Return of the Living Dead III is a Punk Rock Zombie Love Story for the Ages [The Overlook Motel]

Welcome to The Overlook Motel, a place where under-seen and unappreciated films are given their moment in the spotlight. I hope you enjoy your stay here and find the accommodations to be suitable. Now, please take a seat and make yourself comfortable, I have some misbehaving guests to ‘correct’. 

This week, I’m looking back at a threequel that has lived in the shadows for far too long. Of course, I’m talking about Brian Yuzna’s violent, zombie love story Return of the Living Dead III. While Return of the Living Dead II was an unnecessary rehash, the third series entry recaptures the punk rock spirit of Return of the Living Dead

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But first, I’d like to thank my friend and occasional Dread Central contributor Nat Brehmer. Without him, this installment of The Overlook Motel would not be possible. I, like many fans, once assumed everything after the first installment of Return of the Living Dead was disposable. But Nat has been singing the praises of this flick loud and proud for years. Had he not convinced me to take a chance on it, I wouldn’t be able to share it with you today. 

Return of the Living Dead III follows Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) and his lady friend, Julie (Melinda Clarke). Curt’s father is a military man, entrenched in top-secret research focusing on reanimating the dead. When Curt learns of his father’s workplace endeavors, he opts to try the process out in the hopes of reanimating Julie after she is killed in a tragic motorcycle accident. The only problem with Curt’s plan is that Julie awakens with a hankering for brains that can never be satiated! From there, the pair are faced with an ethical dilemma that threatens to tear the young lovers apart. 

The ethical dilemma Julie faces regarding the need to cannibalize fellow humans to stay alive(?) is thoughtfully explored. It also gives the romance between the young couple a level of depth that isn’t typically seen in teen-horror movies. With Curt’s father standing between them, the pair believably come across as star-crossed lovers; they want nothing more in the world than to be together. Sadly, they find themselves at odds by way of circumstances beyond their control.   

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By making Julie a zombie within the first act of Return of the Living Dead III, screenwriter John Penney breaks from convention and dares to be different. It was a bold move that paid off in a big way. Rather than watching Julie and Curt fend off zombies, the focus is on Julie trying to satisfy her appetite in an ethical way. That adds a great deal of depth to the film and allows it to tread new ground, rather than revisiting well-worn tropes. 

As Julie comes into her own as a zombie, she learns that pain helps suppress the urge for human flesh. She endures a bitchin’ punk rock transformation that riffs on body mod culture. Her look is fierce and is made even cooler in the sense that it works in concert with a final femme transformation of sorts that sees her truly coming into her own and harnessing her inner power. 

In addition to Julie’s spectacular character design, the creature effects are also quite impressive, managing to be both intricate and grotesque. In many ways, this flick looks far more expensive than it should for an estimated budget of $2 million. Although, to be fair, Return of the Living Dead III does show its budgetary constraints at times. The acting is a bit rough around the edges and some of the set pieces appear a little cheap. But on the whole, I would consider this threequel to be a resounding success. 

As of the publication of this post, the film is available via a decked out Blu-ray release courtesy of the Vestron Collector’s Series. It’s also available to rent digitally. 

If you check out Return of the Living Dead III, let me know your thoughts on Twitter @FunWithHorror!

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