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Return of the Living Dead Part II Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

Written by ZigZag

Blu-ray released by Scream Factory

Rotld2 Blu Ray Poster

Written and directed by Ken Wiederhorn
1988, 89 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on August 14th, 2018

Starring:
Michael Kenworthy as Jesse Wilson
Marsha Dietlein as Lucy Wilson
James Karen as Ed
Thom Mathews as Joey
Dana Ashbrook as Tom Essex
Suzanne Snyder as Brenda
Philip Bruns as Doc Mandel
Thor Van Lingen as Billy
Jason Hogan as Johnny

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Review:

Three kids uncover a barrel of the dreaded re-animating Trioxin chemical and discover the hard way not to mess with other people’s property. Soon the noxious gas envelops a local graveyard and before there is time to alert anyone, the dead once again are walking the earth. Our heroes trapped in the middle of this situation include young Jesse Wilson and his older sister Lucy, working closely with Tom the cable guy. The trio finds their efforts to contact neighbors and call for help frequently stymied. Meanwhile, grave robbers Ed and Joey along with Joey’s girlfriend Brenda are trying to escape the cemetery as quickly as possible. The two groups converge with zombies in pursuit and they seek out local police or a hospital emergency room unaware that the military has evacuated the town. Our group must work together to make it through the night and out of town without falling victim to the growing masses of the undead.

I am a huge fan of Dan O’Bannon’s The Return of the Living Dead (1985) and its winning mixture of horror and comedy elements and a rocking soundtrack. The film was enough of a box office success to merit a sequel and three years later we received the cleverly titled Return of the Living Dead Part II. Stepping into the role of writer/ director is Ken Wiederhorn (Shock Waves), who reverses the equation and gives us more comedy than horror. It’s a tough sell this time around, as the comedic style is especially broad. In all honesty, I hated this movie when I first saw it 30 years ago. There’s a lot of yelling that pushes everything over the top in a manic way that doesn’t always work. At its heart, ROTLD2 is a kid-friendly slapstick adventure story that happens to include the walking dead. There is surprisingly little bloodshed, as the zombies pile on before politely nipping at their victims. Another problem is with the appearance of the creatures, as they are all overly lit. There’s nothing particularly menacing about them and they look too clean, like rubbery sculpted cartoons rather than dangerous ghouls lurking in the shadows. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of cool gags, they just look like something out of a comic book.

Looking past my problems with the material, what works really well is the cast. Michael Kenworthy (The Blob) stars as Jesse Wilson, one of the three boys who uncover the barrel. He has a problem in that his “friends” Billy and Johnny are a pair of bullies who enjoy torturing him. I’m not sure why Jesse is so determined to hang out with these assholes, but fortunately they get their comeuppance when the gas starts to leak. Billy (Thor Van Lingen) becomes a featured zombie while Johnny disappears in the final edit. Marsha Dietlein (Little Children) co-stars as Jesse’s sister Lucy, and does a fine job as the “teen in charge” while their parents are away. She is already in over her head with Jesse before the zombies show up, but remains likeable throughout the picture. Dana Andrews (Twin Peaks) does a fine job as Tom the cable guy, a reluctant hero who steps up when needed.

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The real stars of ROTLD2 are James Karen (Poltergeist) and Thom Mathews (Friday the 13th Part VI) as the pair of grave robbers caught up in the middle of the outbreak. The two actors return from the original film albeit in different roles, but maintain a strong comedic chemistry. They provide a welcome connection to the earlier picture and provide most of the over-the-top laughs stemming from their boisterous performances that play to the second balcony. Everyone else exposed to the chemical gas turns into a zombie pretty quickly, but the script wisely allows these two the time to suffer. Unfortunately, once they finally make the transition, their characters just kind of disappear and are not involved in the finale at all. Maybe this was intentional to leave the door open for a future sequel?

ROTLD2 didn’t work for me in the theater, but I tried again on VHS and DVD and I still can’t fully get behind it. If it were simply a zombie movie with a different title, I may have been more forgiving. In his audio commentary, director Wiederhorn admits this project was an original idea that was never intended as a sequel to the previous film until given the go-ahead and familiar elements were shoehorned in. As I watched it again for the first time in many years for this new Blu-ray release, I set aside my grievances and let it stand on its own. I liked it more this time and have a better understanding of its cult following. There are a lot of jokes flying through this script and one of my favorite sight gags involves zombies raiding a pet store. Wiederhorn keeps things moving at a brisk pace and throws everything he’s got at the screen. Not everything works, but I have to give him credit for trying.

