In 1985 Dan O'Bannon brought a new vision of the zombie film with Return of the Living Dead. It was a fun movie that successfully melded horror with comedy. The end result was a film that works successfully in both worlds. It was so successful, in fact, that it spawned a sequel three years later, written and directed by the mind behind the Nazi zombie film Shock Waves, Ken Weiderhorn.
Five years later, a third film arrived from horror veteran Brian Yuzna (From Beyond, Bride of Re-Animatior) and writer John Penney. This third outing was something of a departure from its predecessors in that it loses the comedy element, replaced with a Romeo and Juliet-style romance. Does it work? Of course it does. It is definitely a different film than the other two, with only the zombie lore carried over, but it still makes for an entertaining movie.
As the film opens, we learn that the government is experimenting with Trioxin gas. They are looking for ways to weaponize it, using reanimated corpses as soldiers. The man in charge is Col. John Reynolds (Kent McCord), and he is on the verge of losing his post, unless he can make this project work. Meanwhile, his son Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) is hanging with his girlfriend, Julie (Mindy Clarke), and planning to show her the inside of Daddy's facility. This sets in motion a sequence of events that will lead to certain doom.
This leads to the first zombie, a tall, lanky, and impossibly skinny man. He is the latest experiment gone awry, and his existence is witnessed by Curt and Julie. Upon fleeing the facility, tragedy strikes in the form of a car accident, killing Julie. This proves to be the single moment that will define the movie and forever change the existence of our star-crossed lovers.
Knowing what the gas can do, and unwilling to lose Julie, Curt returns to the base where he exposes his beloved to the gas. What follows is a frenzied pursuit from the military and an ever-growing horde of the brain-seeking undead — all this while Curt is trying to keep Julie from turning into what they both fear is inevitable.
Considering that this is a sequel, it is surprisingly good and well-rounded. It stands apart from the rest of the series (especially the latter two, which went straight to television). It retains much of the established Return lore, while also expanding on it and bringing in a stronger emotional element. It is this growth of lore, development of character, and emotional involvement that make this film really work for me.
Additions to the lore include the recently dead hanging onto their humanity longer than those reanimated after a longer period of death. We also learn that humanity can be clung to when love and/or pain are involved. This proves to be a key element the further into the movie we go.
As for the story proper, there is a strong pull to the central characters of Curt and Julie. Sure, I thought Curt was supremely annoying and whiny at moments, but there is no denying the love that he has for Julie and the lengths that he will go to stay with her. Curt, and the performance of J. Trevor Edmond, aside, what truly holds this film together and takes it to another level is the performance of Mindy Clarke as Julie. She sells the character beautifully. She sells the recklessness of youth that transforms into pure fear, before becoming something greater than the two, reconciling her new self with her old self. Just watch her as she gradually changes throughout the film. It is quite special.
Now, don't be fooled, this is definitely a B-movie. It makes no effort to transcend what it is; rather it embraces it and works it to its advantage. Return of the Living Dead 3 is a tragic tale of love, death, and zombies that leaves a mark beyond its gory trappings.
Audio/Video. This release through Lion's Gate is nothing particularly special. The transfer is adequate, there are no obvious problems. However, it is non-anamorphic and the colors lack a bit of excitement. The audio track has plenty of life and does the job adequately.
- Commentary #1. The first track is a solo track with director Brian Yuzna. It is an informative discussion, although he can be a bit dry.
- Commentary #2. The second track features creature supervisor/2nd unit director Tom Rainone and actress Melinda Clarke. This is a more lively track as they discuss the making of the film. It is a fun track and well worth the listen.
- Trailers. Included are the original theatrical trailer, as well as trailers for Progeny, Dentist, Dentist 2, and Faust.
Bottom line. A fun movie that is more involving than one would expect. The gore effects are quite good (although I wish this was the unrated cut with all the gore intact), and the screenplay is even effective. Give this the time to watch, just don't expect the original film.