23rd Aug2017

‘Return of the Living Dead 3′ Blu-ray Review (Vestron Video)

by Rupert Harvey

Stars: Kent McCord, J. Trevor Edmond, Melinda Clarke, Basil Wallace, Sarah Douglas | Written by John Penney | Directed by Brian Yuzna

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These days he might be making nonsense like Amphibious Creature of the Deep, but Brian Yuzna’s directorial career began on a high with the excellent body horror satire Society, followed up by a good Re-Animator sequel. Then in 1993 came Return of the Living Dead 3, which, while not matching Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 original, goes some way to righting the wrongs of Part II.

Experiments with “Trioxin” gas began in 1969. The idea was to resurrect the dead and use them as a zombie army. It didn’t go so well, and now the cadavers are locked away in tanks in a temporary government facility. (The facility recalls Day of the Dead’s underground bunker, although it looks rather like a Red Dwarf set at times.)

Colonel John Reynolds (Kent McCord) is experimenting with a new weapon which can immobilise the walking dead once they’ve been brought back. It’s all very secretive, and following the death of his wife the colonel has become uncommunicative with his teenage son, Curt (J. Trevor Edmond). So, Curt and his girlfriend Julie (Melinda Clarke) break into the facility and discover the secret.

Back at home, father and son argue. In a rush of blood, Curt puts Julie on his motorbike and they flee for Seattle. But they crash and Julie is killed. If only there were a way of bringing her back…

In what is a pretty balanced mashup of genres, on top of the splat-horror we also get a decent love story and a fun chase movie. There is a sense of time running out for Curt and Julie as they are pursued by both angry Mexicans and the colonel’s crew. But also because Julie is developing an insatiable hunger for brains. She’s turning into a zombie.

“The pain helps,” says Julie as she invades her skin with glass and nails. “The pain makes the hunger go away.” There are clear parallels with self-harm, and Julie is becoming suicidal. It’s almost tempting to say that Return of the Living Dead gave us punks and Part 3 gives us emos. But this would be a gross simplification.

It is actually a fairly involving exploration of a relationship breakdown. Curt is “disgusted” by this new Julie. He wants her to be a certain way; to be the person she used to be. Curt’s desperation to keep Julie alive, in spite of her failing physical and mental state, is oddly moving, yet it also borders on abuse. Okay, this is hardly David Cronenberg’s The Fly, but it’s heartfelt nonetheless, and the air of tragedy is enhanced by Barry Goldberg’s emotive score.

Yuzna makes good use of his grotty locations, from bunker to backstreet to sewer. It’s an atmospheric film and quite cinematic at times – like when Curt is being followed through a vast empty reservoir, dwarfed by the mighty iron bridge overheard. Throw in the excellent makeup effects by Steve “Videodrome” Johnson and it’s a reminder that the budget needn’t constrain the craft.

As the naive yet driven Curt, it’s a good performance Edmond in what could have been a standard pretty boy part. Clarke’s role requires broader swings, as she goes from reckless hedonist to desperate junkie, before unleashing her sexuality as a means of getting what she needs. Ultimately, she is repulsed by herself. There’s a hint of Hellraiser toward the end, as Julie very graphically explores the realm between pleasure and pain.

The minor characters are also well-sketched. “Riverman” (Basil Wallace) is evidence of Yuzna’s attention to detail: When Curt thanks him for helping them, Riverman is touched and confused by the gratitude, as if he’s not used to being of use. Meanwhile, cult movie and TV veteran Sarah Douglas manages to infuse a tiny part with unspeakable evil, mostly by virtue of having an English accent.

Fast-paced, tightly plotted and featuring some fantastic creature designs (by this point, we’ve come a long way from sickly green face paint), Return of the Living Dead 3 is a far more competent and enjoyable sequel than it has any right to be. While it can’t stand up to the original for humour or imagination, it doesn’t deserve to be lost in the twilight funk of the ‘80s gore movement’s latter days.

Extras on this UK “Vestron Video” release are plentiful: audio commentaries from Yuzna, as well as Clarke and SFX supervisor Tom Rainone; interviews with Clarke and Edmond; a trip down memory lane with Yuzna and writer John Penney; interviews covering the production history and the (very) special effects; storyboard and stills galleries; and theatrical trailers.

Return of the Living Dead 3 is out on Blu-ray on August 28th from Vestron Video.

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