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Video and Audio:

Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio and featuring an all-new 2K scan of the original film elements, ROTLD2 looks fantastic. This is a nice step up from the earlier DVD transfer, with stronger colors and richer black levels. There is a lot of small-object detail and flesh tones on the living appear natural throughout.

A DTS-HD 5.1 mix is really satisfying and restores the original music cues to the picture for the first time since its theatrical run. The DTS-HD 2.0 track features the alternate soundtrack that accompanies the previous DVD release. The expanded mix is the way to go here with some decent bass and clean audio levels that keep dialogue free from distortion.

Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

Scream Factory is making the most of their new relationship with Warner Bros. and is giving some long-needed love to cult titles. A slew of new extras have been commissioned for this Collector’s Edition and fans will find the effort well worth the wait.

Up first, we get three (!) audio commentaries. The first was previously recorded for the DVD release and features director Wiederhorn and actor Thor Van Lingen. The two are recorded separately and edited together with the information well-timed to the material appearing on screen. There’s not a lot of down time, as each participant has a lot to share about the production, making this an enjoyable listen.

Next up actress Suzanne Snyder shares her memories of the shoot with a lively commentary moderated by Michael Perez (executive producer of More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead). The conversational track is laid back and entertaining as she shares many fond memories from the production. Perez prompts her with several questions along the way, but keeps things moving at a decent pace. Snyder is instantly likeable and appears to genuinely enjoy revisiting the film.

The third commentary is the most detail-oriented and comes courtesy of Gary Smart (co-author of The Complete History of Return of the Living Dead), and filmmaker Christopher Grifiths. Smart has a lot to say about the picture and comes equipped with countless bits of information and anecdotes that are highly entertaining.

Director Ken Wiederhorn sits down for an all-new interview titled The Laughing Dead (19 minutes). He discusses how he became attached to the project and recounts some of the problems that arose during production. He is fond of the picture and has a lot of nice things to say about the cast and crew.

Back to the Dead (25 minutes) takes an extended look at the film’s special effects featuring interviews with f/x creator Kenny Myers and fellow artists Andy Schoneberg and Mike Smithson. Myers takes the lead and is quite candid about his questioning of the film’s comedic tone. He goes on to discuss specific make-up effects challenges and the volume of work designed for the movie.

Composer J. Peter Robinson discusses his work in Undead Melodies (13 minutes). He starts with how he got into writing music for films and how he approached the material for this picture. He’s not completely satisfied with the end result, but is generally pleased.

Actor Troy Fromin takes a few quick minutes to discuss his small role as a military truck driver in the interview segment ROTLD2: Extravaganza! (2 minutes).

They Won’t Stay Dead (30 minutes) is a retrospective piece featuring interviews with actors James Karen, Thom Mathews, Susan Snyder, Brian Peck, Kenny Myers, Michael Kenworthy and more. The featurette begins with many members of the original film’s cast and crew discussing their unhappiness with the planned sequel before moving on to tales from the actual production. Those involved with the sequel don’t seem especially pleased with the end product either, but they share a lot of good stories.

Vintage featurette Live from the Set (6 minutes) is a light-hearted local news segment shot during filming featuring interviews with members of the cast and crew.

Archival on-set interviews (3 minutes) with Ken Wiederhorn, James Karen, Thom Mathews and Kenny Myers offer a lot of marketable sound bites promoting the picture.

Behind-the-scenes footage (4 minutes) from the make-up shop shows the zombie assembly process and the undead taking direction.

Marketing materials include the original theatrical trailer and teaser trailer paired with a collection of four TV spots.

A photo gallery (23 images) of posters and promotional stills is included.

A second gallery of behind-the-scenes images from the special make-up effects team plays as a silent slideshow (6 minutes).

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Grades:

Movie: Twostars Rotld2 Blu Ray Cover
Buy Amazon Us
Video: Fourstars
Audio: Fourstars
Features: Fourandahalfstars
Overall: Fourstars

 

About The Author
ZigZag
Author: ZigZag
Staff Writer
ZigZag's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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