Whereas The Return of the Living Dead was a sarcastic, punk rock, "Do you wanna party?" blowout; this sequel is more content to be a polite cocktail party where you feel like you've been there before and nothing overly exciting happens. This isn't to say that it's not an entertaining follow-up and writer-director Ken Wiederhorn is sure to let you know it's a sequel to the 1985 cult classic by peppering in lots of in-jokes and references to the original including a repeat of the line "Like this job?!" as well as bringing back Thom Matthews and James Karen for more bumbling, comedic shenanigans - even though they play entirely different characters.
A narrated introduction plays behind the opening scenes reminding us about the top secret military chemical Trioxin as some trucks are transporting barrels of it through a heavy rainstorm. As expected some of them fall off the back of one of them and become just ripe for discovery at a later date. From here we head into a nearby under construction suburbs where youngster Jesse (Michael Kenworthy) is rifling through his comic books (What?! No bags or boards? My comic collecting self winces at this scene) to give as a peace offering to the neighbourhood bully. He's soon tagging along with them and they find one of the barrels in a storm drain. Tampering around with it they, of course, break the seal and a whole new batch of zombies is about to arrive as the deadly chemical spreads through the local cemetery.
Around the same time we're introduced to Ed (Karen), Joey (Mathews), and Joey's girlfriend Brenda (Suzanne Snyder) who have arrived at the graveyard to morbidly collect corpse heads in order to sell them as well as swipe some jewelry. They end up getting caught in the undead invasion and have to pair up with Jesse, his teenage sister Lucy (Marsha Dietlein), brave cable guy Tom (Dana Ashbrook), and Dr. Mandel (Philip Bruns) to try and escape. Along the way we're treated to a handful of attack scenes, some brain munching, and a bunch of slight comedy before a finish set at a power plant.
I was surprised by how much fun I managed to wring out of this one. Like I said above, this is definitely toned down from Dan O'Bannon's original and feels a lot more targeted at a teenage audience with its silly slapstick and more cartoony looking zombies. But I'll be damned if I didn't have a good time with it. Mathews and Karen basically play the same riff they did in the first, even getting infected and taking on a grey complexion while Karen amusingly whines, but still are a great team. I did enjoy the tongue-in-cheek tone Wiederhorn brought to the proceedings and liked the many winks at the original - I just feel he could've wrung a lot more thrills out of things considering he did the Nazi zombie flick Shock Waves in 1977. Speaking of the zombies, the effects are handled decently with a nice moment where Brenda caves in a zombie head and some scattered comic book silliness involving a severed hand and cut in half zombie. And how can you not enjoy seeing a zombie clad as Michael Jackson being fried in the finale?
I'm always hesitant when a flick has a pre-teen protagonist and while Kenworthy is no Stephen Dorff in 1987's The Gate he does okay. He'd next appear in the most excellent remake of The Blob and that'd be it for him. Making his debut, Ashbrook (Girlfriend from Hell, "Twin Peaks") has a time of knocking off zombies while making googly eyes at co-star Dietlein. Bruns makes for an acceptable substitute for Don Calfa's coroner from the original. Snyder (Killer Klowns from Outer Space) is just here to look concerned about Joey, the Shocker himself Mitch Pileggi has a small role and gets to shoot a really bad-ass machine gun as Sarge, and Allan Trautman reprises the first flick's memorable "Tarman" zombie.
Granted, I would've much preferred my zombies to come bursting from their graves to more 45 Grave punk rawk than the goofy disco-like synthesizer they do here (this may be one of the things affected by Warner replacing music for the DVD release) and there's absolutely no way this can match the greatness of its predecessor but I enjoyed myself for 89 minutes. There would be three more entries after this with Brian Yuzna taking it in a dark, body modification path for the next one before Ellory Eklayem (Eight Legged Freaks) shot back-to-back stinkers that managed to make me angrier than any other sequels in recent memory. (Chris Hartley, 2/23/15)
Directed By: Ken Wiederhorn.
Written By: Ken Wiederhorn.
Starring: James Karen, Thom Mathews, Dana Ashbrook, Marsha Dietlein.