There is a point when a movie becomes a full-bore franchise, around the second or maybe third sequel. In a way, this elevates a movie, showing that it has stood the test of time. And in another, it's a stomach-churning sort of affair. Usually a movie's inexorable slide downhill is when it finally reaches that great metaphorical tenure of franchising. Look at Hellraiser, for crying out loud. How many sequels were in that misery train and was a one of them any good? Not really.
Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave is, sadly, going the way of Hellraiser. Where the original was, ironically, full of life and wit, the latest in the franchise just can't keep up. Though bits and pieces of that old vibrant impact and charm show through, that old undead life just isn't there any more. This time around, we're introduced once again to good old Trioxin-5, the gas / chemical substance that turns the dead into the walking, brain-hungry undead. Only this time, one of those ubiquitous canisters has found its way into the hands of some enterprising college students. And though they disagree about what to do with their newfound prize, eventually, the faction that wants to profit from their discovery wins out by sheer duplicity. Trioxin-5, you see, has an incredibly similar chemical composition to that most famous of party drugs, Ecstacy. And so, the students manufacture their own brand of superecstacy and go all the way down from "X" to "Z".
And you can just about imagine what will happen once, say, five hundred odd hits of Z start wending their bloodthirsty way through a local college campus. I really wanted to like this movie. And frankly, they actually did a fair job of giving me something to work with. Trioxin as party drug, for example. Nothing gives an old idea a metaphorical shot in the arm like some never-before-done elements. Additions like the zombie rats (I'm not kidding!) and the hitchhiking zombie (STILL not kidding!) throw some extra chuckles in for flavor.
But for every one reason they gave me to like the movie, they seemed bound and determined to give me at least two to dislike it. Lousy effects, for example--a guitar decapitation on a recently reanimated zombie? Either this brings new meaning to guitar as axe or they're just desperate. Some zombies shamble and some run. Head shots are now an acceptible way to smoke a zombie, something that the Return of the Living Dead franchise has never done before. Granted, this is how it should have been all along but I still can't help but fault them for busting their own continuity wide open.
Even worse is how little zombie action there is. In a movie about zombies, it's really not a great move to concentrate most of your zombie action in the last twenty minutes. The rest of the movie is buildup, exposition, and some minor zombie skirmishes. You never see a group larger than eight zombies until the end, and I believe the actual largest group was four.
Which brings me to the ending. Lots of violence and zombies in here, including the always freaky zombies in strobe light, and one clever twist that possibly sets up yet another sequel. Which, frankly, leaves me colder than the zombie cast.
The special features are rather sparse, including only English and Spanish subtitles along with trailers for Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave, the After Dark Horrorfest, Undead, Ed Gein and Hostel: Part II.
All in all, Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave leaves me rather sad. It tried--it really did!--to be a worthy successor to an amusing and interesting zombie movie, but in the end, it just didn't have the life the original had in it.