Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #245

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Number of Views: Three
Release Date: October 29, 1993
Sub-Genre: Zombie Horror/Romance
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $2,000,000
Running time: 97 minutes
Director: Brian Yuzna
Producers: Lawrence Steven Meyers, Brian Yuzna, Gary Schmoeller, John Penney
Screenplay: John Penney
Special Effects: Timothy Ralston, Wayne Toth, Steve Johnson, Christopher Allen Nelson, Kevin Brennan
Cinematography: Gerry Lively
Score: Barry Goldberg
Editing: Christopher Roth
Studio: Bandai Visual Company, Ozla Productions
Distributors: Trimark Pictures (Theatrical), Vidmark Entertainment (VHS)
Stars: Melinda Clarke, J. Trevor Edmond, Kent McCord, Basil Wallace, Sarah Douglas, Abigail Lenz, James T. Callahan, Jill Andre, Billy Kane, Mike Moroff, Fabio Urena, Pia Reyes, Sal Lopez, Dana Lee, Anthony Hickox

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Suggested Audio Candy

Barry Goldberg “Return of the Living Dead III”

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We are but flesh and bone. When all is said and done we are governed by the beating heart within our chests; should that cease to function, then we’re just another stiff on the slab. Yet love affairs still last an eternity, my parents were parted inexplicably but nearing a decade on she still has eyes only for him. We all wish to be remembered, nobody wants to become merely a statistic but as seasons pass and memories fade invariably this is the sad fact for many. Everybody wants to leave a legacy of sorts, something to transcend their physical shell’s capitulation. True love has the capability to conquer mortality and this is attested poignantly by Return of the Living Dead III.

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You would be forgiven for not having had much exposure to Brian Yuzna’s second sequel to Dan O’Bannon’s seminal zombie masterpiece. After Ken Wiederhorn somewhat botched his follow-up with a pedestrian retread which was far too knowing for its own good, Yuzna decided to strip it back and bring us a far more intimate fable tenuously linked but very much its own entity with absolutely its own identity. By doing so, he crafted a piece of art which wears its years well and one which has become something of a cult favorite with horror aficionados the world over. Discard Necropolis and Rave to the Grave; this is the true companion piece to the original although its difference in tone suggests it would have fared better as a standalone film rather than clinging to its mantle.

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I’m not too alpha to admit I was there wheezing with Rose as Jack slid away sub-aqua in Titanic. I was also the one sobbing and wailing alongside Kevin in The Devil’s Advocate as his precious Mary Ann was harshly taken from him. I loves me a happy ending, you see, a true timeless love story doesn’t need to wear hearts and flowers to make its imprint on my heart. Yuzna’s execution may not be perfect in a conventional sense but he nails the tone brilliantly, leaving his own legacy by gifting us something of quiet beauty. It’s an exclusive take on the formula which many have aped since but none have done with such devastating accuracy.

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After the Abbott & Costello styling of the second film, this forgoes its funny bone in favor of a surprisingly tender love story. It also marks something of a departure for the director, the social subtext of Society is nowhere in sight and instead it is emotional implication which resonates here. It asks how far you would go for the one you love, how far beneath the pelt the connection. It also focuses around personal loss and wrenches the hearts from our cavities as the sickness spreads. Being infected by this callous affliction, there is only ever going to be one end in sight. But it’s the loving chaperone which forms the backbone to Return of the Living Dead III and the bittersweet journey is undertaken with just the right degree of restraint and insight to make it one entirely worth taking.

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Playing out like an undead take on Romeo & Juliet, it follows young lovers Curt Reynolds (J. Trevor Edmond) and Julie (Melinda Clarke) who, after sneaking into a military compound where his father is head of research, unwittingly witness the reanimation of an undead cadaver and the experiment goes awry, leaving the frowning colonel reeling as he is taken off the project and transferred to another complex out-of-town. Curt is defiant upon his authoritarian father’s news of their imminent departure and defiantly sets off on an ill-fated joy ride with his flame-haired belle, only to wrap his motorbike around a telegraph pole, killing Julie outright. Heartbroken by his true love’s demise, Curt returns to the research facility with the intention of using chemical agent Trioxin to breath new life into her broken body.

