If you’re a fan of horror films, you’re probably aware of Brian Yuzna and his contributions to the genre. As well as producing the timeless cult classic Re-Animator, Yuzna has directed some great genre films himself, including the gloopy Society and the Lovecraftian From Beyond.
The interest in HP Lovecraft overflows into our first film for tonight, a rarely seen compendium of three horror tales called Necronomicon, with Yuzna directing one of the stories and the wrap-around section. Next up is Yuzna’s directorial contribution to the zombie genre, Return of the Living Dead Part 3, a second sequel that plums for emotional engagement and self-mutilation over excessive zombie carnage.
Plot HP Lovecraft finds the book of the dead, the 'Necronomicon', and reads three stories - The Drowned, The Cold and Whispers...
Rawshark For some reason this film is extremely hard to get hold of, so it was lucky that it appeared one night on Sky Movies, forcing us to get out the old video technology and tape the transmission for later viewing at Zombie Club. Our old friend Jeffrey Combs kicks off the proceedings, appearing as HP Lovecraft himself (with a prosthetic chin, which intentionally or not, makes him look extremely like Bruce Campbell from the Evil Dead series). He’s on a mission to get hold of the Necronomicon – the ‘book of the dead’ - and when he finally finds it, he sits down to read the first tale of the evening; The Drowned.
Directed by Christophe Gans (who later went on to make The Brotherhood of the Wolf), The Drowned is a very stylish affair, but one that is not quite the sum of its parts. Bruce Payne plays Edward De Lapoer (looking very much like a Swedish Rutger Hauer) who arrives to inspect his recently inherited hotel. As with all creepy stories involving inherited hotels though, this one has a spooky past, and through flashbacks, and flashbacks within flashbacks, we eventually piece together the facts that once upon a time, a man’s wife drowned, but she came back to life to torment her husband, and now that Rutger Hauer’s wife has recently died in a car crash, we can pretty much expect the same thing to happen all over again.
It does of course, but along the way we get pirate-fish-zombie creatures with flashing green neon lights for eyes (Jim like those!), sea-monsters, sea weedy women and lots of octopus-tentacles for mouths. Obviously it all ends with a huge monster (reminiscent of The Kindred) trashing the house, and ‘Rutger’ eventually escaping through a stained glass ceiling roof, spearing the monster in the eye with a chandelier in the process. It’s fairly ok, stylishly filmed and it does feature some commendable effects, but is also sluggish in parts, and perhaps the weakest of the three stories on offer.
Zomblee Ah… the slimy, tentacled 80’s world that is Yuzna. Bring on the slimy monsters and surreal OTT gore. I had heard of this film only once before but, as we all know, the big bad book known as the Necromicon has been featured in a number of classic horror movies, not least in the Evil Dead series. Ancient texts have always worked well as the basis of a decent horror story – it works regularly enough for John Carpenter and to a lesser extent for Lucio Fulci, but here, it is the whole point. The book is the star.
At least, it was the star until David Warner appeared. If I was nodding off at any point, the sight of Mr. “I’ve Been In So Many Great Films It Will Blow Your Mind” Warner more than brought me back to the land of the living. The second story in this portmanteau sees a nosy Boston reporter snooping for a story regarding a series of murders at a somewhat chilly suburban house. As the female resident remembers events we are taken into one of the film’s many flashbacks to a time when young girl moves into the house, being told / warned about Dr Madden on the third floor who “prefers not to be disturbed”. At this point I think we all had the feeling that very soon, he was going to be disturbed. What we did not see coming however was that this strange Dr Madden was in fact David Warner. Do you have any idea how many cool films this guy has been in? Well, it’s a lot.
Dr Madden’s apartment is ice-cold. He states that this is because of his “condition”, but we knew that this was no ordinary condition. This is, after all, Lovecraftian territory. This condition, therefore, means that our beloved Mr Warner (who’s been in loads of ace films, in case I’d forgotten to mention that) is dead but keeping himself “alive” by extracting spinal fluid from living humans. No wonder he doesn’t like to be disturbed, although 'disturbed' is what he most definitely is…
The Cold is an above-average short story, well-filmed with plenty of thrills, twists and laughs. This whole collection of stories is very well photographed with saturated colours and really cool, original F/X, some of which are supplied by the King - Tom Savini. Unfortunately with this cropped recorded-off-television copy we could only glimpse how good it in fact was. Necromicon starts off quite average but gets steadily better and by the time we reach the third and final story, directed by Yuzna himself, we’re in for a real treat.
