Return of the Living Dead III (1993) Review: Romeo & Zombiet
“She’s To Die For.”
Synopsis: Having recently witnessed the horrific results of a top secret project to bring the dead back to life, a distraught youth performs the operation on his girlfriend after she’s killed in a motorcycle accident.
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Return of the Living Dead 3 follows in the footsteps of its predecessors… in that it varies wildly in tone from Parts One and Two, and yet again changes the rules for the undead. This time, the focus is on teenage love as much as it is zombie horror. And as for the zombies, the contagion can now be spread through bites, but zombie intelligence is varies wildly, as does their mobility. And as is common with the series, fans of the zombie subgenre may or may not like what the filmmakers do with their undead.
Though the zombies in this entry to the series are much closer to the classic concept of an undead horde, there is one major exception: Julie. Early on in the movie, Julie (Melinda Clarke) dies and then is infected a short time later and brought back to life. Unlike the other zombies who are converted quickly after death, she retains all of her brain functions and most of her bodily ones, and is an active participant in the rest of the movie. This means that the audience is once again put into the unfamiliar situation of having empathy for a zombie – a zombie that thinks and feels.
And if having sympathetic zombies wasn’t odd enough, the plot is fairly serious and heavy on the emotions. Protagonist Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) has daddy issues as well as undead girlfriend issues, and both are the cause of more than one heart-wrenching moment. But despite the serious subject matter, ROTLD 3 still seems like it should be a campy zombie movie. The sets look straight out of a Star Wars knockoff, the Army is full of complete buffoons, there is a random Hispanic gang, and outside of the lovers, the acting is generally on par with a ’50s creature feature. It’s a weird dichotomy, and makes jumping between characters in the movie particularly rough. I will note, however, that Colonel Sinclair (Sarah Douglas) and her project are also responsible for some of the emotional horror elements in the movie, despite the general quality issues from the Army sequences.
By far the best part of the movie is the acting from the lovers. Julie and Curt have good chemistry and follow all the rules of stupid, hopeless puppy love, making their situation all the more tragic. Melinda Clarke in particular is great as a girl slowly losing her humanity and succumbing to her zombie instincts. I never found the gore in this movie particularly realistic, but found myself flinching anyway whenever Julie hurt herself as a distraction – even with mediocre effects, it’s hard not to empathize with her pain. (She also goes full-on Hellraiser cosplay toward the end of the movie, which both looks awesome and makes it even more devastating when she remembers who she is.)
I’m still not sure how to feel about this movie. I understand why most either love it or hate it, and why it incites such strong reactions. Though the plot was interesting and the lovers were great, I had a hard time taking the movie as a whole seriously (which honestly, it needed). But if you’re willing to branch out from the standard zombie flick and you like some doomed romance, give it a try. Still, as a series ROTLD isn’t very consistent, so remember: fans of one movie may not enjoy another.
(P.S. I’m not sure who’d want to play drinking games during this movie, but we got you covered.)
Calamity Brains’ Rating: C
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