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Fighting her undeniable desire to eat human flesh, Julie delays the process through self-mutilation and implicit sadomasochism just to take the edge off the pain. She is reluctant to turn and can see the effect it is having on her befuddled beau, maintaining her humanity as love attempts to conquer all. Curt, on the other hand, is repulsed by his girlfriend’s new-found vocation for feeding on the flesh of the living but remains steadfast, his love blinding him to the fact that the object of his affection is progressively slipping away. It is this dynamic which elevates Return Of The Living Dead 3 above most other films of its ilk and allows it to resonate so strongly on an emotional level. Clarke is simply sumptuous as Julie, an S&M lovers dream, littered with painful modifications but still very much alive behind the eyes.

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Yuzna’s entry into the series is a marked improvement on its predecessor but isn’t ever able to scale the lofty heights of O’Bannon’s original. While bookended brilliantly, the middle act is culpable of flagging somewhat but our pathos for the young lovers keeps decomposition from setting in and we hurtle towards a suitably balls-out climax as all manner of pickled stiffs break free from their canisters and commence causing outright carnage. Yuzna has already proved with Bride of Re-Animator that, beyond his desire to repulse, he’s an old romantic at heart and Return Of The Living Dead 3 uses this dynamic well as we head towards crunch time for the couple. Coming off the back of an entry which may as well have been rated PG-13 it is refreshing to see him steer the ship back on course, although this would have fared better as an unrelated cousin rather than being branded full-blown sequel.

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It may lack the consistency of O’Bannon’s enigma and, of course, our beloved Tarman is nowhere to be seen but the emotional depth on exhibit more than makes up for any shortcomings and we are left with a true curate’s piece. It is at its most effectual when showcasing the intense connection between its ill-fated protagonists and giving the well-trodden theme of Romeo & Juliet a gnarled contemporary setting. I urge you to seek it out like putrefying flesh, sink your incisors in and quench your thirst on what is effectively a love story, albeit with gory bells and whistles. Yuzna’s career has seen its fair share of highs and lows but with Return Of The Living Dead 3 he gets it pretty much on the button. Like its transmogrifying lead its beauty lies in the beast within desperate to come out. When all is said and done it’s a fine festering romance. Just don’t go expecting Shakespeare.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 4/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Alas, it is easy to stumble upon the R-rated cut and miss out on the lion’s share of splatter. The unrated edition shows Yuzna at his most comfortable; offering sickening splatter sprays, evisceration, impalement and, of course, brain feeding aplenty. The practical work is exemplary given the slender budget and his creations just as macabre as you would expect from the mind which brought us Society.

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Living Dead Girl (A Homage)

Suggested Audio Candy:

Philip Glass “It Was Always You, Helen”

Laid out upon the cold mortuary slab
All life drained away from your shell
A vision of charm ever since death granted
Release from your personal hell

Should you need blood then take it
Would never forsake it
Drink freely until you are stronger
Quench unstintingly as it’s crucial you feed
Shall bleed ’til I can so no longer

If you hanker to bite
I shall put up no fight
Sink your teeth bereft fear of reprisal
For should my last breath be excised on this night
You would welcome me on my arrival

As our mortal coils weather
Eroding together
The air will be feverishly calm
For fused to each tether
Attuned through the never
We’ll never again come to harm

Who ever loved that loved not at last light
Mortality may well be fleeting
Yet, true love encourages infinite flight
Regardless of hearts that cease beating

Bid farewell to the flesh
As we watch it recess
No requirement to kiss or to tell
The reason I crave the embrace of sweet death
Is for me and my living dead girl

Read Return of the Living Dead Appraisal

Read Society Appraisal

Read Faust: Love of the Damned Appraisal

Read Living Dead Girl

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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