1988 saw the release of Return of the Living Dead Part II. This film is a sort of sequel/reboot of the first film in that the story and even some of the characters bear too much of a similarity to the original film. Ken Weiderhorn both writes and directs this “sequel” and it shows. The film reuses alot of what made the first film a cult-classic amongst horror fans. Weiderhorn seems to be of the philosophy that if something ain’t broke then don’t fix it. What this does is make the film feel like a deja vu and maybe that was his intent since two of the main characters in the film say pretty much the same thing. Despite all this the film itself is pretty good and stays true to the original, albeit with abit more humor and better effects work.
Reprising similar roles they had in the first film are James Karen as Ed and Thom Mathews as Joey. Both work as in the post-burial industry and moonlight stealing valuables from the privates crypts and mausoleum in the cemetery they’re working in. Their characters act and almost have similar lines from Karen and Mathews’ characters of Frank and Freddy in the first film. Karen as Ed goes over-the-top once the 2-4-5 Trioxin gas is let loose and the dead bodies in the cemetery begin to come back to life seeking live brains. It’s these two characters who really keep the film from spiraling down to awful status. Even though their characters are similar to the original film, Karen and Mathews still bring a dose of great comedic timing and horror to the situation.
This time around the town has been safely evacuated by the military except for a few people who lived on the newly-built suburban housing area in the outskirt of town. It’s these survivors who must try and find a way to defeat the zombies and at the same time convince the military blockading the town that they’re not infected. There’s more action and comedy in this sequel. I think the comedy part of the film got way too much attention, but as I said earlier, Weiderhorn seems to think that if it worked in the original then it should work with more in this film. The effects work looks a bit better and probably due to an increase in the budget.
In the end, Return of the Living Dead Part II never brought anything new to the original it was following-up. The film pretty much reuses the same characters and situations. Weiderhorn does this to good effect and the finished product was an entertaining enough horror-comedy. Who knows how this sequel would’ve turned out if Russo had written it and O’Bannon back directing.