A staple on late-night cable television back in the eighties, 1986's RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD began as an early feature from Brett Piper (who many of you may recall as the director of such memorable titles as THEY BITE and A NYMPHOID BARBARIAN IN DINOSAUR HELL) called DYING DAY. Piper sold his film to producer Sam Sherman, the veteran schlockmeister largely responsible for giving Al Adamson a film career, who was unimpressed with Piper's work. Sherman shot new footage, incorporating what he thought were Piper's choicest scenes and creating a movie that was absolutely no better that what he started with (worse, when you consider that Piper was an amateur when he shot his film).
After kicking off with a catchingly-cheesy title song, a terrorist (Robert Sacchetti, a holdover from Piper's cut) infiltrates a nuclear power plant and holds its employees hostage--all three!--before getting killed in the resulting stand-off. Sacchetti is brought back from the dead, presumably leading the undead that follow, but Sherman never makes it clear. The hero in this new version is child actor Scott Schwartz (in a career dead zone between sticking his tongue to the flagpole in A CHRISTMAS STORY and sticking his tongue in Juli Ashton in SCOTTY'S X-RATED ADVENTURE), who uses the laser from his grandpa's laserdisc player to craft a ray gun that zaps the marauding zombies (equally ludicrous as this concept is the "special" laser effects, which consist of scratching the film's negative).
Although DYING DAY has its share of flaws, which we'll get into with the following entry, RAIDERS comes off worse for being the more "professional" of the two versions. The patchwork nature of the plot shows through too often, which might not be such a big deal if it wasn't so boring (this movie lumbers along at the same speed of its rotting dead), with horrendous sound quality that at least makes the nonsensical dialogue tough to hear. Schwartz is the lone competent actor in the cast--and considering he just graduated from puberty when his scenes were shot, that's saying a lot--though none are quite as bad as his girlfriend with the New Joysey accent (Zita Johann from Karloff's THE MUMMY also makes a quick, exposition-heavy cameo as a librarian).
Dull and stupid, RAIDERS OF THE LIVING DEAD has absolutely nothing going for it, except maybe for the misleading title that suggests a zombie-filled adventure tale. I'd say go with Piper's version, which you can find on the Special Edition DVD.
The trailer, courtesy of Meet Cleaver Theatre.