(Before I begin, special thanks are due to Donna Williams for her invaluable assistance with this blog. She's contributed many copies of films for me, and in my haste I've shortsightedly left her name out of prior entries where she's helped me. So here you go, Donna, go to the head of the class.)
Brian Yuzna--the genre-favorite who produced such jewels as RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, and hell, even SOCIETY, then went to Spain and set up a crap-film factory--took over the reins of the RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD series with part three in 1993. While no masterpiece by any means, even a mediocre affair such as this is a breath of fetid air compared to Ken Wiederhorn's previous bowel movement.
Completely ignoring the previous installments, PART III's sole connection to the earlier films is the use of Trioxin. This time around it's being used in military experiments to develop the ultimate, unstoppable soldier. (Y'know, there's been a dozen or so zombie flicks with this same premise, but have any of them actually showed undead soldiers in combat? I'm trying to recall, but all I can think of is a brief moment in REVOLT OF THE ZOMBIES.) Heading up the project are Sarah Douglas--a long ways away from working with Richard Donner on SUPERMAN--and Kent McCord, who accidentally kill WAXWORK director Anthony Hickox during a botched experiment.
But the secret military stuff is window dressing for the real story, the reckless teenage love affair between McCord's son Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) and his girlfriend Julie (the stunning Mindy Clarke). Theirs is a typical teen romance--i.e. completely boring save for a brief lovemaking scene with a topless Clarke--until McCord is transferred from the project, meaning the two lovebirds will be separated (possibly forever!). Curt and Julie decide to run away together, but when Julie's killed in a subsequent motorcycle accident, a heartsick Curt takes her to Daddy's lab to bring his girlfriend back.
There've been plenty of doomed romances involving the living dead (my all-time favorite being Naoyuki Tomomatsu's STACY), but PART III ignores any potential for true tragedy within the material, instead saddling its leads with chuckleheaded villains (a gang of half-assed Latino hoods they meet during a convenience store hold-up) and an assortment of prosthetic monsters; Yuzna's version of the Tar Man looks particularly rubbery, and is good for a derisive laugh or two before hitting the fast-forward button. Too much time is devoted to the strained father-son relationship, which wouldn't have been so aggravating if either the father or son possessed any charisma, and the plot's decision to abandon its love story angle in favor of slugging it out with dumb-looking monsters is quite a let-down.
Then there's its leads. Edmond is such a bland, whiny wannabe that almost everything he does feels out of character. I never bought his defiance of his father's wishes, nor did I buy his burning love for Julie (or how he'd a girl like her in the first place); in reality, after Julie bit the dust he'd be sitting alone in his room, writing wretched poetry to her in between My Chemical Romance songs. (Yeah, I realize my musical references are off--it's the wussiest band I could think of.) Clarke herself is a competent actress, but all she's required to do is look hot as a self-mutilated zombie in ragged fishnets, a task she fulfills quite nicely. The montage as Clarke undergoes her metal-and-glass-studded transformation suggests an eroticism Yuzna should've explored, though with all the problems he had with the MPAA he probably couldn't. Either way, I'm sure a lot of young boys had confusing emotions watching this flick.
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART III is a decent popcorn movie. If you're looking for an excellent horror-comedy, get the original, but if you're seeking the ultimate body-mod girl, this one bits the bill.
(Sorry, I couldn't resist. I doubt anyone will mind.)