Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993)
In Return of the Living Dead and Return of the Living Dead Part II, the gas known as 2-4-5 Trioxin turned humans into zombies and made the dead rise from their graves hungry for fresh brains. In the third entry, Col. Reynolds (Kent McCord) and a group of scientists are conducting experiments on making the dead weapons for war. His son Curt (J. Trevor Edmund, Pumpkinhead 2: Blood Wings) and girlfriend Julie (Melinda Clarke, Killer Tongue) use his Dad's security pass to get into the facility and watch one of the secret experiments. After things go awry, Curt and his Father get into an argument and Curt takes off with Julie on his motorcycle. They get into an accident while dodging a truck and Julie is killed. Thinking he cannot go on without Julie, Curt takes her back to the lab and brings her to life with the Trioxin gas. Can the love they have keep Julie from pursuing her newest appetite?
It has to be hard making a third installment in a series work. Director Brian Yuzna (Society, Bride of Re-Animator) and writer John Penney (The Surgeon) do the absolute best job they can, making this an even better follow up than the second entry in the now classic series. Return of the Living Dead 3 takes less of a dark comedy approach and touches on a more dramatic element, making this a love story between a human and a zombie. It still has some hilarious moments, but mostly because this is more of a straight out B-movie.
The differences between this film and the previous entries in the series are many. First off, James Karen and Thom Mathews, veterans of the first two films, are nowhere to be seen in this film. Return of the Living Dead 3 is also the first time in the series we see humans become zombies from being bitten (excluding Linnea Quigley's character Trash in the first). In the first two films, the zombies always went straight for the brain. Sure, the brain is still the main priority here, but we have arm and neck biting this time around, too. There isn't an outbreak like in the past movies either. No dead from the grave -- in fact, no cemetery at all. Most of this film takes place at the military facility and in underground sewers. If this film had no sign of Trioxin gas or brain eating, it could have just been a new zombie film standing on its own. It may have been more appreciated that way.
Mindy Clarke makes a truly gorgeous zombie. She ends up resembling a rabid cat woman. There is a pseudo-Cenobite feel about her as well. By B-movie standards, her acting is surprisingly good. She is upset that she is dead, and has a hard time controlling her new hunger. She keeps her craving down to a minimum by inflicting pain upon herself. J. Trevor Edmund's character of Curt is just a walking 90's grunge rock cliché (his name is Curt, and he wants to move to Seattle and get a gig in a band. Why is this familiar?), flannel shirt and all. His character is hardly worthy of Julie, not to mention Edmund's acting ability is the worst out of anyone in the film. Sarah Douglas (Superman II , Conan the Destroyer) plays Lt. Col. Sinclair. She has an alternative idea on making zombie war soldiers, involving an exoskeleton that can somewhat control the dead's movements. A really interesting character is River Man (Basil Wallace, Joy Ride), the crazy homeless guy that lives deep in the sewers of South Central. He acts a little too crazy at times, with overly spooky bugged out eyes and strange analogies; but who knows, maybe he really was supposed to be that messed up.
Since Return of the Living Dead 3 is more horror and less comedy, there is a whole heap of gore to feast your eyes upon. Our FX masters are Steve Johnson and Kevin Brennan (who both worked on the FX crew for An American Werewolf in London and Videodrome), Tim Ralston (Mechanical FX on Lord of Illusions), Christopher Nelson (Freaked, Phantoms) and last but not least, Wayne Toth (Wes Craven's New Nightmare). If you are one of those who keep up with the FX crews on horror films than this is a dream come true. They work together well and chock up some damn fine looking ghouls. The best looking zombie in the film (besides Julie) is one that rips its head away from his shoulder, showing half of his skull. As for gore, we have multiple head bashings, finger biting, a crowbar through eye, a very Dead Alive like zombie with it's head and spinal column protruding from the back, hideous self-mutilation and of course… brain eating.
What it boils down to is that Return of the Living Dead 3 is an admirable sequel. It barely resembles the other two films, but it doesn't try to, either. This was obviously a newer concept, a resurrection of what would have probably been a finished series. Most fans start to grow weary once a third entry comes about in a horror series, but this is honestly a good zombie film. It is better than the second, but nowhere near as good as the first. Most open-minded zombie fans should have no problem taking a liking to this film. Not great, but definitely good. The unrated version is sadly available only on VHS in the United States. Trimark decided for some odd reason to release only the R-rated version on DVD. So, if you see it in the old horror section at your local video store, it's a worthwhile rental. As far as a purchase, hold out and see if Trimark releases the uncut version to DVD.