Thursday, September 19, 2013

REVIEW: Return of the Living Dead Part 2

Return of the Living Dead Part 2
Director: Ken Wiederhorn
Year 1988

Return of the Living Dead Part 2 is the campy sequel to the 1985 hit horror/comedy hybrid, The Return of the Living Dead, directed by Dan O'Bannon. Featuring a fresh group of victims and a whole new storyline, this late 80's gem takes the same tongue and cheek approach that the original movie established yet cranks it up to absurd levels. As mixtures of horror and comedies go, Return of the Living Dead Part 2 is a satisfying romp that has one hell of a bite.

The film begins as a group of kids find a lost barrel in a sewer drain, containing the remains of zombified corpse. Mistakenly one of them opens up the canister, releasing a toxic gas named 2-4-5 Trioxen that begins reanimating the dead. Quickly the town starts to be overrun by hordes of flesh-eating ghouls and it's up to a rag tag group of survivors to find a way out of the city or become the main course for an all you can eat zombie buffet.

What's always fun about these types of films is that there is never really a main character to speak of within the movie, but more of an ensemble group that the story focuses on. In the case of this film, it's a motley group of people consisting of a pair of gravediggers, a few kids, a cable repairman, and a crotchety old man. This unique assortment of characters needs an equally unique cast of actors and the film establishes this with great aplomb. Running through most of the cast, Michael Kenworthy plays the role of Jesse Wilson one of the kids who first finds the canister, while Marsha Dietlein takes on the role of Jesse's older sister Lucy Wilson. They are both exceptionally good in their roles with Kenworthy playing the wisecracking little brother to 80's perfection and Dietlein looking as cute as a button as the smartass and sassy sister. Jason Hogan takes on the role of Johnny the cable repairman, who also becomes a love interest for Dietlein's Lucy character, while Philip Bruns plays the role of Doc Mandel the elderly and clueless neighborhood weirdo. Hogan is cool as the teenage zombie killer while Bruns performance as the neurotic old Doc Mandel is especially entertaining.

Of course I've left the best for last and that would be James Karen as Ed and Thom Mathews as Joey, not to mention the third wheel of this special group Suzanne Snyder as Brenda. Karen and Mathews are essentially reprising their roles from the first film, with the student mentor relationship in full swing. This time instead of the two working at a medical supply warehouse they are putting in late night hours as gravediggers. I can't say that their performance is as memorable and classic as it was in the original, but they do give it their all and the moments they are together on screen are just comedic gold. All in all, this cast is extraordinarily great and the chemistry between the group is what makes this entry so special.

As with the previous installment of the series, the film tries to maintain an equal balance of horror and comedy, but with this iteration the pendulum tends to swing more towards the comedic side of things. This of course isn't a bad thing, but it is quite different from the balancing act that the first film was able to sustain. I still enjoy the wacky nature of this entry, with its blatantly whimsical style and non-serious approach. It is a true 80's gem that just wants to have fun and has no ulterior motives aside from that, and that is the same approach that made so many films of this era so fun and enjoyable.

Even though the tone is a bit different from the original, the effects and overall look of the film is still intact. The zombie makeup and designs are just as grotesque as before, with decaying bodies and rotten faces looking especially devilish, while the atmosphere is locked in that foggy haze from right out of a nightmare. It's interesting to see that same kind of visual potency that the original was able to conjure up, is intact in the sequel, and it's a nice touch that lends to the credibility of the series. As before, the zombies in this flick talk and do all sorts of silly things, but the balance of horror and comedy is just close enough that it doesn't throw the film into a confusing mess. In the end, the film is just a fun ride that shouldn't be taken seriously, yet appreciated for its entertainment value.

Return of the Living Dead Part 2 is a respectable sequel to an unfaltering cult classic. One that may not get the formula exactly perfect, but gets it close enough to echo the tone and atmosphere of the original. Lensed in a particularly vivid moment in time, the film has a wicked nostalgia to it that lends to the fun factor of the flick. It's silly, it's strange, and it could only be made in the 80's. Trapped in that moment of time, the movie thrives, and you're instantly whisked away to those days when horror movies were fun and outrageous.

The cast basks in this cinematic time frame, with the stereotypical line-up of characters filling in to round out this distinct fictional world. Kenworthy, Dietlein, Hogan, Snyder, Mathews and Karen, all bring their best camp performances to the table and their efforts work wonders in engaging us in all the ridiculous proceedings. Even with its over the top tongue and cheek approach, and its penchant for riding off the rails, I still find this second entry in the series enjoyable and I wouldn't change a thing. You just can't beat these types of 80's flicks and if you're a fan of this era of film-making and you haven't checked this one out, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Return of the Living Dead Part 2 is.....

Hey! How's it going?

Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things.

How about a little head buddy?

Is everyone enjoying the movie?

Shit it's old man Jenkins! Punch him in the face!


Pull my finger.... Oh Shit!

Zombies just love sweater vests.

It's a family vacation from hell!

Hey! Screw you too buddy!

Good... Bad.... I'm the hot chick with the gun.

Looks like someone pooped their pants again.


Cat got your....... Jaw?

Zombie Apocalypse Staring Contest..... GO!

Get some you two crazy kids.

Cause this is THRILLER!

Get that damn camera out of my face!


  1. Great write-up, it's nice to see this one getting some love. I really enjoy ROTLD2, it was the first horror movie I ever had on tape (recorded a late night showing on HBO that was followed by the '70s comedy H.O.T.S.)

    - Cody

    1. Yeah I needed to give this one some love. It seems that too many people are critical of this one just because it is a sequel. It's just plain fun!

  2. I remember seeing this at the movies when it came out. I didn't have much love for it then, but in retrospect it was a good time at the movies. The theater was packed (opening night) and it got a lot of laughs. I found out later it was directed by Ken Weiderhorn, who directed one of my favorite films, "Shock Waves"!

    1. I didn't realize, or put two and two together, that Weiderhorn directed Shock Waves. Awesome! Talk about totally different styles!

  3. Yeah it's insane to think he did Shock Waves and then eventually this. I agree that the film gets a bad rap, but it's only because of peoples' extreme love for O'Bannon's original classic.

    Great review.