Return of the Living Dead III (1993) Revisited – Horror Movie Review

Is Return of the Living Dead III, featuring an iconic performance by Melinda Clarke, a Black Sheep in the Return franchise?

How often do we see a sequel to a spinoff that is actually a lot of fun? What if you then also made it a tragic love story that involves zombies? That sounds like a Roger Corman or Troma movie but in actuality it’s Return of the Living Dead III (watch it HERE) and its from channel favorite Brian Yuzna. Return of the Living Dead is a stone cold classic and is one that I sometimes prefer watching over any of the original Romero trilogy due to how different it is and how it sets up its own rules. Part 2 I have great memories of seeing on TV at my Nana’s house in Santa Ana, California on an old tube TV. It skates that Evil Dead II line of leaning much further into the comedy realm than the first, which is pretty funny in its own way and right. While there is a part 4 and 5 (God help us), they aren’t really good for anything apart from morbid curiosity or completionism. Looking at the third entry, it sits in that wonderful spot where, sure, it’s not as great as the first 2 but its nowhere near as bad as what followed. That spot is ripe for what we like to call a black sheep around here.

The first movie is… well, it’s not based on, more inspired by the John Russo sequel novel to Night of the Living Dead. The movie was a success for Orion, making 14 million on its 4-million-dollar budget – which, of course, means sequels. The first up would be Return of the Living Dead Part II which producer Tom Fox would decide to fund himself, assuming its success. He was wrong and the budget went up to 6 million and the return on investment was only 9 million back. A third film was still discussed and Yuzna was chosen because he had always wanted to do a sequel to the original and had been a proven success. He is a bit of a triple threat with success as a writer, director, and producer. His directing credits include gross-fest Society, Bride of Re-Animator, and The Dentist, among other things. We have talked about him in one capacity or another a number of times and I can see that trend continuing for at least a couple other movies.

He was a little disappointed with the screen time of his last creation in Bride of Re-Animator and because the producers said the only thing that was required of him was to include the Trioxin gas that creates the zombies and to have them crave flesh, he decided he wanted to make a creature the main character. This character would be played by the absolute knockout that is Melinda Clarke. She had got her start on the soap opera Days of Our Lives, but this movie helped push her up the ranks a little more with future appearances in things like Spawn, the show Soldier of Fortune, Inc, and huge roles in shows The OC and Nikita. She is still active today, but for a certain generation of straight to video horror hounds, she will always be Julie Walker. I say straight to video, but this thing did get a limited theatrical run that produced a little over 50k in sales.

Return of the Living Dead III Black Sheep

The other two main characters are Curt, played by J Trevor Edmund, and his military father john played by Kent McCord. Edmund stopped acting in 1999 and his only other big horror role is in Pumpkinhead II, another fun Black Sheep. McCord cut his teeth in the early 60s and worked steadily into the next decades with parts in Airplane 2 and a 10 episode run on Galactica 80. For Lance’s sake, I also feel obligated to mention his part in Predator 2, and he randomly showed up as a character in last year’s big game release of Starfield. Weird. The writer John Penney had a relatively short career that also included being one of the many writers on Best Horror Movie You Never Saw The Kindred and late 90s straight to video so bad its good Legend of the Mummy.

The movie opens with exactly what this type of movie should open with; the government being scumbags and trying to figure out how to use the living dead as weapons. The movie does a good job acknowledging the previous ones even if it changes some things here and there. The zombies apart from the main character one are not as I guess intelligent is the word I want to use as in the previous movies, and they don’t expressly go for the brains to ease their pain. There is still obvious pain in them, and the special effects make-up is solid for this era and type of movie. Yuzna did his job though as the only rules were that he had to include zombies and the Trioxin gas.

