Return of the Living Dead II (1988) ***
D: Ken Wiederhorn
C: James Karen, Thom Mathews, Michael Kenworthy, Suzanne Snyder, Marsha Dietlein, Jason Hogan, Philip Bruns, Thor Van Lingen, Jonathan Terry, Dana Ashbrook, Dana Trautman
Plot Synopsis: In this first sequel to The Return of the Living Dead, a group of kids discover one of the drums containing a rotting corpse and release the 2-4-5 Trioxen gas into the air, causing the dead to once again rise from the grave and seek out brains.
REVIEW: Return of the Living Dead II is one of those films that I loved as a kid. It spoke to me. Now I know what you're thinking. How in the world can a film like Return of the Living Dead II speak to someone? Are you for real? Or, are you trying to yank my chin?!? I get that. After all, the film is entitled Return of the Living Dead II! However, I ask that you allow me to explain myself. So let's get to it.
In Return of the Living Dead II, young Jesse has moved into a new suburban development with his family. Being new and all, he tries to make friends. Only problem is, that he takes up with the wrong people, a group of bullies who are out to use him. At home, things aren't much better. Jesse's sister treats him as more of an annoyance, even locking him up in his room so that she doesn't have to deal with him.
Just from these introductory scenes, there was a lot that I could relate to and still do, to this day. I could relate to Jesse's feelings of feeling out of place in a new setting. I could relate to the idea of being frustrated that your own family doesn't get you. I could relate to the idea of getting into trouble or falling in with the wrong crowd, out of wanting to be accepted. There's nothing profound in these various statements, but the film showed me I wasn't alone in my feelings. If anything, Return of the Living Dead II taps into emotions and thoughts that we all felt at sometime and presents us with a character, that we can see ourselves in.
One fateful night, Jesse, along with the bullies that he's trying to be friends with, discover a canister. Letting there curiosity get the better of them, they poke and prod with the canister until a deadly gas is unleashed. As it turns out, this gas can revive the dead and guess what? Not only is there a mausoleum nearby, but a cemetery as well. And guess what happens from there?
For poor Jesse, he doesn't discover the after effects of this canister until it's too late. The dead have returned to life. There's a zombie epidemic. The town has been evacuated and quarantined. Now, it's just Jesse, his sister, a TV repairman (or in this case, a TV repair teenager), a group of grave robbers that they've stumbled upon and an elderly neighbor that they turn to. It's up to them to figure out what to do.
At first, they run and run and run. The grave robbers whine and cry about what's happening. They're elderly neighbor seems out of touch with what's happening. The kids try to approach this situation. After all, they figure they can't run forever, so they're going to have to fight back at some point and try to put an end to this mess.
In this film, the adults aren't the heroes. They're part of the problem. They let their own feelings of logic & reason or of being scared stand in the way of doing something to solve the problem. It's the kids who try to take a stand. They use there wits to outmaneuver what's happening and use there endless imagination to find a solution, which they then try to implement. However, young Jesse is going to have to take a stand against the bullies (who are now zombies), if any of this is going to work.
In regards to the film's sensibilities into horror, the film taps into the appeal that horror films can have for both kids & teens, heck, even adults. There's a scene in which Jesse walks down a darkened tunnel only to encounter the tar-man of the original. Who hasn't felt scared of walking alone at night? Or, there's another scene, in which Jesse and his cohorts stumble upon an empty hospital. Who hasn't turned for help, at some point in there life, only to discover that there isn't any help and that the only person that can help you, is yourself. The horror, in this film, allows us to explore our own fears and to identify what it is, that scares us, but reinforces it with humor and a "it's only a movie" type attitude. After all, there's a dancing Michael Jackson zombie! However, what stood out most, was the overall message.
In the end, Return of the Living Dead Part II presents this notion that kids are a lot stronger and more resourceful then adults give them credit for. There's this notion that kids are smart and that you don't always need to pander down or shelter them from the world. I think that message is even more timely today, then it ever was. [R] 89 mins.
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