Return of the Living Dead part II (1988)

return of the living dead part ii

“Get that damned screwdriver out of my head!”

The Scoop: 1988 R, directed by Ken Wiederhorn and starring Michael Kenworthy, Thor Van Lingen, and Jason Hogan

Tagline: Just when you thought it was safe to be dead.

Summary Capsule: Toxic gas and bumbling idiots result in another zombie invasion — with 37 pieces of flair!

Justin’s rating: It’s Close To Midnight And Something Evil’s Lurking In The Dark

Justin’s review: When Evil Dead 2 came out, it confused its already addled fan base.  Instead of a true sequel, ED2 seemed to be both a sequel (chronologically following the events of the first movie into the next day and night) but also a complete remake (events from the first movie were ignored, changed or repeated almost identically, depending on the scene).  What to make of it?  Sam Raimi said that ED2 was, to the effect, the movie he wanted Evil Dead to be, with a bigger budget, more humor and less tree molestation.  Still, the whole of the Evil Dead trilogy can’t really be taken with any serious point A-to-B-to-C expectations in mind; it’s more of a casual, loose affiliation of like-minded films that happen to star the same one-handed guy.

I got the same queasy vibes about halfway into Return of the Living Dead part II, and this time it was no murky accident.  Three years after Return of the Living Dead‘s moderate success stab at spoofing the Night of the Living Dead legacy, the filmmakers returned to virtually make the same movie all over again. The locations have changed, but the story remains similar, as does the filmmaker’s peculiar affection for goopy zombie makeup and non-stop screaming and yelling from the actors.

It’s complete déjà vu.

It’s complete déjà vu.

And there’s a glitch in the Matrix.

Fruitless as it may be to try to connect Part II to the first flick, I will forge ahead without my citrusy vitamin C as a stalwart companion. Return speculated that the events of Night of the Living Dead actually happened, caused by a military chemical spill, and that the zombies were contained and canned up.  In the first film, two idiots accidentally open a canister to let out a zombie and the zombiefying gas; in the sequel, two idiots accidentally open a canister to let out… well, you know how it goes.  Both films had easy ringside seats to graveyards, where rain mixed with the gas sent zombies a-diggin’ for the surface, and both films centered around a core of The Only Living People Within A Fifteen Block Radius who would scream and yell and shout and never quite do anything productive with their lives.

In both movies, the constant shrieking-at-the-top-of-their-voices directorial decision left me with either a pounding headache or a small brain tumor that chose this opportunity to make a break for it through my left temple.  Sure, it might be somewhat believable that if the dead rose again, people conceivably would be disturbed, but I’d also expect them to remember that the loss of the back of your head doesn’t stop us from using our “inside voices”.  The non-stop shouting of the cast is just the tip of the acting nightmare, because it leads most of the characters to act wild, zany and utterly melodramatic.  I was embarrassed for them.

Happily, the zombies more than make up for this nuisance.  In most zombie movies, the zombie makeup is traditionally uniform (one very expensive decrepit corpse to one hundred normal-looking people with gray makeup seems to be the standard ratio) and boring, but in the Return of the Living Dead flicks, the makeup artists and the special effects crew seem to have a blast coming up with new ways to make their zombies look unique and memorable.  Part II even has a talking zombie head and severed zombie hand (hm, never seen that before) getting in on the act, hamming a few lines so that they get their SAG cards.  The zombies also hog all of the humor, being graduates of the Ministry of Silly Walks, winging a few funny lines (in these movies, zombies have more human abilities than many undead flicks), and generally getting themselves re-killed as interestingly as possible.

It’s sort of a zombie Gremlins, when I think about it.

Still, the unclear sequel/remake distinction doesn’t help Part II at all, especially when the biggest changed element — a young precocious (and annoying) kid is our lead hero — isn’t an improvement at all. It’s funny, sure, but so was part I, and that had punks, whereas this has… um… girls bouncing around in aerobics wearing garish ’80s exercise outfits.  It’s not exactly topping anything from the first, to say the least.

Not a complete waste of your time and far from unentertaining, Part II nevertheless is a wasted sequel that buckled and broke at the thought of taking the series in a new, bold fashion.  BRAINS!

And that's when a bolt of inspiration struck Ted. He needed to invest in plastics!
And that’s when a bolt of inspiration struck Ted. He needed to invest in plastics!


  • Thom Mathews and James Karen nearly duplicate their roles from Return of the Living Dead as a pair who are sickened by zombie gas. In both films they have the exchange, “Listen kid, if you like this job…” “Like this job? Like this job!”
  • Writer/Director Ken Wiederhorn was trying to get out of the horror genre at the time Lorimer Productions bought his script. Once the film was released he received nothing but horror-comedy directing opportunities.
  • The cemetery and storm drain were complete outdoor sets. The mausoleum, hospital, meat packing factory, and interior houses were also purpose-built sets.
  • The set for Jesse’s bedroom is the same one used for Billy’s. Posters and furniture were re-arranged to change the look.
  • The blue electrocution lines in the final sequence were all hand-drawn frame by frame and cost over $50,000.
  • Highly dangerous chemicals should be transported by a guy smoking pot and tied down with one loose strap
  • Evil kids almost always have slicked-back hair
  • That little dweeb is way too perky
  • Dig the jean jacket and puffy vest!
  • Grave robbing is a lucrative business
  • Masterman — the worst superhero name ever!
  • Flashdance sweater
  • NICE zombie face punch!
  • Overkill on locking your bro in his room
  • Awesome zombie makeup
  • Loads of screaming going on here
  • Zombies like… aerobics?
  • Severed crawling hand giving the middle finger… shades of Evil Dead 2
  • Zombies in the pet store going on a rampage is funny
  • The Thriller zombie

Groovy Quotes

Joey: I feel like we’ve been here before. You… Me… Them!


Brenda: Joey, I’m not into dead guys!

Lucy Wilson: Look, they’re ugly and they’re dirty and they’re dumb, and I don’t even care if they are dead. I hate ’em, there’s no way they’re touching me!

Zombie Head: Get that damned screwdriver out of my head!

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