Return of the living dead part II. What went wrong, and what could have made it oh so much better.
Just the other night my friend Mike came over and asked if I could show him some horror movies. Looking through my shelfs, I found my old battered up bootleg of Joe Bob Briggs hosting Monstervision when Return Of The Living Dead aired in the mid 90's. Lounging back, we witnessed the shit show that's one of the biggest bastards in the world of horror. Otherwise known as...
Return of the living dead part II.
The original Return of the living dead is a cult classic. Being released in 1985, it told the story of a group of punk rockers that are trapped in a cemetery after a toxic gas is released, causing the undead to rise. With a killer soundtrack, great cast, and amazing effects it was one of the first films to issue "fast" zombies, along with one hell of a killer ending.
It was only a matter of time before a sequel was made.
In 1988 Return Of The Living Dead part II was, being released in the tail end of the 1980's when horror and slashers were at it's highest. Zombies were making a bit of a comeback between Day Of The Dead, Night Of The Creeps and The Evil Dead 1& II films. Trying to cash in on how popular Return had been, putting a teenage twist on the "Dead" films that George A. Romero had made so popular.
Sadly this was of course a complete and utter shit show.
Trust me, I'm not the only one who feels this way.
With a weak script, and a rushed production, the film sadly didn't hold the magic the first did.
Cashing in more on comedy than anything else, the movie seemed like a crazy slapstick kiddy movie, where everything that worked in the first film, failed horribly in this one. Dispite being a guilty pleasure with some memorable moments (zombie with crowbar in his head, the roles of Thom Mathews and James Karen, the hand scene, and yes...a few bits of the soundtrack.) With some killer VHS artwork, and the fact this movie pretty much begins as ET, it's a must for all horror fans to watch at least once, or just own as part of the trilogy. (As much as I like the overall storyline for part 3 and the effects, it's a little too much of a bummer, pretty much getting rid of any of the fun from the first two films.) As flawed as Return part II is, I won't say I hate it. In fact that's far from my true feelings. I just think they had such promise for such a killer series and sorta sank the ship before it set sail.
This is what I would have done to maybe "fix" some of the issues in part II.
1) Don't use little kids.
Nothing against the cast of part II (They did their best despite the fact of being in a complete turd) but what I would have done was totally cash in on the whole suburbs setting (I love Poltergeist, and thought this change was awesome and not used to it's full potential.) I would of had maybe some local neighborhood kids fooling around, and keep the original opening of one of the barrels falling off into the river and ending up in the sewer where the kids find it and accidentally let loose the gas. Instead of having Jessie as the lead, I would of had a small subplot of all three kids becoming infected and becoming flesh eating zombies. What if a babysitter was looking after one of them, or an older sister and at first they think that one of the boys caught a cold from playing outside. Next thing you know...flesh eating zombie. Also would have given this movie total props for having the balls of having zombie kids and having them killed off.
2) Have a teen cast/reuse the original cast.
Besides the returning stars Thom Mathews and James Karen, we were given a brand new cast. Now like I said, no issues with Dana Ashbrook or even Suzanne Snyder. I just think it would have been beyond clever to re-use the entire original cast in totally different roles. Maybe there's a huge backyard bash going on at one of the houses while one of the character's parents are away. It could have been a pool party via Freddy's Revenge and have all the characters we knew and loved now playing new parts. Like have Linnea Quigley maybe play the shy nerdy girl (who somehow ends up having her blouse torn off) and Beverly Randolph as a punk rocker. The sky is the limit, they really could of had a lot of run turning the tables, and maybe even adding a few new faces. 88 was a great year for a low of younger actors. I'm sure there would have been TONS of people who would have killed to be in this movie.
4) Get Dan O'Bannon back.
I'm sure Dan knew to stay far far away from this hot mess, but who knows maybe with a stronger script with the original writers coming back something special could have happened. If not Dan than a strong director who would have respected the legacy O'Bannon left behind. A filmmaker with a strong passion for horror. I still believe had the script been stronger, who knows maybe Dan really would have come back. I guess we'll never know. RIP
5) Cut down on the damn comedy!
What worked so well with the original was the fact that the comedy wasn't really forced. Everything was so bat shit crazy and over the top you had to laugh in certain moments. In others, you were beyond creeped out. Had Return Of The Living Dead II had a stronger script I feel it would have found this balance. What if the gas was released, suddenly a while neighborhood is crawling with flesh eating zombies as the teens having the party have to lock themselves up (all becoming separated), trying to figure out how to get help, or stop these things. I did like the idea of the army sealing off the entire town. Showing maybe 3 separate stories of the characters split up, trying to fight off these things would have been amazing. I also would have changed who got infected, and how everyone died. Dazzle up the effects even more, and slap on a soundtrack that would give the original a run for it's money and I really truly think they could of had something beyond amazing. I mean I even liked the idea of them using the power plant to take out all the zombies. Would have been amazing to maybe have some people this time around live, but maybe end of a cliffhanger instead of that STUPID head talking to the camera. Ehhh...
Oh and one more thing...
Get rid of the fucking Michael Jackson zombie.
I think if this film was made more for fans, and taken more seriously part II would have been a fun follow up to the original and of course finishing off with the dark twisted love story of part III.
"Sigh..." if only.