Welcome to Script to Pieces, a recurring feature at Wicked Horror where we look at the best, most interesting and at times most unbelievable horror movies that never happened. Sometimes these will be productions that never came together at all, other times, they will be original incarnations that were completely different from what we wound up with. Each should be fascinating in its own way, because the stories of movies that never see the light of day can sometimes be even more interesting than the stories of those that do.
I’ve made it no secret that I’m a big fan of Return of the Living Dead 3. After Return of the Living Dead 2 tried to retread the first through the lens of a kids movie, the third winds up being one of the most pleasantly surprising sequels out there. It’s heartfelt, genuinely romantic, but it deals with pretty heightened emotions as realistically as possible. While the film itself is campy and definitely low budget, the love at the center of it is shockingly grounded.
It’s also punk rock in the way that the original was. Whereas the first catered to the punk nihilism of the ‘80s, Return of the Living Dead 3 was doing the very same for the body mod culture of the ‘90s. Julie Walker was one of the most iconic zombies to come along in a very long time. She was such a striking image in the video store that even now, when I talk to people who haven’t even seen the movie, they’ll remember her.
It’s also fairly well known that the fourth and fifth Return of the Living Dead movies turned out pretty terribly. They were produced incredibly cheaply in Romania for the Sci-Fi Channel and premiered on the same night. I remember catching a glimpse of the premiere, just being astonished that two sequels in a single franchise would premiere at the exact same time.
Because of that, it’s even more disappointing to learn what we could have had instead. It turns out that after completing Return of the Living Dead 3, Yuzna actually wrote a three-page treatment for Return of the Living Dead 4, titled Hell Mary.
According to the description he gives in The Complete History of Return of the Living Dead, Yuzna says, “At one point, for some reason, I thought there was interest in making another sequel and I thought of Hell Mary. I can’t remember too many specifics but I do know that I have a three-page outline somewhere in my files.
“The set-up had something to do with runaway kids in an underground Goth club in Hollywood, who hear about the now mythic romantic story of ‘Curt and Julie’ and the rumor of a group of disaffected teens living behind the barriers of the city, which the military has sealed off to contain the rampaging living-dead pandemic. Once inside the apocalyptic downtown, they find the group headed by a girl called Hell Mary—cruel, merciless and sexy—who has learned to live with the pain of being dead.”
While it would have been great to see Julie herself return in that role—after all, we don’t actually see her burn in that fire—the sequel sounds nonetheless interesting. There are some strong ideas in it that feel like obvious extensions of the story Yuzna told in Part 3. It’s hard to believe Hell Mary wouldn’t have been better than what we got.
As for what kept this sequel for happening, well, that one’s a little more straightforward than usual: they weren’t interested. At that point, there were no plans to ever make another Return of the Living Dead movie. Still, when the rights shifted and it came time to do a fourth, it would have been better for everyone if instead of splitting what little money they had into two entire features, they should have combined that budget into one sequel, and it should have been Hell Mary.
In an Italian interview in the mid-2000s, Yuzna addressed the project again saying, “Since it does not require a direct sequel, the project can still be made. However, currently the zombie genre is a bit inflated.”
It sounds pretty certain that we’ll never actually get to see Hell Mary take form, but it would be kind of by some miracle Yuzna came back to rejuvenate the franchise.