‘Return of the Living Dead III’ (1993)

Zombie girlfriends, rebellious teens, fast cars, motorcycles and gunplay. To spell it out that way, it almost sounds like some other movie. Some other, equally improbable movie.

Of course, it’s just the 3nd sequel to George Romero and John Russo’s Night of the Living Dead (1968)  but this film belongs to the dramedy fork of the franchise that Russo took when he and Romero went their separate ways.

Of course, RothLD 3 was written, directed and produced by ’80s low-budget schlockmeister and H.P. Lovecraft aficionado, Brian Yuzna . Unlike it’s predecessors, it abandons the full-on campy excesses of predecessors Dan O’Bannon ( Alien, Lifeforce, Total Recall )  and Ken Wiederhorn to inject the tragic pathos of teenage romance into the mix, and somehow it works marvelously.
Melinda Clarke ( CSI, Firefly, Nikita )plays the girlfriend who dies within the movie’s first 5 minutes. Devastated, her beau, Curt Reynolds ( J. Trevor Edmond ) sneaks onto the Top Secret military base where his father, Col. John Reynolds ( Kent McCord ) has been involved with the US Army’s experiments with the deadly, Zombie-activating Trioxin gas .

Given all of the OTT craziness, Yunza and Melinda Clarke really bring this one home. Between the script and the performance,  they create a devastating sympathy for Clarke’s tragic and slowly necrotizing Julie Walker. Clarke’s Walker really tries to go on with her life as though she never died, but the mortal coil fails her.

It’s Yunza’s triumph over a braindead horror-comedy formula that makes this film stand out. For a zombie flic, it’s not really about the brains or the eminent world-takeover; rather it’s about young people trying to separate themselves from their parent’s identity. For any movie aimed at the zombie teenage audiences of the early ’80s, this film is a major artistic achievement.

While this evacuate the Civil Rights-era messaging of the original Night of the Living Dead , Yuzna does a much better job of creating characters that we can actually care about. Beneath the surface of NothLD 3 , there’s a simmering coming-of-age story as Curt tries to claim some autonomy from Col. John; it’s just too damn bad that death and zombies get in the way.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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