Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Red Eye Report's 2010 October Horrorthon #19: "Return of the Living Dead 3"

Long before Umbrella entered the picture, Uncle Sam had the market cornered on misguided experiments involving the undead. The zombie outbreaks in the first two Return of the Living Deads apparently weren't enough to phase army brass, since number three here begins as they use the dreaded Trioxin to make the ghouls into indestructible soldiers. But even after seeing himself how the stuff tends to inspire cravings for flesh, despondent teen Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) uses the Trioxin to resurrect his gal pal Julie (Mindy Clarke) after she dies in an accident. Come back she does, and with her comes not only a touch of rigor mortis but a love of body modification that keeps her newfound hunger at bay. But a few stray nibbles threatens to unleash a zombie horde in South Central, forcing Curt to choose between staying by Julie's side or saving the world from a Romeroesque fate.

1985's The Return of the Living Dead was a goofy mirror image of the traditional zombie flick. Written with as much dark hilarity in mind as bone-chilling creepiness, it was a truly refreshing movie, and as maligned as the second one continues to be, it was faithful to this semi-serious vein. So what does Return of the Living Dead 3 have in store? How about absolutely nothing its name had come to be known for? Now before you cry fanboy, let me say that I have no problem with movies that deviate from an established formula, given they pull it off. But then there's trying something so different, you might as well strike out on your own instead of clinging desperately to name recognition as a means of finding success. That's not to say Return of the Living Dead 3 couldn't have worked (zombified version of a Roger Corman biker romance? -- sign me up!), but the tone it adopts would be too melodramatic for the Hallmark Channel, let alone for something from the director of Society.

Satire, gallows humor, irreverency -- none of that's in Return of the Living Dead 3. The most it has to do with its forefathers is Mindy Clarke's Julie pulling a Cenobite two-thirds of the way through and turning into the Linnea Quigley-in-training you see on the cover art. Instead, the film opts for a love story it treats far too seriously, so downbeat and dreary in tone that it clashes big-time with the insane effects work. If anything, these are the remnants of the Return of the Living Dead 3 we could've had, one packed to the gills with unrelentingly disgusting zombies made on a budget of what covers Brad Pitt's cheese fries these days. More than any other story in the franchise, this is the one that could've done with living it up and embracing its campy side. But amusing Latino gangster stereotypes aside, the flick is just no fun, and as sweet of a girl Mindy Clarke most likely is, don't be surprised if her hammy performance starts giving you Creedence Leonore Gielgud flashbacks.

I know there's an audience for Return of the Living Dead 3, and hell, anything that gives the ladies a chance at being however brief a horror icon is worth a little something. But whatever good times I hoped for were washed away a depressing plot, a dull sense of pacing, and a cast whose acting skills each achieved their own shade of bland. I've seen worse (like Return of the Living Dead 4 and 5), but this one would've done well by honoring its ancestors over taking the emo way out.

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