Trioxin 245, the chemical agent responsible for bringing the dead back to life in Dan O’Bannon’s original RETURN OF THE LIVIND DEAD (1985) is pretty much the only commonality in all the subsequent sequels, including this smaller-budgeted, atypical approach to this somewhat confusing zombie franchise. Much like his earlier BRIDE OF RE-ANIMATOR (1989), director Brian Yuzna once again incorporates elements of James Whale’s The BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), albeit mixed with touches of “Romeo and Juliet.” Difficult to see in its original uncut, unrated version since its VHS and laserdisc debuts, Lionsgate have thankfully remedied this oversight with volume 4 in their Vestron Video Collector’s Series.
Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) and Julie (Melinda Clarke) are a pair of young lovers who decide to sneak into a top secret military installation, where they witness Curt’s dad, Colonel John Reynolds (Kent McCord), developing the newest techniques involving those barrel-encased zombies. Instead of just storing them away, the military plans on utilizing them as weapons of war and, in between use, Reynolds has devised a revolutionary technique of freezing them using bullet-like ammunition. However, Curt and Julie leave before witnessing the entire – badly botched – experiment, which enables Colonel Sinclair (Sarah Douglas), Reynolds’ rival, to embark on her exoskeleton design, and which results in Reynolds’ relocation. Curt is none too happy about this sudden change and decides to leave for Seattle with Julie, but as they make their way out of town, he crashes his motorcycle and Julie is killed; so of course – what else?! – he heads back to the military facility in the hopes of reviving his newly dead girlfriend…
Although hiding behind the façade of a zombie film, this is essentially a ‘love story’, as Curt does what he can to keep his love for Julie burning bright even in the face of death. Most of the cast of this competently-put-together production really do give it their all, and even though Curt’s actions may be a little too over-the-top at times, this works well within the context of the story further accentuating his ‘obsessive’ fascination with her. Melinda Clarke, future star of The O.C. (2003-2007), also puts in a solid performance as the rebellious and subsequently highly-confused tortured zombie. Her desperation and utter disorientation is akin to Richard Backus’ character Andy Brooks from Bob Clark’s DEATHDREAM (1974), and in an interesting take on the zombie mythos, her use of self-mutilation to ‘ease the pain’ of death is certainly original. Scripted by John Penney, the second assistant editor on the original RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, definitely attempted something distinctive here and, despite the limited budget, the film moves at a good clip, with no pretense whatsoever of being anything more than a gory (if certainly quite novel) zombie flick. Also, in this unrated version at least, special makeup effects guru Steve Johnson and his significant crew of makeup artists (which also includes Thomas C. Rainone), supply several gory set-pieces of practical effects work, which should please most old school horror fans.
As with the other Vestron titles, ROTLD 3 is loaded with vast amounts of special features, beginning with two commentary tracks – taken from Trimark’s original R-rated DVD version and perfectly synched to the longer, unrated version – that features director Yuzna on track one speaking enthusiastically about the entire project and how much of the film’s strengths are due to John Penney’s original take on the material. On the second track, actor Clarke and effects whiz Rainone talk specifically about most of the rather elaborate effects work, as well as some of the challenges Clarke had to endure to fully realize her character.
Of course, in conjunction with Michael Felsher’s Red Shirt Pictures, Lionsgate have also included a number of featurettes, beginning with “Ashes to Ashes”, which is another talk with Yuzna and Penney wherein they discuss the origins of the project and the different direction they ultimately decided to take it in. In the aptly-titled “Living Dead Girl”, Clarke once again discusses some of the elaborate makeup effects she had to go through, as well as how she originally landed the role, plus the long working hours and working alongside J. Trevor Edmond, who also gets his own featurette, “Romeo Is Bleeding.” In it, he discusses his involvement in the shoot, the swift shooting schedule and how Clarke helped him land the part. In “Trimark and Trioxin”, former Trimark executive David Tripet and editor Chris Roth reminiscence about the market at the time, which was hungry for horror product. They also discuss the L.A. locations, their disappointment at the film’s lackluster theatrical release and once again touch on the love story angle. In the final featurette, “The Resurrected Dead”, special effects gurus Steve Johnson and Chris Nelson talk about the various enthusiastic effects work – including some excellent behind-the-scenes footage – and their humble beginnings in the industry, plus all the various special makeup effects houses which were involved in the production. Detailed still/storyboard galleries and a couple of theatrical trailers finish off the extras.
In terms of picture quality, this edition of ROTLD 3 is a handsome 1080p HD transfer retaining the film’s original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which puts all other previous editions to shame; something that can also be said for the film’s soundtrack. Presented in DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo, the sound is clean and crisp and has been greatly improved compared to the older DVDs. Finally, the Blu-ray also comes with a nice embossed O-card.
After a long absence on home video, it’s nice to finally have the full, unrated version back in circulation, and Lionsgate’s Blu-ray will definitely satisfy fans of the film. It’s another highly recommended release in Lionsgate’s ongoing Vestron Video Collector’s Series. Order it from DiabolikDVD.