Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993) – Review

I wouldn’t hesitate to say the first Return of the Living Dead movie is one of my favourite horrors of all time. The tightly controlled mix of comedy, original ideas for the zombie genre, rising tension, incredible effects, and a number of other components make it so. However, as a long-time horror fan I’ve become accustomed to dramatically lowering my expectations with progressive sequels. This was proven with the second ROTLD which juggled a mediocre, less comedic re-treading of the original with largely poor writing and some original, yet rather odd, ideas. After ages spent avoiding buying the third installment’s out-of-print, overpriced DVD I was overjoyed to see it screening on the Horror Channel. With hindsight, watching it for free on TV was definitely a good decision.

Telling a mostly standalone story, this film feels like a pre-existing script was adapted to include a few references to the previous films. This isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, because it allows fresh characters and locations to be brought in. Following the trend of the second movie, this film has practically no (intentional) comedy, but doesn’t entirely manage to pull of the dramatic edge it was trying to achieve. Telling a disappointingly Disney-Channel-with-zombies style story it tells of Curt, son of an army Colonel stealing a security card to sneak his girlfriend Julie into his father’s top-secret base to see the experiments they’re carrying out on the dead with the familiar Trioxin gas of the previous installments. Thrown in are some mentions of the absent mother being dead and some ‘father issues’ scenes which could at best be a little out of place in this sort of film, but thanks to the appalling writing and acting proved less entertaining than the advert breaks.

My expression through the dramatic scenes

I normally avoid spoilers in my reviews, but since every poster for the film features a zombie Julie, it isn’t a massive surprise to know that she dies shortly into the film. Returned to life by Curt using the Trioxin gas, the most interesting plot thread is introduced, as they try to run away while she is slowly becoming one of the living dead that they saw at the beginning. Thankfully the only good actor in this film is Melinda Clarke, playing Julie, meaning the scenes showing her struggling with ‘the hunger’ and coming to terms with her death & impending zombification are actually quite good, but only where the supporting actors and/or script don’t jump out to ruin any drama that may have been built up. As well as this, there are a couple of scenes in the first hour featuring some truly disgusting zombie effects. However, these brief glimpses of ‘guite-goodness’ do very little to push the first hour above being more an endurance test than entertaining.

Looks like he has A SPLITTING HEADACHE!!! … Oh.

The final half hour is where the film takes a turn of sorts. Themes, logic and plot cease to have any real bearing for all but a couple of scenes, making way for quite a long duration of all-out madness. Featuring some of the most sadistic, hideous creature effects I’ve seen outside of the likes of Tokyo Gore Police etc, it’s certainly entertaining if nothing else. And it really is nothing else in all fairness. It’s the sort of bizarre horror that, provided you aren’t at all squeamish, is unavoidably funny no matter how serious the tone of the scenes, which really dampen the attempts to regain the dramatic elements of the film (whether or not they had any impact to begin with could be debated).

This film is a real shame – it has some decent ideas and the bare bones of a pretty good plot are all there but from the offset it is just carried out badly. The script is awful, characters range from non-existent to two-dimensional, creature effects aside, most action scenes lack any menace, and I spent much of the duration waiting for it to end. Unmet potential aside, the outrageous final act, with some sadistically imaginative (if rubbery) creature effects are the main positives though I’d still question whether it was a worthwhile way to spend 100 minutes.


What!? There’s two more sequels???


The Last Exorcism: Part 2 (2013) – Review

When referring to ‘The Worst Movies Ever Made’, it’s important to be clear on what exactly qualifies. There are films that an individual has absolutely no interest in, in my case that would include those melodramas they show on obscure Sky channels, and probably even many romantic comedies. In such cases, it would be unfair for me to say any one of them is ‘The Worst Movie Ever Made’. Films that are massive successes only for me to find I hate them, such as Mamma Mia!; a film that I despise with every inch of my being; could also not fit in as it is feasible to see how someone who isn’t me may enjoy them and they are capable enough if we consider the target audience. Then we move on to those we know to be truly terrible, but are so spectacularly off-the-mark that they become funny, such as Troll 2 or The Room. These also can’t fit in here I believe as (whether intentional or not) they have a comedy value that is unmatched by deliberately funny films, giving the films a bittersweet redeeming feature after all. There are many terrible films that were produced on essentially no budget, so the mere existence of the films is reflective of dedication and hard work by a small number of individuals so it is unfair to be unduly harsh on these I feel. So now we are left with those films that are produced on reasonable budget, with a supposed level of professionalism behind the production, that we ought to like based on genre and content, that we understand the technicalities of, yet are just absolutely atrocious in ways that make you wonder how they got it so wrong. A film such as The Last Exorcism: Part 2.

