Tag Archives: Melinda Clarke

The Shakespearean Romance of ‘Return of the Living Dead III’

According to the history books, the first performance of William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was in 1597. Since then, the story has been retold countless times, but none bloodier than Return of the Living Dead III. Though viewed by many as a camp zombie movie romp, there is a lot of heart hidden within. In fact, Return of the Living Dead III is arguably one of the most romantic stories in horror. Furthermore, Brian Yuzna’s 1993 film is one of the best reinterpretations of Shakespeare’s work. 

When thinking about Return of the Living Dead III, romance will be the furthest thing from most viewers’ minds, and yet there is no denying that it is a love story. Written by John Penney, the third film in the Return of the Living Dead series focuses on couple Curt (J. Trevor Edmund) and Julie (Melinda Clarke). Return of the Living Dead III follows the sweethearts as they find their love tested when Julie develops a newfound hunger, one only sated by human flesh (and preferably brains). It is an emotional rollercoaster, and like Romeo and Juliet, there is no happy outcome for the pair. 

Whilst Curt and Julie are not enemies like the Montagues and Capulets, there remains hostility around the couple. This is brought on not by warring families or blood feuds but by class divides. Julie is introduced first, partying with friends on the beach. Like them, she is clad in a leather jacket and alternative punk-rock clothing. Her appearance immediately screams anti-establishment – and perhaps a little financially challenged. As Curt arrives atop his motorcycle, Julie’s friend Mindy pokes fun at him, referring to him as “The Lone Ranger.” She clearly views him as something of a joke and rolls her eyes as Julie leaves with him. 

While Julie’s friends tolerate Curt, Curt’s father, Colonel John Reynolds (Kent McCord), views Julie as inferior. She is the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, her station making her lesser in his eyes. As a Colonel, he is able to provide his family with a comfortable middle-class existence, and he views Julie as someone who will drag his son down to her basic level. His thoughts are made clear when he finds Curt and Julie alone in his house. Without even acknowledging Julie, he demands to speak with Curt. As he shares the news of their imminent relocation, his true feelings are revealed with a dig at Julie – “getting you away from that girl would be the best thing that ever happened to you!”

At odds with his dad, Curt dotes on Julie. But it is his willingness to please her that ultimately seals their fate. Julie is the one that pushes for them to sneak into Colonel Reynolds’ military facility. Curt reluctantly agrees but is far more nervous than Julie. Her behavior is that of a giddy and excitable child. Even when faced with a dead body, Julie is almost gleeful. Meanwhile, Curt is uncomfortable and repulsed. The two contrasting reactions compound their differences, infusing them with an odd-couple quality. This only makes them more endearing – love, it seems, conquers all.

It is their intense lust for one another that is their undoing. Julie’s inability to keep her hands off Curt causes a fatal collision that leaves her dead. In Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo returns from exile and sees Juliet ‘dead’, he believes that is her end. Romeo’s only option is to join his bride. Here, Curt has the upper hand over his Montague counterpart and opts to resurrect Julie with a little Trioxin – the military’s experimental reanimation drug.

Reanimating a loved one is one of the oldest tricks in the genre handbook, and here Curt follows the footsteps of the infamous Louis Creed. Over the course of Pet Sematary, Louis ‘brings back’ his family pet, toddler, and wife. Unfortunately, they came back ‘changed,’ and Curt eventually realizes that Julie has returned not entirely whole. Unlike in Pet Sematary – where Church, Gage and Rachel Creed’s returns are immediately signposted as different and dangerous – it takes longer for Julie to reveal her new tastes. Whilst all the other subjects to be experimented on with Trioxin have been mindless monsters, Julie has retained at least a shard of her humanity. Her bond with Curt is used to explain the phenomena as Colonel Reynolds is told, “It seems that his girlfriend has been brought back completely intact. And obviously, there was a very strong connection between them.”

They say that love is blind, but Return of the Living Dead III pushes that statement to the limit. Julie’s changes include a hunger for human flesh, a behavior that does not faze Curt. As Julie attacks a gang member and quickly consumes the brains of a shop owner, Curt appears only mildly concerned and distressed. Julie’s new fondness for self-harm also fails to register for Curt. People often overlook red flags in relationships, but a loved one feasting on others should be harder to ignore. Curt remains in denial and interacts with Julie exactly as before, right down to consummating their new union. The only wavering demonstrated by Curt comes after Julie is discovered eating Riverman (Basil Wallace). 

Just as Romeo and Juliet had Friar Lawrence, Julie and Curt have Riverman there to help them. In Romeo & Juliet, the Friar helps the young couple get married and sets in motion the plan for them to be together. Although Riverman is less hands-on with Curt and Julie in that regard, he does undertake the role of a guardian angel. He shelters the pair when they flee and later puts his life on the line for them. Even in the agony of waking death during the film’s climax, Riverman is there to assist the pair one last time. 

Sadly, like Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, Curt and Julie meet a tragic fate. Colonel Reynolds eventually captures Julie, and the pair is again wrenched apart. An undefined amount of time later, Curt is granted permission to see Julie again. The Julie he is confronted with is a shadow of her former self. Her punk-rock spirit is lost, and she is seen cowering in a cell. Her behavior continues to be in stark contrast to the other experiments, who manically move around their confinements, screaming. As well as proving her to be more ‘civilized,’ Julie’s withdrawn demeanor can be likened to suffering from a broken heart. The image saddens Curt and reveals his own heartache, teasing that their love story is not over yet. 

Unlike some others who fall in love with a monster, Curt refuses to leave Julie behind. When he hears the fate that awaits her – life as a biomechanical weapon – he cannot abide it. Once more, Curt races to Julie’s rescue, but this time their luck has run out. Although Curt breaks Julie out, amid the chaos of a full facility breach, he is bitten himself. Realizing his fate, Curt escorts Julie to the furnace. 

Unable to exist in a world that doesn’t understand their love, they, like Romeo and Juliet, decide to take their own lives. They step hand-in-hand into the furnace. As the flames rise and the inferno absorbs them, they kiss and cling to one another. The final haunting image of Return of the Living Dead III is that of the two perishing in an eternal lover’s embrace. This bittersweet end sobers the legacy of the series and proves that love always endures.