Jim Did you know that if you head down to the British Museum you’ll find a large exhibit dedicated to the Book of the Dead? That’s a fact, although don’t be expecting to find any Candarian demons or Deadites as, in Egyptological terms, the Book of the Dead is the name given to group of mortuary spells written on sheets of papyrus covered with magical texts and accompanying illustrations called vignettes. These were placed with the dead in order to help them pass through the dangers of the underworld and attain an afterlife of bliss in the Field of Reeds. Fancy that.
The Necronomicon movie that we watched must have been about another Book of the Dead as this one had no mummies in it at all, although Necronomicon doesn’t really miss them as it does have a giant one-eyed octopus monster, a seaweed pirate creature with glowing eyes, a slowly melting, heat-sensitive David Warner and Bodysnatchers-style bat-like alien serial-killers instead. And, funnily enough, all those elements make for quite a good little horror compendium.
Rawshark seemed entranced by the first story, not only because, as he stated earlier, the main character looked like Rutger Hauer (“I’m expecting him to pull out a pint of Guiness!”), but because of the double embedding of flashbacks (“It’s like a story within a story within a story…”). He loves that stuff.
Zomblee, on the other hand, was more than satisfied with the middle story, mainly because (“David Warner was in it”) and (“That’s the only time I’ve seen David Warner having sex!”). He’s a strange lad that Zomblee.
And that leaves me with the third instalment, cryptically entitled ‘Whispers’, which begins after-hours in downtown LA. Sarah and Paul are cops in hot pursuit of the city's latest killer psycho character, known only as 'The Butcher', but as tyres screech, wheels spin and sirens wail, our heroes' minds are focused on something entirely different. It seems Sarah and her partner Paul have been partners in more ways than one, but now that's over, the main issues appear to be who's going to apply for a transfer and what are they going to do about the fact that the lady copper is pregnant.
In fact, the car-chase they're involved in feels almost like a secondary issue until the inevitable crash. The car's overturned and they're both knocked out, but Sarah is the first to come round, only to see her partner being dragged away, by a man with plastic shoe protectors...
All in all, ‘Whispers’ is probably the best of the three stories. It starts with a bang then generally gets crazier and crazier (Harold and Daisy, two incidental characters who ‘help’ Sarah, are completely bonkers) and incorporates a Slasher element into an alien invasion subplot while still finding time to nod it’s head to The Empire Strikes Back’s asteroid belt sequence. But it’s the ending that really shocks, not least because our man Yuzna is not shy of letting the gore flow. I don’t want to give too much away, but I love zombies that have hollow skulls and still insist on walking about.
“You want to hurt me?”
And the wraparound story? Well, suffice to say that reading the passages from the Necronomicon opens some kind of doorway to another dimension, and Lovecraft has to keep all his wits about him to close it and get out of the library in one piece. Shame about that librarian monk dude, but that'll teach him to pretend to be human anyhow.
Director Brian Yuzna Christophe Gans Shusuke Kaneko
Cast Jeffrey Combs
Runtime 96 mins
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Return of the Living Dead Part 3 (1993)
Plot When Curt's girlfriend is killed in a motorbike accident, he brings her back to life with his dad's special chemical, Trioxin. Unfortunately this only turns her into a kinky S&M zombie with a hunger for brains.
Jim The Rock and Roll love-child of Romero's franchise is back in Return of the Living Dead Part 3, although this time the directorial duties have been passed on to this evening's namesake, Brian Yuzna.
The plot is simple; Curt's an average all-American teenager with a tasty Goth-chick girlfriend called Mindy and an army commander for a father. His father also happens to be in charge of a secret military base where experiments in utilizing zombies as weapons of war are being carried out. When Curt steals his Dad's passkey to the base, he and Mindy sneak into the base for a bit of fun but inadvertently witness one of those zombie controlling experiments go hideously wrong (cue many lab-coated scientists getting chomped) and they only just get off the base without getting caught.
But with his zombie control project in ruins, Curt's dad is forced to hand over control of the base to that bird from Superman II and accept relocation. Curt, however, has other ideas. Not wanting to leave his new found friends and what have you, Curt takes off with an eager Mindy in tow, but things soon take a tragic turn for the worse. To cut a long story short, Mindy gets a little too amorous on the back of Curt's bike causing him to crash. He's fine but she's not - she dies actually - and it doesn't take Curt long to work out the only way he's going to bring her back is with a little trioxin, stolen from that secret base.
