Jarv’s Schlock Vault: Return of the Living Dead 3
I don’t know what’s happening to me, I’m not alive, I’m not dead, I’m just so lonely.
Jarv’s Rating: Two and a half Changs out of four. This film is unfairly maligned. There are serious problems to it, and tonally it’s way off, but overall this is a solid zombie movie with a fucking spectacular central monster. Seriously spectacular, actually.
My apologies for this run of incessant schlock. Ordinarily, I do try to mix it up a wee bit, but I’m on a quest to 100% both Stuart Gordon and Brian Yuzna films before I come to the hideous Birthday Series. I say hideous, because I watched 3 minutes of Xanadu earlier and aside from being horrified that it had Gene Kelly in it, I was forced to turn it off. In the meantime, in order to prepare myself for the forthcoming awfulness, I’m stocking up on my Schlock reserves so I’ve got fun films to think about while my brain is melting.
Return of the Living Dead is one of the definitive comedy/ horror films. Dan O’Bannon’s original is a full fat schlock-fest with giggles galore, gratuitous titties, an outstanding B-movie cast, and plenty of gore. I reviewed it back in the MyMavra days here, and really, really enjoyed it. I also reviewed Return of the Living Dead 2 as one of my first ever reviews here and have to say thought it was shit. Return of the Living Dead 3, on the other hand, falls somewhere between the two extremes. On one hand, it’s a serious horror film (there really aren’t a lot of laughs here) which is jarring in context of a Return of the Living Dead film. Return of the Living Dead 3 is not entirely horror, as Brian Yuzna is on directorial duties and he always throws in a couple of laughs amongst the splatter, but it is far more grim and serious than the previous entries. On the other hand, no genre falls as flat on its arse as Comedy when it doesn’t work, so moving towards a serious zombie film was quite a good idea, and it does still have several expected Return of the Living Dead features, notably Trioxin, articulate zombies, spectacular monsters and juggs aplenty.
Return of the Living Dead 3 is more involved in what the hell the army are playing at with the Trioxin. Douchebag army brat Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) and his girlfriend Julie (played with real flair by Melinda Clarke- seen in the OC) break in and witness the army experiment being conducted by nefarious unconvincing English (in the US Army) Colonel Sinclair (Sarah Douglas). Horrified, they flee for some illicit teenage nookie. Next thing you know, they’re involved in a motorbike crash and before you can say “fucking imbecile” Curt has used the Trioxin to Re-Animate Julie. Now on the run, Julie is having severe problems controlling her urge to eat brains, and resorts to self-mutilation to stave the cravings off. One unpleasant encounter with a very unconvincing gang of street punks later we’ve got carnage galore before the pretty crappy Romeo and Juliet type ending.
Actually, I do understand why this is maligned. I still maintain that it’s unfair, but the film commits a few cardinal sins. Firstly, Curt is one of the most immensely thick characters ever filmed. The fucker just will not learn a lesson and the finale of the movie relies on him being a complete cretin for the untold time. It’s aggravating. Secondly, the film says “bollocks to continuity” not just with the series but with itself. The earlier films established that the zombies are intelligent and capable of empathy, but here Julie is basically completely human, whereas other zombies are just slavering, barely mobile flesh eaters. To be fair, they noticed it, and there’s a throwaway line towards the end about Julie being “different” but it’s too late- particularly when she goes from being an animal in a cage to conversant within seconds. Not cool, man, not cool.
What I’m getting at here is that the writing leaves a lot to be desired. Curt and Julie are on the run, and bump into the punks. The punks then pursue them to the ends of LA- purely for the purposes of the script. This is just an example, but there’s a fuck of a lot here that pushes the characters around in service of the story- Curt in particular. There are multiple instances of this film where the next sequence relies on Curt being a post-lobotomy drooling twat to move the narrative along. This is just shit writing.
Against this, though, the acting is actually quite good. Edmond does his best with the myriad problems the script throws at him and comes out in credit, Douglas is hilarious despite being miscast, but the star of the piece is Clarke as Julie- wow. If you’ve only ever seen her in the OC, then I heartily recommend that you watch this. Not only does she unleash the sweater puppies before becoming a full-on BDSM sex-nightmare, but she carries the film with some aplomb. This is one of the best individual performances that I’ve seen in a schlocky Zombie film, and full credit to her.
More importantly though, the monsters here are fucking spectacular. There are heads torn off but still attached to the spinal column, a brilliant scalped zombie, and a traction zombie that’s fantastic to look at. However, as good as these are, the real star of the piece is zombie Julie. The self-mutilation scene is damned hard to watch, but the end result is, well, magnificent. She really is one of the finest beasts that I’ve seen and it goes to show that Yuzna learned lots on Re-Animator (mostly where to hire top-notch makeup and effects people). Julie is an absolutely fabulous monster and reason in itself to watch the film.
Overall, this isn’t a classic. However, it does represent a real step-up from the pretty shitty part 2. It’s not the easiest film to watch, but I do recommend it (even if it doesn’t feel like a Return of the Living Dead film). The reason for my recommendation should be obvious: Melinda Clarke as Julie alive or dead. This film is purely worth watching for how good she is, and how good the monster she becomes is. I do add a “cautious” to this recommendation, as I don’t wholeheartedly buy into it- it’s just too flawed, but nevertheless this is certainly one of the better zombie sequels out there and pisses all over anything George Romero has made since Dawn of the Dead, even if it isn’t fit to eat the brains of the original.
Until next time,