Back From the Grave: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II (1988) Finally Hits Blu-ray

Scream Factory delivers a feature-packed release of a long-awaited film

Three years after the original, the Living Dead returned again with a bigger budget and even more tongue-in-cheek attitude. Once again, the military screws up and misplaces a giant drum full of a top secret chemical weapon, causing the dead to rise and start munching on the living.

Plotwise, Return of the Living Dead II is a sequel so similar to the original to the original that it’s practically a remake. Stylistically though, it jettisons much of the original’s edge, excising the punk rock, nudity, and even violence in favor of a more accessible and humor-driven romp.

With zany performances, good-natured slapstick, great looking zombies, goopy effects, and likeable protagonists, the film offers a lot to love. So I was surprised to find when doing some background research that it’s not particularly well received among fans. But it seems the majority of criticism surrounding ROTLD2 isn’t aimed at the film itself so much as the unfavorable comparisons to its progenitor: it borrows the same plot, reuses some of the same actors in different (but parallel) roles, and most of all lacks the distinct punk edginess — in characters, themes, and of course soundtrack — that infuses the original with so much of its charm.

Rewatching it now, the soundtrack certainly seems to be the biggest fall-off. The incredible throbbing, pulsating “Trioxin Theme” by Francis Haines, along with 45 Graves’ anthemic “Partytime”, were lifeblood to the original film and even its trailers, and their omission feels like a key ingredient is missing. The film still boasts a solid rock soundtrack, but it’s definitely not same energy.

These are all valid observations, and I can understand how anyone who loved the first film was disappointed with its followup. As it happens, I originally watched ROTLD2 before seeing the original, and didn’t have any of that crowding my head. I just enjoyed the movie as an accessible and humorous zombie romp with almost Spielbergian sensibilities, placing young characters — a boy, his teen sister, and her schoolmate/love interest — as the main protagonists who uncover the zombie menace and must try to survive the night. Returning to it now (having since familiarized with the original), I still love it. Return of the Living Dead Part II is not only an entertaining zombie comedy, but one of the best gateway movies for young horror fans.

The Package

This is an incredible package, featuring a 2K restoration and stacked top to bottom with new and archival features that cover all aspects of the film’s creation from several different perspectives. Even fans of the original who dislike this sequel will find a lot to chew on here, with some of the cast and crew delving into similar feelings.

Physically, the release includes a reversible cover with classic and new artwork by Graham Humphreys, and a slipcover with the new art.

Special Features and Extras

  • “They Won’t Stay Dead: A Look at RotLD Part II” (29:45) — Mini-documentary from 2011 that lacks input from writer-director Ken Weiderhorn, but features many cast and crew. I was surprised at their generally negative opinion of the film’s creation; nonetheless it’s illuminating stuff. (While not newly created for this edition, this seems to be its HD/Blu-ray disc debut).
  • NEW “Back to the Dead: The Effects of RotLD Part II” (25:01) — with Special Make-up Effects creator Kenny Myers and Special Make-up Effects artists Andy Schoneberg and Mike Smithson
  • NEW “The Laughing Dead” (19:22)— with writer/director Ken Wiederhorn. Ken discusses making the film, its reception, and becoming pigeonholed as a horror director despite not being a huge fan of the genre.
  • NEW “Undead Melodies” (12:48) — with composer J. Peter Robinson
  • NEW “RotLD2 Extravaganza” (2:10) — with actor Troy Fromin
  • Audio Commentaries
    NEW Audio Commentary with actress Suzanne Snyder
    NEW Audio Commentary with Gary Smart (co-author of The Complete History of the Return of the Living Dead) and filmmaker Christopher Griffiths
    – Audio Commentary with writer/director Ken Wiederhorn and co-star Thor Van Lingen
  • Archival Featurette — Live from the Set (5:35)
  • Archival interviews with Ken Wiederhorn, James Karen, Thom Matthews and Kenny Myers (2:36)
  • Archival Behind The Scenes footage (4:14)
  • Theatrical Trailer (1:41) and Teaser Trailer (1:44)

  • 4 TV Spots (2:10)
  • Vintage “Movie Tees” TV Commercial (3:15)
  • Still Gallery: Special Effects Makeup (5:59)
  • Still Gallery: Posters and Lobby Cards (1:46)

A/V Out.

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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