Friday, October 13, 2023

More (and Fewer) Brains

Film: Return of the Living Dead II
Format: Streaming video from Tubi TV on Fire!

Genre mash-ups aren’t easy to do, something that is evidenced by the fact that a lot of them are ultimately not very good. Certainly there are a number of exceptions to this idea, something that is evidenced by the fact that there are a lot of great ones. Return of the Living Dead is an example of a great horror/comedy, and one that genuinely affected the idea of zombie movies. The “zombies eat brains” trope comes from this movie, not from Romero. Unfortunately, the sequel is the opposite, starting with the uninteresting name of Return of the Living Dead II.

If you don’t remember (or never saw) the first movie, the basic conceit is that the original Night of the Living Dead was a real outbreak, but instead of destroying the zombies, thy were captured and contained. And, naturally, they were misplaced and shipped to a facility in Kentucky. Wanting to impress his new protégé, a worker in the facility releases a zombie and mayhem ensues. We’re going to essentially forget all of that here. Return of the Living Dead II is more or less an unconnected movie with the same basic name.

This time, we have containers of an agent created by the military that are improperly handled. One or two fall off a truck, get discovered by a couple of kids, and, well, we’re back to essentially what happened in the first movie. To enhance to connection between the films but also to distinguish it from the first one, the two actors who start the plague in the first film—James Karen and Thom Mathews are back for this one, this time as a pair of inept grave robbers.

There’s honestly not a great deal to go into here. The cannister containing the zombie—who plays absolutely no real role in the film—is discovered by some boys. Two of them, Billy (Thor Van Lingen) and Johnny (Jason Hogan) are thugs and bullies attempting to initiate Jesse (Michael Kenworthy) into their gang. Jesse’s not really that keen to join, but sees it as a way to avoid being bullied by the other two. They find the container, and eventually Billy and Johnny return and open it. This eventually turns Billy into a brain-eating zombie...and this movie is of the sort script-wise that we essentially forget about the existence of Johnny.

It's the gas released from the container that proves to be the real problem. A rainstorm following the release causes the recent dead from a local graveyard to rise up and start hunting for brains. Seeking to survive are our two graverobbers, Brenda (Suzanne Snyder), the girlfriend of one of them, young Jesse, his sister Lucy (Marsha Dietlein), a cable repairman named Tom (Dana Ashbrook), and a local doctor (Phil Bruns). This group will, in various groups and collections, run from the zombies, fight back, and sometimes get killed off.

And, eventually, the encounter the military coming to clean things up. The fact that one of the point people in the military, known in the script as Sarge, is played by Mitch Pileggi a few years before his run in The X-Files, doesn’t change the fact that this pseudo-sequel is a massive step down from the first, brilliant film.

So what specifically is it that turned a genuinely funny and inventive horror/comedy in the original film into the disappointment that is this sequel? The answer is a very simple one. Comedies where stupid people do stupid things aren’t funny, and that’s pretty much all Return of the Living Dead II is. At least half of the characters in this movie are brain-numbingly stupid and act in stupid ways with the intent of eliciting a laugh out of the audience.

This might be entirely my hangup, but I find it unfunny when dumb people act in dumb ways. Throughout the movie, people are very clearly in mortal danger and react to this by acting in ways that are “funny” and are clearly putting them further in danger. And it’s not funny. It’s not funny when people are oblivious to the danger around them.

This is a complete disappointment, and it didn’t need to be. We all deserve better.

Why to watch Return of the Living Dead II: Because you watched the first one.
Why not to watch: It is the definition of a stupid horror comedy.


  1. Is George Romero involved in this? If not, then what's the point?

    1. He's not, but he also wasn't involved in Return of the Living Dead, and it's absolutely worth your time.