The improbably titled sequel to the 2010 found-footage horror didn’t have too much to live up to, after the third act disappointment in the first, where all the rather intriguing religious pondering and uncertain characters were cast aside for a generic occult-shocker explosive finale. Swapping out the found-footage for a standard cinematic style, we pick up very soon after the events of the first, with Nell recovering from the events and put into a doors-unlocked-at-night girls’ rehabilitation home despite firmly believing that the demon Abalam is still intent on acquiring her soul. The following 45 minutes or so feature nothing much in the way of excitement as we follow Nell making friends with her housemates, having completely unintelligent internal religious debate in the form of deciding whether or not to put her crucifix on, meeting a boy for some awkward romance scenes more applicable to a Disney Channel movie, and being terrified by street performers staring at her in carnival masks. Yes, this is an 18-rated horror and we’re somehow supposed to be scared, or at least mildly unsettled, by a normal person looking at us in a mask.

Terrifying. (This is an actual screencap)

Without spoiling the rest of the plot, in the second half of the film the terror is ramped up by a notch (putting it at level one), with some night-time oddness suggesting Abalam is indeed not as far away as Nell was starting to hope. We are now fast-tracked to the third act with a few key characters appearing out of thin air, exposition as to their purpose and how they come to be here explained away by single lines that outline the biggest gripe of the film; it feels like watching a first draft of the script, as though no one looked back and thought “Does this make sense?”, “Could that character be worked into the storyline any more?”, “Could a single bloody moment of this film be even the least bit interesting?”. Apparently they asked none of these questions, because unfortunately the answer to them all is a big “No”. We work our way to the inevitable exorcism scene which unfolds without any real menace or sense of crescendo to the wafer-thin plot.

You WILL watch it til the end!

As I may have mentioned, for what is intended to be a horror movie, this film is not at all scary. We are treated to one or two pooorly-executed jump-scares and the sense of impending doom never grows much stronger than the realisation that the film is still nowhere near finishing. In such a case, where the plot offers no intrigue, and the characters vary from dull to actively dislikable, a horror fan reverts to the promise offered by the 18 certificate on the box: there’ll surely be some delightfully gory or uniquely scary scenes. Well, the final part of the third act comes and sure enough a number of rather unpleasant things happen, the only thing is we don’t get to see any of it explicitly. An argument could be made that this is intelligent, eschewing the joyous brutality of modern torture porn-esque horror but based on the first 70 minutes of screenplay this is certainly not an intelligent film and the first film featured enough finger-snapping, cat-smashing, head-lopping horror that I really don’t think this was their intent. The film ends on a jarring note, on one hand an interesting turn for the story, but on the other hand very derivative of a certain iconic female-fronted horror. It does however leave us with the most terrifying moment of the whole piece; the set up of a Part 3.

The Last Exorcism: Part 2 is a film produced on a reasonable budget for horror of $5 million, with a decent cast; especially Ashley Bell, playing Nell with the same vulnerability she showed in the first film, in key scenes reminiscent of Sissy Spacek in Carrie. The failure of the film is that the screenplay has no polish, there is little to no direction and while shot technically well, it offers no interesting visuals of any kind, save for the aforementioned finale which even then is spoiled by CGI that seems to have been rendered on a PlayStation 2.

Is this the single worst film ever made? Probably not, but it’s certainly amongst the worst ‘well-made’ films I’ve seen, being produced with so many fundemental issues that could have been fixed very easily to salvage the bare bones of the plot that could have made a worthwhile follow-up to the first film. If not the worst of all time, this is certainly the worst I have seen of 2013.