Coming across as the closest thing the zombie genre's ever going to get to Romeo and Juliet, Return of the Living Dead Part 3 avoids the manic comedy gore action of the first two movies, (“The first was a laugh all the way” – Zomblee) and goes for a more classical tragedy approach. ("Yeah... it goes for the emotional engagement with this one." - Rawshark). Ultimately, this does slow the movie down somewhat with convoluted baggage, which is a shame as when it really gets going it gets really gory, but that's mainly only at the failed experiment intro bit and the inevitable gory conclusion. (“Drill an arm for no reason at all.” – Zomblee.) Nice try, but give me manic action gore comedy any day.
“If we'd have left when you wanted to he'd never have made it to level 7!”
Zomblee Yeah, Jim’s right. Return of the Living Dead 3 is one of those zombie movies that, while respect must be given for trying an original take on the theme, just doesn’t cut it in the long run. It’s a great shame when there are obvious moments of blinding potential (e.g. the Riverman techno-zombie at the climax and the whole zombie-weapon concept in general) in what is otherwise a pretty lame excuse for a zombie movie. Reason? someone forgot to tell Yuzna that to have a successful zombie film, you must have zombies. And not just a few. I want loads of zombies in a movie called Return of the Living Dead 3. This is more of a teenage love story where the girl dies then continues as a walking, hungry deadhead who still loves her (very much alive) boyfriend. Quite a nice idea isn’t it? Well, yes, but the piece as a whole doesn’t quite hit the spot. It’s not helped much by the cheap-as-chips standard early 90’s synth music either, which made it feel more like a television film.
The film actually starts off quite well with the zombie scene in the military base and ends quite well with… the zombie scene in the military base. Most of what takes place in between is what I had a problem with. If Return of the Living Dead 3 was a sandwich I’d just eat the bread and bin the rest. It’s another disappointing case of showcasing potential then not following through with it.
Although the middle part of the picture is relatively weak, by far the most interesting aspect was Mindy’s insatiable need to cut herself, and this really came across as a reference to the topical issue of self-harm. Instead of transferring mental torment, it is the pain of death that she transfers by completely mutilating herself in the kind of way that her mother probably wouldn't approve of, yielding some impressively hideous results. A very disappointing entry in the series.
"Strap that thing down before it wakes up again!"
Rawshark Ok, so ROTLD 3 takes a different route to its two predecessors, but I for one am extremely glad they did. Sure, the first film is great fun in a cartoon kinda way, but by the second film the joke was beginning to wear thin, and the franchise was in danger of descending into a parody of itself. Thank god then, for Brain Yuzna, who injects some much-needed humanity into the proceedings for the third mix-up with the deadly chemical Trioxin. Ditching most of the jokes and silliness, Yuzna takes on a quite heartfelt journey of love and loss, with the addition of much zombie-munching.
Admittedly there’s a lot of twaddle here, which does ultimately bring the story down. The sub-plots involving local hoods and criminals don’t really propel the story forward and the addition of a tramp with an underground ‘palace’ pad (you can call me the River Man”) just distract from the main focus. Also (for me at least) when zombies are used as a bio-weapons plotline, they lose a lot of their fear factor – it’s no longer a naturally apocalyptic thing - and in this film many bio-weapons ideas such as the Exo-skeletons were severly underused.
But the main focus in ROTLD 3 is surely Melinda Clarke as Julie and her transition from punk-chick to a fully fledged fetishist's dream (this film came out at the height of the fashion interest in tattooing and piercing). She increasingly uses self-inflicted pain to push her hunger away and stop her desire to eat her boyfriend’s brains, and in doing so, convincingly portrays every emotion from ecstasy to desparation in a phenomenal 'b' movie turn.
Not as good as the original, but better than Part 2, ROTLD 3 features some great gore moments (the shopkeeper zombie with half his skull missing and the spinal chord zombie are just two of the highlights), a brave plot and a sexy zombie who pushes lots of sharp things into her skin.
“Kinky. Nice touch. You look like my kind of bitch.”
Director Brian Yuzna
Cast Kent McCord
James T. Callahan
J. Trevor Edmond
Runtime 97 mins
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Conclusion Necronomicon emerges victorious at the end of the night, with an average score of 3.5 out of five. If you like compendiums horrors, it's well worth a hunt (more Creepshow than Creepshow 2), although it has not yet been released on DVD in Region 1 or 2, so you may have to keep checking those satellite movie channels and e-bay auctions.
Return of the Living Dead Part 3 received a mixed response, with Zomblee perhaps summing it up the best - "If ROTLD 3 was a sandwich, I’d just eat the bread and bin the rest." Maybe not the best filling for a zombie flick then, but you have to admit, Yuzna does use pretty good bread.