, his two bumbling employees, a mortician, and a group of teenage punks deal with a horde of zombies.
O’Bannon’s film was a critical and commercial success, grossing over $14 million domestically on an estimated budget of $4 million. The cult classic spawned four sequels, including 1988’s Return of the Living Dead Part II, written and directed by Ken Wiederhorn (Shock Waves, Eve of a Stranger).
Like Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II, Return of the Living Dead Part II feels more like a remake than a direct sequel. There’s another zombie-in-a-barrel that is opened, contaminating the air with 245 Trioxin — a military-grade toxic gas with the unusual side effect of resurrecting the dead. Once again, we witness a montage in which the dead rise from their graves and stumble out of the cemetery.
Two bumbling employees are exposed to the gas and slowly transform into zombies. They’re even played by Thom Mathews (Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI) and James Karen (Poltergeist), who basically reprise their roles from the first film, but with different names for their characters since their characters died in the original movie. Even the iconic Tarman (Allan Trautman) zombie returns, despite having his head knocked off in the first Return.
While O’Bannon’s original film struck the perfect balance of horror and comedy, Return of the Living Dead Part II feels like a misguided, uninspired rehash. Every time I revisit Wiederhorn’s movie, I find myself flummoxed by the decisions made within, like bringing back Matthews and Karen to play the same roles, but with different names. It’s impossible to view the movie as an actual sequel as a result. It’d be like watching RoboCop 2 only to discover Miguel Ferrer and Ronny Cox have returned to play slightly different evil corporate executives.
The first movie has so much personality and quirk to it, from the hilarious dynamic between Karen, Clu Gulager, and Don Calfa, to split-dog gags and Linnea Quigley’s graveyard dance number. The sequel, however, isn’t nearly as memorable. When it isn’t lifting entire scenes, complete with dialogue, from O’Bannon’s film, Wiederhorn’s sequel passes the time with generic characters (played admirably by Dana Ashbrook, Suzanne Snyder, and Michael Kenworthy) and stodgily staged set pieces.
Perhaps the only interesting thing about this amiably dull movie is that the director of photography, Robert Elswit, would go on to win the Best Cinematography Oscar for 2007’s There Will Be Blood, and dozens of other noteworthy films, including Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Inherent Vice, and Nightcrawler.
Despite the quality of the movie itself, Scream Factory has delivered yet another definitive Collector’s Edition Blu-ray release, with a new 2K scan from the original interpositive, presented in its original aspect ratio (1.85:1) and a bevy of newly produced and vintage bonus materials. There are two new audio commentaries: one with actress Suzanne Snyder; and another with Gary Smart, co-author of The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead), and documentarian Christopher Griffiths. There’s also a previously released commentary with Wiederhorn and actor Thor Van Lingen.
New special features include “Back To The Dead: The Effects of Return of the Living Dead Part II,” “The Laughing Dead – An Interview with Ken Wiederhorn,” “Undead Melodies – An Interview with composer J. Peter Robinson,” and an interview with actor Troy Fromin, who played “Pot Smoking Army Driver” in the film. Other bonus materials include the 30-minute featurette, “They Won’t Stay Dead: A Look At Return of the Living Dead Part II,” archival footage and interviews, as well as your standard assortment of trailers, TV spots, and still galleries.
For rabid fans of the franchise, picking up this release will be a no-brainer (wink wink, nudge nudge). If you’re not a fan of Wiederhorn’s sequel, Scream Factory’s definitive Blu-ray release probably won’t change your mind, but for those who already admire its blatant reworking of the original, the new 2K scan and selection of special features give you more to appreciate.
The Return of the Living Dead Part II Collector’s Edition is now available at Amazon. Below, you’ll find the official trailer, film clips, and Graham Humphreys’ kick-ass cover art of the Blu-ray release.
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