Thursday, July 18, 2013

REVIEW: The Return of the Living Dead

The Return of the Living Dead
Director: Dan O'Bannon
Year 1985

The Return of the Living Dead is a horror comedy cult classic! I could leave it at that, but that wouldn't be much of a review, so allow me to explain. Drenched in 80's goodness and warped to the max, this outstanding zombie entry is absolutely entertaining. With its diverse and memorable cast and its penchant for grotesque zombie mayhem, The Return of the Living Dead brings us all the iconic archetypes of George Romero's dead infested world, yet turns it on its head by cranking up the comedy and playing up the fun. In grand fashion the film is a riot, which will have you rolling with laughter, while at the same time being sick to your stomach at the demented things that director Dan O'Bannon throws your way.

The film takes place after the events of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead and the government has hushed up their involvement in the incident, packing away containers of infected corpses in order to take back for experimentation. As luck would have it, or misfortune, one of the containers ends up being shipped to a medical supply warehouse where two bumbling workers, Frank and Freddy, accidentally release the deadly gas inside the canister, unleashing a potent chemical that re-animates the dead. As the town is quickly overrun by an army of walking corpses, the few remaining survivors must band together in order to survive the night.

The greatest asset that this film has going for itself is the tremendous cast of characters that litter its story. Engaging, interesting and hilarious, they all do their individual parts to bring this film to stark life. James Karen and Thom Mathews take on the roles of Frank and Freddy, the two numbskulls who end up unleashing the deadly gas responsible for turning Louisville, Kentucky into an undead feeding ground. These guys are fabulous together and their chemistry is just ridiculously potent, resulting in some unforgettable scenes and dialogue that will be tumbling around in your head years after viewing. The banter between the two is just astounding and they really introduce the movie off on the right foot.

From then on the cast just gets wilder and wilder as we are introduced to the pair's boss, a group of punk kids, and a mortician that is a little more than loopy. Clu Gulager plays the role of Burt, Frank and Freddy's boss, and he is just great as the older sarcastic character who turns out to be quite the zombie killer. He's kind of an asshole, but a loveable one, and his lines are classic. Don Calfa takes on the role of Ernie the mortician, and his quirky personality and baffled reactions to all that is going on around him are highly entertaining. As for the punks, the real standouts are Miguel A. Nunez Jr. as Spider, Mark Venturini as Suicide, and of course Linnea Quigley as the rarely clothed Trash. All in all, this ensemble cast is one for the record books.

On the comedic front the film opts to go for a really dark and morbid approach, specializing in over the top sequences that highlight how difficult it is to kill these breed of zombies, while allowing the undead themselves to get in on the fun. One particularly entertaining moment comes when a paramedic team is ambushed by a horde of walking corpses, resulting in one of the zombies radioing in to send more paramedics. This same gag is repeated in hilarious fashion after a squad of police cars is overtaken with the same tactic in mind. I'd have to say that one of the appealing aspects of this production is that it knows when to be silly, while still maintaining that horror focused atmosphere and edge.

As for the horror moments, they are abundant and sometimes rather unsettling in brutality. Blood explodes in wild sprays as zombies rip at flesh and tear at jugulars, all in grotesque grandeur, while the overall visual look of the film is drenched in macabre-filled imagery. It's actually hauntingly beautiful in parts, while it maintains that tongue and cheek attitude which permeates the production. The locations are equally creepy as most of the film takes place in a mortuary surrounded by a decrepit graveyard. The look and feel of the film is top notch and that goes a good distance in providing a serviceable backdrop for this literally crazy story to unfold in all its gory glory. Deservedly earning its classic and cult status, Dan O'Bannon's morbid masterpiece is a thing of demented beauty.

The Return of the Living Dead is one hell of an enjoyable zombie romp from beginning to end. Jam packed with memorable quotes and stupendous characters, the film relishes in its era, providing a distinct atmosphere that is just super-charged with 80's goodness. The combination of horror and comedy is balanced to perfection, and the over the top nature of the production is all the more potent when combined with the larger than life characters that inhabit its world.

For me the real glue that holds everything together is the ensemble cast and the roles they bring to the table. Down the line, they all establish their characters as believable, even if a good majority of them are greatly exaggerated. James Karen and Thom Mathews are especially guilty of indulging in the over acting department, but to me that extra added camp value of their performances help to establish the wacky nature of this film world. It's exceptionally thrilling to see both actors riff off of each other and their interactions are absolutely sublime once the shit hits the fan and the zombies are unleashed. Really all you need to know is that The Return of the Living Dead is a whole hell of a lot of fun and isn't that all that matters when watching a horror comedy. If this gem has somehow passed you by, make it a priority to watch this flick as soon as possible. You have no idea how much fun you are missing out on. The Return of the Living Dead is.....

What a big goof!

Peek a boo!

You think this is a costume? It's a way of life!

You better pull my finger if you like this job! Like this JOB?!?!?!

Why can't I work at a place as cool as this.

Hello there! Everyone enjoying the show?

Thank the shirtless gods for Trash!

Anyone have a wet-wipe?

It's getting a little crowded at this peep show.

When hugs go bad..... Really BAD!

Well you're as cute as a button.

I'm the same exact way when something gets in my contacts.

Go ahead and pray to your fire gods Frank.

Send more police.

I'm gonna knock your block off shit demon!

Ah shit! There goes the neighborhood!


  1. It really is too bad that the series took such a horrific nosedive after the first. Likely because of O'Bannon's complete non involvement with any of them.

  2. I agree that the rest of the series didn't live up to the first, but I still find enjoyment out of the rest... well parts two and three at least. O'Bannon definitely spread some magic on this one. Classic!