This is why I love horror movies. Ladies and gentlemen, Return of the Living Dead 3 is a magnificent cinematic achievement and up there in my list of all-time favourites, with Disney's The Little Mermaid and the novels of Jane Austen. It's more than just a horror film, though it works fine on that level too. Like Ginger Snaps, it's a very human story that you couldn't tell without the horror trappings.
It's a love story, though it's also the most exciting love story I've seen in a long time. But what makes it special is the obstacle separating Brian Yuzna's star-crossed lovers. Romeo and Juliet only had to deal with the Montagues and Capulets. Huh. Big deal. Curt (J. Trevor Edmond) and Julie (Mindy Clarke) must deal with the ramifications of becoming undead and wanting to eat human flesh! Okay, written out like that it's funny. But if you take this premise seriously then you can produce a damn fine story - and that's what Return of the Living Dead 3 does.
I could go on and on about this relationship. Julie's self-mutilation is hard to watch, even when more conventional gore has lost its impact after repeated viewings, but consider its emotional significance. Julie's shoving ironmongery through her flesh so she won't hurt the man she loves. Curt's devotion to his girlfriend drives him to lengths that in anyone else would be considered suicidal. Even when he's in direct physical danger from her, he still strives to stick by her and protect her. (Incidentally, what must it be like to boink the dead?) They don't come across as anything more than the usually mutually absorbed teens at the beginning, especially with Julie's goth tendencies, but we're soon put right on that score.
The acting is great across the board, but I must single out Mindy Clarke for particular praise. Look at the scene where she's sticking a spike through her hand. The gore is gruesomely effective, yes, but it's only on-screen for a second or two. Despite what you'd think, that scene's impact is entirely down to Mindy's powerful performance. With the camera concentrating on her, she leaves you in absolutely no doubt about what's happening and what it means for her emotionally. You can watch this film right through, watching only her in great detail, and still be impressed. Check out her hungry sidelong glances when trying to resist her growing bloodlust. Damn, she's good! This is Mindy Clarke's movie and I want her babies.
Of course it doesn't hurt that she's incredibly cute. Return of the Living Dead 3 is a triumph on several levels, one of which is blatantly sexist. A friend who doesn't like horror movies watched this happily for her. Look at the DVD box cover! If you don't find body piercing sexy, this film will change your mind. Mindy also gets one of the all-time great movie entrances through That Door. That's so cool! Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees, you're yesterday's men. Step aside for Julie. I defy any heterosexual male to see her full metal jacket without falling in lust. Return of the Living Dead 3's tagline was "She's To Die For"... and boy, is she!
Apparently three years later Mindy turned down the part of Tatum Riley in Scream because she had no desire to be in another horror film after Return of the Living Dead 3. Damn. But we'll always have her in this, so fair play to the lady and all good luck with her future career.
But back to the movie! There's humour ("where are the nails?"). There's a scenery-chewing loony, River Man, who gets a lovely scene with his Good Deed Coin. I thought that was charming, as was the River Man himself in his own crazed way. Colourfully over-the-top characters like that always add something extra to a movie.
The production values do the film proud, never looking cheap (except perhaps at one point when Curt leans against a crate wall and it wobbles). Everything convinces, especially the gore and the undead. Note how many different zombie types are on display, from fresh recruits to slithering barrel-dwellers in all stages of decomposition. All look top-notch. All look disgusting. The gore shots are zestful and realistic enough to make this a fine horror movie even if one doesn't care for the love story angle.
The military feel military, never descending to the amateurishness of something like the Initiative in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season Four. Screw-ups happen, but the army guys are always efficient and direct. Admittedly their security is a bit of a joke, but: (a) perhaps they're trying to hide their activities with a low profile rather than a massive security presence, and (b) there's a line at the beginning about how budget cuts mean they don't have their own facility.
It's not a true tragedy by the strictest definition. I'll try to avoid spoilers, but our hero's final actions were basically decided by an accident (though the larger situation was very much a consequence of his direct intervention). Shakespeare would have the characters choosing their own fates instead of taking the choice out of their hands, but then again this is hardly a codpiece-slapping tights and gadzooks Shakespearian tragedy. All things considered, I think it was the right ending. Return of the Living Dead 3 is a kick-arse film that triumphs on all levels - as a love story, eye candy, thrilling zombie flick and probably more. It's brilliant. And Mindy Clarke rules.