Title: Return of the Living Dead III (1993)
Director: Brian Yuzna
Cast: Melinda Clarke, J. Trevor Edmund, Sarah Douglas, Kent McCord
There’s this thing that happens only to movie buffs, you watch a movie at a certain point in your life, then you revisit the same film 20 years later and suddenly it takes on a whole other meaning, or you see things in it you never saw the first time. I guess this has a lot to do with how we filter films, books and songs through our own lives, our own experiences. Sometimes you watch a film as a kid and don’t get it, you watch it as an adult and it makes all the sense in the world. Or vice versa, you loved it as a kid, and end up hating it as an adult. Return of the Living Dead III was a film that I didn’t think much of the first time I saw it. For some reason, it just didn’t click with me. I was in my teens and to me, Return of the Living Dead III was something of a letdown because it didn’t have as many zombies as the previous Return of the Living Dead films did, it didn’t have scenes taking place in cemeteries with zombies coming out of their graves, which is what I loved about the previous ones. Also, this film has a more serious tone to it, it's less fun in a way and more of a sci-fi horror film. I had a chance to rewatch Return of the Living Dead III the other night and low and behold, I ended up enjoying the hell out of it. In fact, I think it is quite underrated!
The story this time around concerns two teenagers who are deeply in love, Kurt and Julie. Kurt is something of a rebel; he wants to move out with his girlfriend Julie to Seattle to follow his rock and roll dreams of becoming a drummer and living the rock and roll lifestyle. One night, when Kurt and Julie are feeling particularly adventurous, they decide to sneak in to the secret military base where Kurt’s father works at, to see what kind of sick experiments they conduct in there. When they do, they discover that the government is experimenting with the reanimation of corpses so they can be used as bio-weapons! They actually see with their own eyes how the government re-animates a corpse with the help of the chemical compound known as 245 Trioxin! Later that same night, Kurt and Julie decide to escape, to go off on their own into the world; unfortunately in their excitement Kurt and Julie have a motorcycle accident and Julie dies! In the middle of his sadness and desperation, Kurt decides to take Julie back to the military base to bring her back to life! Will she be the same Julie when she comes back?
This sequel is a bit different than the previous Return of the Living Dead films, but at the same time it walks on familiar ground. It is different because on the first and second films the military functions from behind the scenes, we known the containers with the zombies inside of them were misplaced by the military, and we know they are trying to control the whole zombie threat, but we only see the military from afar, not so on this third film in which we actually go inside the military base where the government conducts the experiments to bring back the dead. This is one of the things that I enjoyed the most about this film, how they actually show these grizzly experiments and how they can get out of control. Speaking of getting out of control, the film opens up with this extensive sequence in which we see how they reanimate a corpse that is just awesome, the sequence eventually becomes this orgy of gore and zombies! If you’re a zombie fan, you will love these scenes; they really go into the whole process of how they reanimate the dead.
Then, the film turns into a Romeo and Juliet type of deal with Kurt and Julie, this is where Return of the Living Dead III is also different to all the others, the love angle. Kurt is alive, but Julie is undead, how can they ever consummate their love for each other? Will they? Should they? This film is Melinda Clarke’s show; she is the central character, the main attraction. This beautiful actress plays Julie, Kurt’s undead girlfriend. I really enjoyed Clarke’s portrayal of the zombie girl. We get to see her feeling and describing the change of becoming one of the undead, she describes her numbness and hunger with great emotion, and you get to feel some empathy for her, I dug her performance and you can tell she was really into it. The story also complicates itself even further when Kurt and Julie stumble upon this gang of trigger happy Chicanos who end up holding a grudge against Kurt and Julie, they learn the hard way not to mess with a member undead.
Return of the Living Dead III was directed by Brian Yuzna, a true horror fan and certainly no stranger to the world of the undead. He’s the director behind Bride of Re-Animator (1989) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003), plus a slew of other genre films. So we get a horror film that’s directed by horror fan for horror fans, you could tell that the guy was aware that he was making a sequel to Dan O’Bannon’s genre marking Return of the Living Dead (1985). They even reference O’Bannon’s original idea for Return of the Living Dead when they mention that the ‘245 Trioxin’ chemical compound was originally intended to be used by the military on the “war against marihuana”. We get the drums filled with zombies, we get the Trioxin, we get the military experiments, so yeah, this feels a whole lot like a sequel to Return of the Living Dead as opposed to parts four and five of this franchise which don’t feel like they exist in the same universe somehow. Also, I have to give Kudos to Yuzna for making such an entertaining flick on such a low budget. You can tell this film is smaller in scale then the previous two, yet the creativity and the direction make it look better than it should. It even explores new ideas, especially when it comes to controlling zombies with an exo-skeleton type of thing, cool idea!
So we have a film that addresses familiar themes and exists within the same universe that Dan O’Bannon created, but brings a couple of new things to the table. My final word on this movie is that it is vastly underrated. It has good acting from all involved, and it is unusually well written, I was actually a bit surprised at how much I was enjoying it. It has great characters in it too; for example there’s this homeless character called “The Riverman” who spews these golden nuggets of wisdom, LOVED that character! Another plus for the film was the gore which was plentiful. It reminded me of how gory movies used to be. We also get some pretty cool looking zombies on this one. The end of the film is this zombie blood bath with tons of gore! Anyways, bottom line with this movie is that it’s not the greatest zombie movie ever made, and sometimes it shows its budgetary limitations (especially when it comes to the cramped sets) but the imagination and energy involved elevate it and make it a worthy sequel in my book, worth a watch.
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5