By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Town of dead people.
Arletty (Marianna Hill) travels to the seaside town of Point Dume, California to visit her father (Royal Dano) who is a popular artist there. When she arrives she finds his home abandoned and reads over his journals that he left in which he describes frightening things that have occurred to him in the days leading up. She then meets Thom (Michael Greer) and his two lady lovers, Toni (Joy Bang) and Laura (Anitra Ford). He too is searching for her father while also interviewing residents of the town about the strange events that have been happening and documenting them on tape. The four begin having weird encounters themselves as at night the residents of the town take-on a zombie-like existence where they stare at the moon and show an unusual craving for blood and meat.
The film was shot in 1971 under the title of ‘The Second Coming’, but the investors pulled their money out of the project and it was never completed. In 1973 another producer bought the footage and edited it before releasing it to theaters under its current title. It was not an instant success and fell into obscurity until another distributor bought the print 5 years later and decided to re-release it under the title of ‘Return of the Living Dead’ in order to capitalize off of the George Romero franchise, which quickly got it sued.
Today the film has gained a strong legion of fans and seen as being a unique and moody masterpiece and while it does fall short on the story end more than makes up for it with its atmosphere. It was written and directed on a shoestring by the writing and directing team of Willard Huyck and his wife Gloria Katz. Their names are most connected with the notorious bomb Howard the Duck, and while their careers were certainly stigmatized because of that, which some feel was unfair, they’re now considered neglected talents after many of those same critics saw this one.
The film certainly has some very cool and memorable moments with the best one being Anitra Ford’s trip to Ralph’s supermarket, shot on-location, and her confrontation with the zombies and subsequent chase through the store. Another great moment is when Joy Bang goes to a movie theater, where co-director Gloria Katz has a cameo as the lady in the ticket window, and while the theater is near empty when she arrives it slowly fills-up with the zombies as she’s watching the movie.
The two female leads are terrific and help give the film a personality with each scene that they’re in. Ford is better known for being a longtime show model on ‘Price is Right’ while Bang had some brief, but memorable moments in a few other films during the early 70’s before retiring from show business in order to move to Minnesota to become a nurse.
Hill though isn’t as good. She also starred in Schizoid, which was reviewed here a few days ago and like in that movie she gets upstaged by her co-stars. I did find it interesting though that in one scene here she kills someone with a scissors since that was the major weapon of choice in the other movie. I did find it odd that in the credits here her first name is listed with only one ‘n’ while in the other movie it was listed with two, so I guess, since that movie was shot 9 years after this one, that as she aged she must of grown another ‘n’.
The veteran cast of male actors are excellent too. The aging Elisha Cook Jr. has an entertaining bit as a wide-eyed homeless man telling crazy stories. Charles Dierkop is fun as a terrorized gas station attendant and Royal Dano is diverting as the father who smears his face with blue paint. The only male actor that isn’t effective is Michael Greer, who was quite flashy when playing flaming gay characters like in The Gay Deceivers and Fortune and Men’s Eyes, but when he’s stuck doing a straight guy he’s deadly dull.
Unlike the rest of the movie the ending isn’t as effective and I didn’t think the sudden voice-over narration was necessary. We had gone the whole way without it, so entering it in at the last minute becomes jarring and disconcerting. There’s also no interesting final twist and the zombie theme is too similar to the George Romero films, ultimately making this one, despite the eerie touches, seem like a poor cousin to those.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: April 22, 1973
Runtime: 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Director: Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz
Studio: International Cine Film Corporation
Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Video