The Army are transporting a collection of drums containing poisonous chemicals across the country so they may be disposed of correctly, but someone hasn't harnessed them correctly and after going over a bump on a bridge near a Californian smalltown a few fall off the back of the truck. One drum rolls down an embankment and is hidden from view... until the next day, when young Jesse (Michael Kenworthy) finds himself being reluctantly inducted into a gang of two bullies led by Billy (Thor Van Lingen) whose clubhouse is a mausoleum. It is they who find the drum - and they who open it...
And guess what happens when the gas escapes? If you've seen the original Return of the Living Dead then its first sequel would hold no surprises, but it was such a success that it was inevitable this follow-up would be put into production. It was scripted and written by Ken Wiederhorn, who had come up with a more novel take on the zombie genre with Shock Waves around ten years before, but this time it was strictly business as usual. In fact, Part II appeared to have been made with kids in mind with its youthful protagonist saving the day.
Not to mention a serious broadening of the humour to make it more like simple slapstick that kids would enjoy - even the gore wasn't particularly strong, and relied on jokey punchlines. Two of the stars of the first instalment reappeared in this one, but played different characters (understandably when you recall what happened to them before), so James Karen and Thom Mathews once more stepped bravely up to be terrorised, this time as grave robbers who make a living stealing skulls from cemeteries and selling them on to collectors.
Of course, they are in the graveyard when the gas escapes and awakens the dead, but as this is being played for laughs what Weiderhorn seems to have been most influenced by is Michael Jackson's Thriller video - there's even a Jackson impersonator popping up at the end for a cheap gag. Not that this is anything like as funny as, say, Lenny Henry's comedy sketch on TV about the same time, which nailed the zombie humour in a neat five minutes or so and would be better recommended to connoisseurs of such things than Return of the Living Dead Part II.
The biggest mistake is making the cast wail and scream for practically the whole film once the undead begin their assault, whether it's a more accurate portrayal of how people would react to the situation or not it doesn't half punish the ears with the near-constant crying and whining. Only a few times does something approaching an interesting idea arise, such as when one girl agrees to have her brains eaten by her now-zombie boyfriend because she loves him, or when one zombie attempts to persuade the ambulance-driving survivors to return to the hospital only to be caught out when he claims the president is Harry S. Truman. But mainly this is uninspired, a pale shadow not only of the first film but of the George A. Romero films which it takes its cue from. Not bad for eighties horror fans wanting a quick fix, but no better than that. Music by J. Peter Robinson.