The two lovebirds of the movie, Curt and Julie, sneak into the military base that his father is in charge of, ya know, as you do. They have pretty much free reign over the facility, which is just terrible security. They see body parts being burned and then a corpse being brought back to life with some sort of gas. The military, curt and julie, and us as the audience get to see them attempt to control the undead with a paralyzing shot to the dome but of course this being a zombie horror movie and only 11 minutes in, that doesn’t hold. The corpse takes out the medical personnel in the room and while the zombies don’t really FEEL like they do in the first movie, they are cool looking ghouls, and the gore gets the job done.

At first, I struggled with this movie because it feels at times like a sequel in name only. The zombies are different, the tone is very different from the first two entries, and it just doesn’t act like a Return movie but at the end of the day, that’s ok. Return of the Living Dead is technically a sequel to Night of the Living Dead but doesn’t do much to tie anything together other than a throwaway line from one of the characters. Anyway, the military adjusted and want to make zombie mech suits which sounds to me like the same thing as those videos you see of people knocking over AI robots on purpose. You are just asking for trouble. Our teens make it home for the required sex scene and Curt’s military dad tells him that they have to leave soon as he screwed up and is getting transferred. The expected disagreement happens, and the young son leaves with his girlfriend.

The turning point for our characters and the movie happens when Julie dies in the most nonviolent looking motorcycle accident I have ever seen. It brings up the question we hopefully all ask ourselves. What would you do for love? I’m not sure I’d bring back the love of my life with an experimental zombie toxin after watching what it does to them but I’m also not saying I wouldn’t. She wakes up and the movie more or less treats it like when the two guys from the first two movies get hit with the gas, it’s a slow descent into death and decay. The movie does a good job with her and her journey but just kind of plods along with various scenarios to stick her with. The bad news is these are very milquetoast things like a convenience store robbery gone wrong and fight with a gang, a sewer exploration, and a culmination back at the military base.

Return of the Living Dead III Black Sheep

The movie isn’t bad at all, and I think that’s maybe even one of the things that keeps it from being discussed more. No seriously, hear me out. The movie has all of the hallmarks of the era it was made in. It has unnecessary nudity, lots of death and gore, and makeup and special effects that stand out as one of the talking points for the movie. But its not quite bad enough to be so bad it’s good because director Brian Yuzna made it better than it has any right to be. Sadly, its also not quite good enough to be an all time classic. Maybe because it’s missing the humor of the first two or the fact that it changes the rules, even within it’s own movie let alone compared to the rest of the franchise, but it’s just missing that… that… I don’t know, but it’s something.

Lance and I talk all the time about our love of Full Moon or even Full Moon-like stuff, like the movies of the late, great Albert Pyun. What I’d call, I guess, Crescent Moon? Anyway, all of these movies fall under the category of so bad it’s good, doesn’t take itself seriously at all, or just knows exactly what it is to a formulaic tee. While this is actually a better movie in a lot of ways than them, it’s not as charming. Yuzna is no slouch as a director, writer, and producer with his collaborations with Stuart Gordon or his other efforts like the must be seen to be believed Society being highlights and the heart is there with him wanting to do a Return of the Living Dead project from the beginning.

The movie sits in the exact middle of the franchise with the two before it ranging from undeniable classic to beloved silly sequel and the two after it, let me check my notes, Necropolis and Rave to the Grave, being justifiably not getting special editions like the first 3 or, hell, even talked about all that much. Its not some lost classic or even hidden gem to be discovered. I wanted to talk about it as the last one to watch and the closing of a very loose trilogy of zombie goodness. The love story and tragic ending, special effects, and heart put into it all bleed through into a fun watch for horror fans. Sometimes a Black Sheep doesn’t need to be the best movie, it just needs to be walked through and reminded why it was made in the first place. Give the movie a shot and if you are a physical media person, I know I am, you can get the full story and a hell of a complete edition to add to your collection. Return of the Living Dead III is a black sheep that begs to be given the respect it deserves and the same respect that the filmmakers put into its production.

A couple of the previous episodes of The Black Sheep can be seen at the bottom of this article. To see more, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

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