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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Return of the Living Dead (1985)



The Zombie movie marathon continues with me taking a look at one of my favorite non-Romero movies in the walking corpse genre. Though it does have a connection to Night of the Living Dead thru John Russo this is director/writer Dan O’Bannon’s take on the zombie genre and it is a blast.
The Blu-Ray is worth a double dip

Things kick off with some punk rock kids in Louisville, Kentucky trying to figure out what they are going to do that night. They want to party, but where can they go? They decide to wait until their friend Freddy is done with his first day at his new job. While waiting they wander across the street into an old graveyard. We then get to see Freddy getting trained by his coworker Frank who tries to impress him by showing the metal canisters in the basement that he claims contain the living dead! Sure enough they get loose and the chemical contained with them brings the cemetery full of corpses back.

What can I say about The Return of the Living Dead that hasn’t already been said? People tend to toss around the term classic way too much, but it applies here. O’Bannon took an established zombie formula and put his own spin on it. The “rules” changed dramatically with the undead only eating brains. It hurts to be a zombie and that can go away for a while if they eat live brains. Kind of zombie aspirin I guess. O’Bannon’s zombies also movie quite fast depending on the condition they are in and can speak. This leads to one of the best lines ever in a zombie movie, “Send more paramedics”.

I loved the fact that early on the movie even lets you know that the this isn’t what you are expecting it to be. Frank is telling Freddy that the movie Night of the Living Dead was based on a real story but that they had to change the details. Later when they are trying to kill the first zombie by destroying the brain it doesn’t work. Freddy yells, “You mean the movie lied?” Ladies and gentlemen this is how you reference a classic flick without ripping it off.

What I mentioned above is an example of the best part of The Return of the Living Dead. The movie does an amazing job of mixing humor with the horror. Many filmmakers have tried to do this with varying results. Here even when the dialogue or situation is funny the real payoff comes from how horrible the situation is. The laughs here are like gallows humor as it becomes more and more obvious they are in serious trouble. The situation shouldn’t be funny but in a morbid way it is. Return of the Living Dead is the gold standard for horror comedies.
Tarman wants your brains

What is a zombie movie without killer zombies? The special effects work is nicely done with a lot of attention being paid to the feature zombies. The highlights are the half zombie woman that is brought to “life” using puppetry and Tarman, who might be the most famous zombie in the history of the genre. But all the zombies on screen look decent and while we don’t get much on screen mayhem we do get plenty of shots of zombies feasting on brains after the fact. It was more than enough to keep this gore hound quite happy.

For this review I watched the new two-disc Blu-Ray from Scream Factory. It includes special features from the previous release. There is a great short about the horror films of the ‘80s called Decade of Darkness. Another highlight from previous features is an audio commentary with Dan O’Bannon that I enjoyed. Some of the new features cover the special effects and music. There is also a visit to the filming locations that is worth a watch. But the best addition has to be the inclusion of the documentary More Brains. This was previously released on its own DVD and was worth the purchase then. It is the definitive documentary about the making of the movie. It is informative and gives great behind the scenes insight to the people who made The Return of the Living Dead. Miguel Nunez, who played Spider, is hilariously honest about the filming of one particular scene. It is a must have and Scream Factory did a great job including it on this set.

I would be shocked if most of you haven’t already seen this one. Even among casual fans or those that only watch horror in October (how is that possible?) the movie is very well known. Normally I wouldn’t bother reviewing this for the blog, but the new release on Blu-Ray prompted me to take the time to include it here. Bottom line is this is a great movie that has been given a wonderful release. Everyone should have this version in their collection.


© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer

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