Starring Aimee-Lynn Chadwick, Cory Hardrict, John Keefe, Jana Kramer, Peter Coyote, and Elvin Dandel
Directed by Ellory Elkayem
Distributed by Lionsgate
“Do you wanna paaaarrrtttyyyyyyy?” was the question asked through song by 45 Grave as the dead rose from their eternal slumber in the 1985 Dan O’Bannon zombie classic Return of the Living Dead. There have been lots of living dead films to come our way since the godfather of our genre, George A. Romero, first sent them after Barbara back in 1968. Some have been great, some have been shit, and some have been in-between; but we hungry zombie film fans have consumed them all. What set Return of the Living Dead apart from the usual flesh-eater flick was its punk-rock feel and charm. The dead here were not just, to quote the late great Captain Rhodes, mindless walking pus-fuck bags of shit. They could think, speak, run, and only had one thing on their agendas: the consumption of our grey matter. Since its success theatrically and within the fanbase, we’ve been treated to some sequels. Return of the Living Dead Part 2 was more or less a comedically themed rehash of the first film with better effects, and the Brian Yuzna helmed Return of the Living Dead 3 is considered by many to be one of the best sequels in a franchise ever. I didn’t think it was that great, but it sported awesome effects, a movie stealing performance by Melinda (don’t call me Mindy) Clarke as everyone’s favorite living dead girl, and (if you can find the unrated version) tons of gore. The series has lain dormant for about fifteen years, and now all of a sudden courtesy of screen scribe Willaim (Night of the Living Dead 1990) Butler, his writing partner Aaron Strongoni, and director Ellory (Eight Legged Freaks) Elkayem, we’re being treated to two back-to-back sequels. The first, Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis, is today’s subject so sit back, kids, while your old Uncle Creepy expounds upon the hits and misses of this latest entry.
The story kicks off with an introduction to big-time company Hybra Tech. They are this country’s leading manufacturer of . . . well, everything. From processed cheeses to advanced weaponry, the suits and scientists of Hybra Tech do it all. Enter brothers Julian and Jake. Their parents were offed in a tragic auto accident, and they’ve gone to live with their Uncle Charles, who by the way happens to be Hybra Tech’s top medical research scientist. You can kind of see where this is going already, can’t ya? Anyway, kids will be kids, and before you can say BRAAAAIIIIIINNNNNSSSSSSSS one of Julian’s buddies gets injured in a motorcycle accident and is carted off to the local hospital. Distraught and worried about his fallen friend, Julian heads to the hospital post haste to check up on him. Upon his arrival, Julian finds that his pal was pronounced dead on arrival. I myself was kind of happy this kid died as he was and is the worst actor in the film, but this is a living dead movie. I knew he wouldn’t be gone for long.
So what’s a guy to do? Death can force us to grow up in a hurry so Julian takes it upon himself to call up his dead bud’s ex-girlfriend to break the bad news to her. Hey! Guess where she works! That’s right, Hybra Tech! She’s a security guard there, and as luck would have it, she sees her supposedly dead beau getting wheeled into the building on the security cameras while she’s getting the bad news from Julian. Zeke’s not dead! Something strange must be afoot at Hybra Tech! Holy shit, did we see this coming! Long story short, Julian and his friends get together to rescue their not-so-departed pal by breaking into Hybra Tech. Once there they discover that the company is doing research on re-animated corpses to see if they can turn them into super soldiers to defend our government. Of course all of the zombies escape from their cages, and the blood starts flying.
It’s not a bad set-up, but it all feels rather stale because of the film’s execution. A lot went wrong in Necropolis, and I can’t help but feel it was the result of filming two movies back-to-back. Its good ideas are never truly fleshed out, and some of the film seems very sloppy and rushed. And then there’s other stuff that’s not rushed but used as filler. For example, as the friends are suiting up to save their comrade, we’re forced to sit through silly Rambo-esque close-ups as the stars either apply something to their person or stare at their weapons nodding and smiling appreciatively. This montage goes on for about two minutes to the sounds of Godsmack’s I Stand Alone. You may remember that tune from the ill-fated and equally as silly The Scorpion King. It failed to inspire there; it falls even flatter here. There are many other points in the film that play as filler including the end credits sequence that clocks in at a whopping nearly eight minutes long. Why am I nit-picking about that? Mainly because there were other things in the movie that could have used a lot more attention. Especially the zombie super soldiers. These things were truly badass, but once they were unleashed, they really didn’t have much to do. For all their cool weapons and gadgets, they barely even got to kill anyone. Couldn’t we have had only a minute of the Godsmack song — or five minutes of credits — and then devote that extra screen time to the coolest things in the movie? Talk about missed opportunities.
As for the DVD extras, except for a bunch of trailers that look much more entertaining than this movie, there’s nothing to be found. However, I would like to thank the good folks at Lionsgate for scrapping this film’s horrendous original poster art (if you’ve seen it, you know what I am talking about, but for the curious, check out the Related To field below) for this much better cover. It’s just too bad the same type of overhaul couldn’t have been done for the film itself.
In the end, there are only three areas in which Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis excels: the look of the zombies, the music, and the truly bloody head shots. If I could judge this film on those three factors alone, it would easily have earned itself a much higher rating. Unfortunately these good things are lost adrift a convoluted sea of silliness.
Die-hard DVD collectors like myself have a curse, and that is no matter how bad an entry in a franchise is, we have to have it to complete our collection of that set of films. Truth be told, that’s the only real reason to own this flick. Everyone else, do yourself a favor and stay away.
The sequel to this film, Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave, will be making its way home soon; and the title alone makes me cringe. Of course I’ll be here giving you the straight dope on it. I have truly learned to suffer for my craft. Sigh.