Directed by: Brian Yuzna
Premise: A young man (J. Trevor Edmond) discovers that his father works for a military research facility, conducting experiments that return corpses to life. When his girlfriend (Mindy Clarke) is killed in a motorcycle accident, he sneaks her body into the lab and restores her to life but she is driven by the need to consume human flesh.
What Works: The Return of the Living Dead, originally released in 1985, was a satire of the zombie genre. As the filmmakers of Scream would do years later to the slasher film, the filmmakers of Return of the Living Dead satirized the clichés of undead movies like George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie while also fulfilling them, and the picture was an effective mix of gross out horror and self-aware laughs. This was followed by Return of the Living Dead Part II in 1988 which was an amusing but redundant repeat of the original film. Return of the Living Dead 3 took a fresh approach, distinguishing itself from its predecessors and from other zombie films, and it remains a unique entry in the genre. This film was helmed by Brian Yuzna who by the early 1990s had directed cult classics like The Bride of Re-Animator and Society and he had shared writing credits on movies like From Beyond and Honey I Shrunk the Kids. Yuzna brought to Return of the Living Dead 3 a character-centric sensibility and viewers will be surprised to find that in the center of this macabre movie is a well-made love story. Love stories operate on the basis that two people want to be together but outside forces keep them apart. In Return of the Living Dead 3 that force is death, as a young man loses his girlfriend and reanimates her, only to find that she is no longer the same person. Despite the fantastic conceit of the movie, the film deals with very real elements of the human experiences like love and loss in ways that few zombie movies have; in this respect, Return of the Living Dead 3 channels Frankenstein as the main character cheats death only to find that his ingenuity unleashes greater problems. The central relationship of the movie plays out between actors J. Trevor Edmond and Mindy Clarke and their relationship is credible. Clarke is particularly good here, as the movie requires her to go to some far out places and she is one of the most sympathetic zombies ever seen in a movie. The other element that distinguishes Return of the Living Dead 3 is its artful filmmaking style. The picture shows less influence from the previous Return of the Living Dead pictures and more inspiration from movies like Pet Sementary and Hellraiser. There is a grotesque beauty to the imagery of this film that separates it from so many other zombie pictures.
What Doesn’t: Return of the Living Dead 3 is a low budget horror picture from the early 1990s and it must be approached with that understanding. The makeup appliances on Mindy Clarke’s character remain effective but the special effects of other zombies have not dated as well. Viewers should also be aware that Return of the Living Dead 3 does not toe the line of a standard zombie movie. This film does not have the kind of mass carnage that often characterizes the genre. That is really in the movie’s favor but viewers who desire something like Resident Evil or Planet Terror will not find it here.
DVD extras: Commentary track, trailer.
Bottom Line: Return of the Living Dead 3 is a unique entry in the zombie genre. However it may have aged, the movie remains a largely underappreciated gem that zombie enthusiasts ought to check out.
Episode: #426 (February 10, 2013)