The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Louisville, Kentucky, Fourth of July Weekend. Freddy (Thom Mathews) is the new guy at a medical storage facility run by hardass Burt (Clu Gulager). All things considered, it's a surprisingly boring job, just looking over skeletons, split dogs, and keeping many, many inventory forms. It isn't until his co-worker Frank (James Karen) brings up one of the place's dark secrets that Freddy's interest perks. You see, as it turns out Night of the Living Dead was based on a true story, where a government chemical spill resulted in the reanimation of several dead bodies who went on a rampage, and as things may have it several of the bodies from the attack are kept in sealed army drums underneath the storage facility. Surely enough, the two men go down there, and in an effort to prove how sturdy the containers are, Frank kicks one and accidentally opens it up. On the other side of town, a group of punk rock blaring teens walks about looking for a party. Friends of Freddy, they want to wait until he gets off work because he knows all the good places to party, so until then they naturally decide to party in a nearby cemetery.

    Tagline: They're Back From The Grave and Ready To Party!

    Directing:
    • Dan O'Bannon

    Writing:
    • Dan O'Bannon
    • John A. Russo

Release Date: 1985-08-16
  • Country: US
  • Language: Italiano | English
  • Runtime: 91
  • Budget: $4,000,000
  • Revenue: $14,237,000

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Clu Gulager

Burt Wilson

Don Calfa

Ernie Kaltenbrunner

Miguel A. Núñez, Jr.

Spider (as Miguel Nunez)

Jonathan Terry

Colonel Glover

Cathleen Cordell

Colonel's Wife

Drew Deighan

Paramedic #1

James Dalesandro

Paramedic #2
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  • There were two major zombie films released in 1985. One was a drama directed by father of the modern horror genre George A. Romero, the other a comedy by the guy who wrote Alien. Which one do you think did better? Yup, you guessed it, the comedy. The Return of the Living Dead seemed to have everything against it, breaking the genre rules, a surprising lack of gore in the day of splatterfests and a comedic tone that had little similarity to any similar films. Perhaps it's differences from all other genre films of the time are what make it on par, if not better than some of Romero's work.

    The Acting
    You don't go into a zombie movie (unless it's directed by Romero) expecting brilliant acting, and The Return of the Living Dead acts on this in spades. While no one is truly out and out bad with their acting, this isn't exactly Shakespeare territory people. Then again, whoever said it needed to be? This movie is just all sorts of fun , an art form that has been lost in recent times. Nobody cares if the actors aren't the greatest in the world, they're having fun, and because of that we're having fun.

    That being said, there are some rather fine performances scattered about throughout. Thom Mathews proves why he became an 80's horror staple with a great performance of a teen slowly turning into a zombie (who just so happens to want to chow down on his girlfriend's brain.) Miguel A. Nuñez Jr. plays a bit more than the average tough black guy, adding in his own charm and style to what otherwise would have been a pretty standard part. However, if there is one man who owns every minute he's on screen, it is without a doubt James Karen. A veteran character actor who's been in movies longer than most of us have been alive, he offers a hilarious performance as the bumbling medical technician who accidentally unleashes the toxic gas. He's one of the few movie characters who actually manages to make bitching and moaning funnier than hell, and if that isn't a feat in and of itself, I don't know what is. And if acting isn't your thing, I'd like to point out the fact that Linnea Quigley, a.k.a. Trash, spends about 90% of the movie buck naked. Even when she's dead. And she makes a pretty hot zombie.

    The Directing
    In watching The Return of the Living Dead, you would never expect the man behind the scenes to be the guy who wrote Alien, a.k.a. one of the scariest movies of all time, but lo and behold Dan O'Bannon does know how to lighten things up a bit, and by a bit I mean a lot. The Return of the Living Dead has a funny, almost carefree attitude about zombies, and O'Bannon exploits that to the fullest. No joke falls flat, the punk rock themes work brilliantly, and the pacing, with the exception of some opening scenes, is extremely tight. Couple that with the fact that it's rather clear most everyone was having fun on the shoot, and I gotta say O'Bannon seems to have done his job nicely.

    Special Effects
    The zombies of The Return of the Living Dead have a look unique to them among zombies, as unlike most films whose zombies look like cartoons because they had a poor budget or lousy makeup effects crew, the crew behind Return actually wanted their zombies to look like cartoons. Hearkening back to the days of the old EC Comics, these zombies have a particularly rotted look familiar to old images that used to cover Tales From the Crypt and similar periodicals. These aren't people, these weren't your next door neighbors, these are zombies through and through. These are folks who dug themselves out of the ground looking for brains pure and simple, and they're properly corroded and mucked up rather nicely. Standout efforts come in with the amazingly executed Tar Man (more on him later) and the half-woman corpse, a skeletal zombie broken in half and tied to a table in one of the most unique interrogations in film history. Some of these things you just have to see to believe.

    The Gore
    However, when it comes to gore I must admit that The Return of the Living Dead seems to be one of the least gory zombie movies you'll fine. I mean, don't get me wrong, there is more than plenty gore with brains being chowed down upon left and right and pretty much everyone and their mother getting eaten, but for a zombie movie with a pedigree such as this you'd expect a bit more. It's true, much of this film's style comes from its writing rather than its shock effects (a stark contrast to most similar 80's fare), but there's a time and place for everything and Return could have used a little bit more of the red stuff, but that's just one humble reviewer's opinion.

    Wildcard Category: The Zombies
    I have to give Return of the Living Dead credit, in a world where most zombie movies tended to follow the rules so brilliantly set forth by George A. Romero, this one decided to go ahead and forge its own. Head shots no longer mean anything, zombies only want to eat your brains, and instead of being slow, shambling corpses, they're fast, smart, and wiseasses. After raiding an ambulance, they call on the radio and ask for more paramedics. A zombified teen begs his girlfriend to let him eat her brains.

    must also give credit for coming up with a zombie origin story that has nothing to do with the supernatural. These zombies come from a chemical defoliant (Trioxin 245) that the government created to destroy dope crops that had a side effect of waking up dead bodies or making living people dead, and of course in the process making them both hungry for a good brain buffet. Fun stuff, eh?

    If there is one standout zombie in the entire film, it has to be The Tar Man. Played by the incredibly thin puppeteer and mime Allan Trautman, The Tar Man seems to be an impossible creation with most of its flesh rotted away and a body that is almost entirely skeletal. He walks in such an eerie manner that it almost appears as if his bones aren't even attached to one another! You won't see zombies like these in your standard splatter flick, and that's a good thing.

    Summation
    The Return of the Living Dead is an all time classic, and although the sequels (with the exception of Part III) are of rather poor quality, they shouldn't take away from the fact that this is an awesome movie, and one that any self-respecting horror-comedy fan should see.

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