Say what you will about the noticably disjointed Return Of The Living Dead franchise, at least it kind of caters to differing tastes. If the sardonic sneer of Dan O’Bannon’s genius, punk rock original is too bitter a pill to swallow then there’s alway the broad slapstick of Ken Weiderhorn’s toothless sequel or the surreal maelstrom of grue that made up Brian Yunza’s trilogy capper – but with this in mind, it’s hard to reason why a fourth or even fifth installment would even need to exist, but exist they do due to further installments being financed and produced back to back by the Syfy Channel.
Still, thanks to reasons only known to the financiers; exist they do and I don’t think it’s any great shock to announce the first of the two, Return Of The Living Dead: Necropolis, is about as welcome as a set of zombie teeth in you’re skull – but set your sights low enough – no, lower than that – and you just might find that the movie redeems itself slightly thanks to it’s highly mockable nature.
It’s been ten years since the last zombie outbreak afflicted the United States and yet there’s certain people who still can’t help themselves when it comes to fucking around with those nasty barrels of zombie resurrecting zombie gas known as Trioxin. One such megomaniacal dick weed is Charles Garrison, who has just ducked over to Chernobyl (well, where would you store them?) to pick up the last six remaining drums in order to perform zombie related bio-weapon experiments for a shifty corporation named Hybra Tech. As indulges himself in experimentation that can’t have any real use whatsoever – if you already have a basement full of the reanimated dead, then simply reanimating a single arm is surely just doodling at this point – his teenage nephew Julian is still obsessed with his parents untimely deaths and he is convinced that Hybra Tech may have had a hand in it considering they were both volunteers. However, when he hangs out with his circle of friends after school as they all indulge in their favorite hobby of dirt biking (I can’t remember, was dirt biking particularly big in the 2000’s or something?), Julian’s brash best friend Zeke crashes after jumping off a ramp that even the Jackass boys would be wary of and his unconscious ass is shipped off to Hybra Tech for nefarious uses. This lights a fire under the group and with the help of Zeke’s ex-girlfriend Katie, who works part time for Hybra’s security section (I know, I know), they plan to break into the the sizable corporation to find out what the hell is going on.
What’s is actually going on is that Hybra has all the health and safety acumen of a Jurassic Park facility and before you can say “gas leak zombifies cooked rat”, there’s a breach in security that’s accidently taken care of by the gaggle of teens who’ve come surprisingly loaded for bear and can count firearms and an honest to god flamethrower in their arsenal.
After rescuing Zeke and confronting uncle Charles about his questionable use of brain eating dead people to cure the world’s ills, Julian and the gang gawp on in horror as their break in causes a break out as hordes of zombies escape their cells and starts to gorge themselves on the brains of anyone too stupid or slow to evade their shambling attacks and as his friends start to meet horrific deaths, Julian still feels the need to find out what actually happened to his parents. However, of all the answers he was expecting, “turned into zombie super-soldiers” probably wasn’t one of them and soon we have highly armed battle zombies joining the fray alongside their standard, loping cousins.
Simply put, Return Of The Living Dead: Necropolis is pretty much what you would get if Resident Evil was scripted by the makers of Saved By The Bell. I mean, the use of zombies to be bio-weapons us quite obviously nicked from the former while the shitty characterization of the main core of kids feels like a perky offshoot of the latter as it feels like its been penned by someone who’s never actually been a child in their entire freaking lives. The result is obviously a mess, and yet it’s an oddly watchable one, especially if you have a couple of friends together and you talk over the entirety of it while you intently discuss how crappy it all is.
This is helped immensely by the sheer amount of holes that litter the plot like the area around a dart board in an opticians waiting room that range from the basic (the teacher at the school looks the same age as her students) to the epic; such as why would Hybra kidnap the very alive Zeke for their experiments when his girlfriend works for their security? In fact, not a single thing about Charlie’s plan makes an iota of sense, especially since the movie has unwisely stripped the zombies of their earlier abilities of being virtually unkillable, so we now have a guy who thinks he can instigate world dominance with an army of zombies who can be felled by a single bullet to the ribs or – in one embarrassing instance – somehow be rendered unconscious by a kick to the head. How exactly are these things better than human soldiers again?
Desperately trying to rub some respectability onto proceedings, a slumming Peter Coyote spends the entire movie with a strained grimace plastered over his mouth which gives him the look of a man struggling through a particularly nasty bout of trapped gas which is possibly because he’s realising that E.T. was so very long ago…. Meanwhile the rest of the cast give those sort of performances where they mostly stand around with vapid looks of concentration on their faces until it’s their time to give a line, at which point they deliver it super energetically, only to fall back into a semi-fugue state while they wait for their next cue – which is fairly standard for a no-budget, zombie, TV movie.
Still, despite all the plot issues and the fact that the zombies appear to be easier to kill than a sleeping moth, Return Of The Living Dead actually has some nicely passable effects with some choice moments of people having the brains chewed right out of their heads and some fairly alright designs for the super zombies – although I’m still not sure how bolting a bandsaw onto the arm of a ghoul wearing futuristic kevlar is going to win you a war…
The biggest victim of all however, turns out to be director Ellory Elkayem, who scuppers all of his hard work after the immensely entertaining Eight Legged Freaks by making a flick that’s somehow both crammed with incident, yet simultaneously contain barely enough material to scrape past it’s own tight run time, something the eight minutes of end credits is a telling testament to. Return Of The Living Dead: Necropolis is a clear case of a horror comedy where laughing at it is far more fun at laughing with…