Return Of The Living Dead 3 Review
Not to be confused with any of the zombie epics from George Romero, the first Return of The Living Dead (1985) was directed with some flair by Dan O’Bannon, previously best known as one of the writers on Alien. The simple premise was that the dead are accidentally brought back to life by means of a toxic gas originally intended for military use called “Trioxin”. The film attained cult status and had some memorable moments – not to mention a flamboyant turn from scream queen Linnea Quigley. A lame more comedic sequel followed three years later, though much of the humour fell flat. The third instalment came in 1993, this time with Brian Yuzna at the helm, who had a proven track record having previously produced several successful horror titles for Charles Band's Empire Pictures. Gone were any characters from the previous movies and a more earnest tone was adopted, retaining only the Trioxin plot device from O’Bannon’s original. Yuzna and screenwriter John Penney envisaged the third entry as a doomed love story, where one half of the couple just happens to become a flesh eating zombie.
In Return of The Living Dead 3, Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) and Julie (Melinda Clarke) are young lovers with an inquisitive nature. This causes them to sneak inside the military base where Curt’s father Colonel Reynolds (Kent McCord) is posted and then unwittingly observe some rather unpleasant experiments taking place in the sinister bio-engineering lab. To their horror the couple witness a cadaver miraculously brought back to life, groaning and limbs jerking in its shackles, having just been exposed to a mysterious gas labelled simply as Trixoin. A nervous scientist then shoots the reanimated corpse in the head with a strange projectile, causing it to suddenly freeze over and become lifeless once again.
Apparently the tests are all part of a top secret plan to create super soldiers. The sickened couple make their escape and later ride off on Curt’s motorcycle into the night with the intention of building a life together away from their parents. Yet tragedy strikes when Curt loses control and Julie is hurled into a post and killed. Grief stricken, Curt can’t face life without Julie and at this point you can probably second guess where this is going. Yes, it’s a trip back to the lab for a sneaky few whiffs of Trioxin and - hey presto - Julie is back from the dead. Only she doesn’t quite feel her usual self. In fact, she is blissfully unaware of the accident at first and has to gradually come to terms with her fate. Poor Curt is completely unprepared too for Julie’s sudden unquenchable appetite and unsavoury dietary requirements. Chomping on a gang member in a convenience store proves to be a bad move, as the bitten guy’s cohorts lead by the heinous Santos (B-movie regular Mike Moroff) are soon pursuing the couple across LA and down into the sewer system.
The military are stirred into action as well, under the watchful eye of steely Lt. Col Sinclair (Sarah Douglas), keen to capture Julie and keep their secret experimentation under wraps. As the film progresses, Julie inflicts ever more extreme body piercing on herself, to divert any thoughts away from those continual hunger cravings. By the time the military make their move, she resembles a formidable distant relative of Hellraiser’s Pinhead, sporting an assortment of protruding sharp objects (an impressive make-up job by Steve Johnson). That’s not a spoiler either – the film’s distinctive promotional artwork pretty much lets you know what to expect. Julie soon finds herself incarcerated back in the lab - and with the indignity of being labelled simply as “Specimen 32”. Smitten Curt still won’t give up on his love though and plans to set her free, but in the commotion a number of other hideous specimens escape from various containers and the film cuts loose in outrageous style as the living dead take on their captors.
Writer John Penney manages to inject some pathos into proceedings through the couple’s plight, though this film lacks the rich satirical edge of early Romero, notably his brilliant Dawn of the Dead. Despite clearly being made on the cheap, Yuzna has enough savvy to keep the narrative moving swiftly along and is aided by some spirited performances, particularly from Clarke. Those familiar with the director’s earlier low budget productions (Re-animator, From Beyond, Society et al) will know exactly what to expect as this follows very much in the same vein with some outlandish icky sequences. There’s plenty of splatter here to satisfy fans and it’s definitely a cut above more recent examples of what has become an overcrowded genre. All that’s missing is Jeffrey Coombs playing one of those twitchy mad doctors – a role that he has done so well in the past for both Yuzna and director Stuart Gordon.
