Insert a very dramatic, ominous organ because welcome to Monstrous Babes, a semi-regular series of retrospectives and reviews on films where the main romance is centered around a human and a monster. “Monster” is going to be a totally subjective term for this series and I’m mostly going to be writing about movies that set off the good ol’ brainworms. Today, you’ll be reading me slowly pull out my hair trying to explain Return of The Living Dead 3!
Can I start off by saying I played myself?
Yeah, I played myself big time with this one.
Welcome readers to the Struggle Bus edition of Monstrous Babes where I somehow scheduled two meaty as hell movies before reviewing this so strap in for a considerable amount of yelling in the void because the romance of this movie is BEFUDDLING.
Unlike the previous editions of MB, I do not have a considerable backstory with Brian Yuzna’s Return of the Living Dead 3 nor am I familiar with its parent franchise of the same name. From cursory research and a passing knowledge of the zombie genre as a whole, Return of the Living Dead was a refreshing presence in a sea of zombie movies following the George A. Romero formula, but its third entry is strange even by franchise standards.
Return of the Living Dead 3 is not so much a traditional zombie outbreak movie, but a teen romance melodrama that happens to have zombies in the background. If this sounds like a refreshing take on romantic horror movies, I am here to crush your dreams, my friends, because this movie is a bore to get through and its main couple is just… To break my own authorial voice for my own voice: Whew, THE GHETTO.
Now that we’ve got that out the way, let me explain: Our main couple is dressed in the finest grunge cosplay that the production crew could find with cardboard cutout personalities to match. Our starcross’d but not really lovers are Julie and Curt, a sentient Sexy Lamp and a Kurt Cobain cosplayer whose daddy is on the team to turn zombies into weapons of war for the US Military. There is actually a much interesting subplot in the background of this film, but we are stuck with Romeo and Undead Against Her Will Juliet for most of this.
If I sound harsher on this film, it’s because it ironically flies into the face of the philosophy I created for this column: the relationship does not actively integrate or use the monster lover trope in an interesting way, but more importantly, the monster does not wish to be a monster! It also commits one of the biggest sins when it comes to writing a romance: trying to make the audience care about two cardboard cutouts with no prior scenes showing a substantial relationship OR a glimpse into an alleged troubled home life! There are many drive by references to Julie’s mom and how she won’t miss her if she runs away with Curt, but we never see anyone even mildly related to Julie even though we see the rocky relationship between Curt and his father.
Superficially, their relationship is based on this very weird foundation that teenage love and/or horniness is everlasting and concrete as Curt yells at his father that he’s going to run away with Julie and become a drummer in….They never mention where in the hell they were actually going. However, this concept takes a literal turn with Curt holding Julie’s freshly dead body and wailing about how she would never leave him to which our boy hero has the genius idea of reviving his one true love with a zombie reanimation serum. It’s like they understand that Romeo and Juliet’s deaths were a result of a petty, bloody feud that did not allow for even such fraught issues like two teenagers wanting to date/bang to happen, but they had the writing prowess of a Cheeto so we get Hot Doc Marten Booted Ginger Girl Comes Back to Life.
Curt is the definition of a pile of wet paper towels, but even in his uselessness, his still needs to be talked about because he is Monstrous Babes’ first case of the human lover creating their monster so let’s talk about control and the ethics of bringing someone back to life! Our scale is as follows: We have the Selfless Necromancy with Edward Elric, the Maybe Not Necromancy with Victor Frankenstein, and the You Tried But You Brought Back a Hell Beast Necromancy of Louis Creed!
Curt resides in right smack dab in the middle of Victor and Louis because he clearly saw how violent the reanimated zombie war machines reacted, but he can’t live without his Doc Marten booted queen. Julie’s resurrection is ROUGH to say the least. Despite me rolling my eyes at the majority of the film, it is rough seeing a girl realize that she’s actually dead, but she’s only been brought back for the benefit of her boyfriend.
After Julie is resurrected, the movie becomes a game of keep away/cat and mouse with Curt’s father hunting them down to contain any zombies Julie has created and a very stereotypical Mexican gang because this movie is set in Southern California so we gotta put in evil brown people! As Julie’s hunger for flesh and blood grows, the more Curt does not comprehend that he has literally robbed her of her agency and is completely unaware of her actions. In a better version of this film, her turning into a zombie and losing her humanity could have served as a critical moment of realization for Curt as he simply brought her back to life out of selfishness not selflessness. However, Teenage Love is Eternal in this film!
So. This is a column about the horniness of monsters and why we are attracted to such monsters, right? Boy, as a certified Big Fan of Girls, Julie’s transformation into monsterhood is simultaneously the most incomprehensible horny makeovers in film and one of the most striking images of the whole film. Despite everyone being in the house more or less these days, I did not want to show her full transformation because it is incomprehensibly horny and whoever designed that had a big fetish for nipple piercings on girls in chokers. However, Julie’s pain and bloodlust transformation brings a sort of crossroads for this column that needs to be addressed: female monsters are really only monstrous in name only, but their designs are still titillating to the Male Gaze.
Arguably, one could argue that I have been primarily been viewing films under a Female Gaze perspective, but seeing as though Female Gaze simply can be boiled down to “shirtless attractive male media figure being sexy” or “movie/TV show where man is almost slavishly devoted to you,” the Female Gaze can be a fraught concept while the Male Gaze impacts all aspects of our media and life as a whole. It even impacts monster girls where their monsterhood can be simply a few foreign objects strung together in her body or some fangs. Not exactly out of the neighborhood of the Bride of Frankenstein but not quite Mileena!
Our sweet Julie is very much a sexy half-zombie lady who is absolutely dependent on the man responsible for her resurrection, but she is never given a sliver of agency outside of Curt. She does not fight back, any attempt of her trying to end her life is thwarted by her immortality, and she gladly/reluctantly dies in a fire with her new creator because he says it is where they “belong.” She exists in a conundrum: she is beautiful, she is monstrous, but she is completely meek and powerless in an existence she did not choose to live.
Wow, this was a very dower analysis to a rather B-movie affair! Alas, our Headass Romeo and his Reluctant Juliet end their story by Curt avoiding responsibility and unironically becoming the This is Fine dog with Julie. A tale that would not have happened if a teenage boy accepted responsibility! If you were looking for more high school monster lover content, I have cursed myself by having our next column be Catherine Hardwicke’s Twilight! Be very prepared for me to talk about how the soundtracks for those train wrecks totally slapped and me unpacking how that franchise is the reason you have me!