The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Dan O'Bannon

STARRINGClu Gulager - Burt
James Karen - Frank
Don Calfa - Ernie
Thom Mathews - Freddy
Beverly Randolph - Tina
Miguel A. Nunez - Spider
Linnea Quigley - Trash
Mark Venturini - Suicide

Year - 1985

Score - 4 Howls Outta 4

In 1968, there was this little low-budget movie probably no one's heard of called NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD by director George A. Romero. It seemed to quietly spark the zombie genre, relating the living corpses to social issues in the present day. Yes, it was more than a horror movie. It actually made you think! GASP...THE HORROR!! The movie was so successful, it spawned four other installments [which I hope to review sometime around Halloween time]. It also spawned parodies, either making fun of the zombie concept or just taking out the social commentary and installing fun. In 1985, Dan O'Bannon [who collaborated on NOTLD] decided to make a...branch...of that franchise and turning it into a comedy to make it more fan-friendly. Thus, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD was born.

At Uneeda Medical Supplies [motto: You need it, we got it!], Freddy (played by the underappreciated Thom Mathews aka Tommy from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 6: JASON LIVES) starts his first day on the job with his supervisor Frank (played by the hilarious James Karen). Frank shows Freddy around and they begin talking about NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, stating it was based on a true story [obviously drugs and alcohol are allowed on the job, it seems...]. This leads them to head into the basement to admire an army container with a corpse inside. Frank, being so freakin' intelligent, decides to mess with the container, which leads to poison gas taking over the entire building. As you can guess, this re-animates the dead people and animals inside the building. Frank calls his boss, Burt (Clu Gulager) to help them with his mess, which leads to funny sequences where they try to get rid of the living dead and realizing that NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD lied when it claimed hurting the brain stops the dead. This leads to Burt, Frank, and Freddy to go to the coroners building nearby to get help from his best friend Ernie (Don Calfa) to cremate the dead. Get it? Burt and Ernie...best friends? I don't make this stuff up, people. Anyway, they cremate some of the dead, unknowingly letting the poison gas out into the atmosphere. Sigh...when will people learn?

While this is going on, we meet a group of punk wannabes on their way to meet Freddy. Led by Suicide (Mark Venturini), Spider (JUWANNA MAN's Miguel A. Nunez Jr.), Chuck (John Philbin), Casey (Jewel Shepard), Trash (beautifully played by B-Movie scream queen Linnea Quigley), and Freddy's valley girl girlfriend Tina (Beverly Randolph) all decide to crash a cementary while waiting for Freddy to finish his shift. They party until the poison gas drops acid rain on them, bringing the dead to life. Of course, the zombies want to eat brains, while the humans want to keep them for obvious reasons. A battle of life and death begins at that point, where some survive and some die in their battle against the zombies. After a call to the military for help, the situation is resolved. And I do mean RESOLVED.

I honestly had never seen this film until I bought the $10 DVD [a deal if you ask me] several years ago. I've seen the sequel and thought...why not? It's worth a watch I guess. Who knew this would become one of my favorite movies ever! It's obviously inspired by the NOTLD series, taking their mythology and turning it on its ass. It never takes itself seriously and the acting is B-level, yet that's the appeal of the film. It's unrealistic horror mixed with dark humor...an unbeatable combination when done right. And this movie does it more than right.

The zombies in Romero's films are unthinking survival machines, slowly shuffling around as shadows of their former selves. They only kill because that's all they really know how to do really, and that makes you feel kinda sorry for them. But this film, the zombies are quick, smart, grotesque, and evil. They make it known that they don't just want to eat human flesh--- they want to eat your damn brains and will do anything to get them just to take the pain of being dead away. There's no social commentary here. This is a flat-out horror movie where people will die in the most disgusting ways possible.

I love the make-up in this movie. The actors playing zombies really look messed up and decayed. I love the zombie that escapes the army container. He not only threatens to eat your brains, but he's slimy and almost looks like he's melting. You could tell the zombie actors were having a lot of fun, and you have fun with them.

The human actors in this movie were also excellent. Thom Mathews always brings the funny as the straight-man to James Karen's neurotic and wimpy Frank. Tell me you didn't laugh every time Frank cried with fear and I'll tell you that you need a funny bone shoved up your ass. Clu Gulager and Don Calfa as Burt and Ernie were the serious actors of the film, and do it surprisingly well in midst of all the chaos that happens to their characters and to those around them. They're the heroes of the film and you root for them to succeed. As for the punk characters, all of them bring something to the table [more than others]. Beverly Randolph's Tina was pretty much the good girl/damsel-in-distress who pretty much screamed at everything and said "fudge" instead of the actual F-word. If she wasn't so cute, I would have wanted her eaten by a zombie. Miguel A. Nunez's Spider was pretty much the real leader of the punk group and did a good job kicking ass and being tough. Mark Venturini's Suicide cracked me up, as he took his whole lifestyle seriously and pretty much insulted anyone who was in his way.

But my favorite character of the entire movie was definitely Linnea Quigley's Trash. Oooh Trash...her love for spooky things and her obsession with dying at the hands of dirty old men ripping her clothes off and eating her alive made my heart beat a little harder. Plus, who can complain when she actually gets naked and dances on a tombstone to SSQ's "Tonight (We'll Make Love Until We Die)? It's pure camp, yet you can't take your eyes off of her. You enjoy every moment she's on the screen, especially after her obsession comes true [I love it when dreams come true] and becomes a visible presence among the zombies. You gotta see her chew on someone - her mouth can probably fit like 12... um, cigarettes at once. Yeah...that's what I wanted to say.
Speaking of SSQ, the entire soundtrack really elevates this movie to a higher level of entertainment. All punk songs, you really get into the action once the music blasts on the screen.

I absolutely loved the part where this skeleton suddenly busts out from underground [still like to know how he or she did that without clawing his/her way through since he/she was just bones] and you hear "DO YOU WANNA PARTY!!!" Not only is that statement for the zombies, but it makes you wanna party with them. I would definitely buy this soundtrack if you find it. It's pure 80s cheese and I love it!

THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is an awesome zombie feature. The movie has clever zombies, funny characters, a witty screenplay, and the energy and style that most films wished they had from start to finish. This is pure 80s horror...which makes it great harmless entertainment for any horror fan. Even if you're not a horror fan, I think you'd love this movie and want it in your collection. I highly recommend this movie for everyone. Perfect zombie fun.

1 comment:

  1. I looooooove this flick, its so damn funny & terrifying at the same time!


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