Return of the Living Dead 3 forms part of a special collector’s series celebrating the horror releases of VHS label Vestron from back in the 1980s. Fans will no doubt remember the distinctive Vestron red cassette boxes and pulp cover art. For those who don’t recall the eclectic and often quirky output of the label, it’s worth noting that their production arm was the only company willing to finance Dirty Dancing when all the major studios had flatly turned it down. We therefore have them to thank for that massive sleeper hit, or maybe not, depending on your personal point-of-view. The company went out of business decades ago and then Lionsgate acquired the rights to their back catalogue, so now Vestron is back again, like an old friend – complete with its familiar intro. The Blu-ray Collector’s series also includes other horror delights such as: Waxwork, CHUD 2: Bud the Chud and Blood Diner. These editions mirror what Lionsgate released previously in the States last year, though they seem to have dropped a few other titles for the UK market. In my opinion, one of Vestron’s best horror releases during its heyday was the agreeably bonkers HP Lovecraft inspired From Beyond. Although that particular title is not part of this collection, it’s still available in the UK on BD from Second Sight Films. Return of the Living Dead 3, on the other hand, was never handled by Vestron - they only distributed Dan O’Bannon’s cult original, so it seems a strange inclusion here as part of a celebratory collection.
Return of the Living Dead 3 is presented in a 1080p transfer from original elements and the picture quality here is noticeably improved compared to previous DVD editions. Much more fine detail can be observed in close-up shots of the characters, background scenery and those rather rubbery looking creature effects. There are no detectable signs of damage to the source material, such as specks or lines and only a fine level of grain is present throughout. Blacks are often deep particularly during the exterior night scenes shot around LA, with reasonable levels of contrast. Interiors within the military base are frequently brightly lit, though the image does at times appear a little soft. If the skin tones of certain characters look quite pallid, this can often be excused, they’re zombies after all.
The disc comes with the original 2.0 stereo, which does the job adequately enough, with clear dialogue and some punchy sound effects. There is also an option for English subtitles, though at times the words on the screen are simply “Raahh!” or “Aaaaaah!” It’s that kind of movie.
Redshirt Pictures have produced over 90 minutes of brand new interviews for this Vestron Collector’s Edition, providing an in depth analysis of the film.
Ashes to Ashes (27 mins) - Director Brian Yuzna and screenwriter John Penney share a jovial chat about the film, which was envisaged as a love story…with zombies. Penney served as an editor on the first film and was surprised to become involved as a writer on Part 3. Yuzna explains that the financiers were happy for him to jettison the lame humour that tarnished the previous entry and bring in all new characters. Amusingly, the only prerequisite was that the film had to include brain eating and Trioxin – to satisfy fans of Dan O’Bannon’s original.
Living Dead Girl (19 mins) - Lead actress Melinda “Mindy” Clarke explains that this was only her second feature and therefore had little screen experience at that time. She did come from a family involved in the performing arts though – her father had starred in the television series Days of Our Lives for several decades and her mother was a ballerina. Clarke admits to not being a fan of horror and had to endure a gruelling eight hours in the make-up chair for her remarkable transformation in the movie, which involved over 100 appliances being fitted. She is now more of a familiar face on television, having starred in shows such as Nikita and The Vampire Diaries.
Romeo is Bleeding (17 mins) - Lead actor J. Trevor Edmond discusses his role in the film.
Trimark & Trioxin (13 mins) - Production executive David Tripet explains how the project got underway at the small outfit Trimark, with the intention of going for a darker tone compared to the previous instalments, whilst being mindful not to distance themselves from the existing fan base.
Resurrected Dead ( 19 mins) - Special make-up FX artists Chris Nelson and Steve Johnson explain their work on the film with the help of some archive behind the scenes footage. They reveal that this production was made in the days before modern silicone techniques were introduced, so it was reliant upon old school foam appliances, but it still holds up well.
Storyboard Gallery (6 mins)
Stills Gallery (4 mins)
Two audio Commentaries: Director Brian Yuzna, Melinda Clarke and make-up FX supervisor Tom Rainone.
Trailers x 2
Neither the best or worst example of what has become an overcrowded genre. This film may not be up there at the top rubbing shoulders with the likes of George Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead which set the benchmark in terms of zombie flicks, but it still manages to be a cut above many other more recent releases of this type. Lionsgate on this occasion have pulled out all the stops with a very impressive selection of extras, combined with respectable picture and audio too.
Return of the Living Dead 3 Blu-ray shuffles out on 28th August 2017.