Ken Wiederhorn, who directed the B-movie gem SHOCK WAVES back in 1977 (and incidentally, anyone who can hook me up with a copy of that flick will be my new BFF), returned to zombies in 1988 with this tragically unfit sequel to Dan O'Bannon's serio-comic classic. Not-funny and not-scary in equal measure, the film treats fans of the original with the same casual disregard as it does with the film itself.
Originally written by Wiederhorn as a stand-alone screenplay, he wedges a barrel of Trioxin into a tame story about a young boy (Michael Kenworthy) who accidentally unleashes an army of undead onto his sleepy California town. James Karen and Thom Mathews return from the first in unrelated roles, and although their scenes together are just as asinine as the others, they're by far the highlight of the picture. (I've long since come to the conclusion that Karen would rock reading the Yellow Pages on YouTube, an option far more appealing than another viewing of this dreck.)
Wiederhorn regurgitates many of the more popular elements of O'Bannon's film, offering up a pale imitation of the Tar Man and having Karen and Mathews repeat some of their more memorable lines. If this was done in the spirit of homage I could be more forgiving, but too often it feels more like laziness on the director's part. On his DVD commentary Wiederhorn freely admits the film was an attempt to break out of the horror market, but such a remark isn't necessary; his apathy bleeds through every frame of this flick.
What angers me most is Wiederhorn's treatment of the undead. The scene in which the zombies rise from their graves--a setpiece that shows promise at first, despite aping the first film and stretching the boundaries of logic--plays them for laughs almost as soon as they're out of the ground. GodDAMN how that pisses me off! And if you're going to make your zombies the butt of your jokes, for fuck's sake be funny. But throwing in near-sighted zombies and the undead falling into open graves isn't enough, Wiederhorn goes the extra mile with a gratuitous THRILLER parody that's as stupid as it is irrelevant.
More remake than sequel, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II is enough to bring the bile to the back of my throat. If I may quote the esteemed Roger Ebert, I hated hated hated hated this movie. (My apologies to Mr. Ebert if I missed a hated.) Boring and insulting, it would take nothing less than a smoking hot zombie chick to salvage this series, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
In lieu of a trailer (which wouldn't load, probably out of shame), here's the Michael Jackson zombie in all its outdated glory: