The Return of the Living Dead
1968’s Night of the Living Dead introduced the world to what has come to be known as the ‘zombie movie.’ It was co-written by George Romero, and John Russo, who had a falling out shortly thereafter (possibly over the screw up that resulted in them losing the copyright to the film, and the millions and millions of dollars they lost out on as a result).
Whatever the reason, while Romero proceeded to produce official sequels, like Dawn of the Dead; Russo retained the rights to the words ‘living dead,’ and in 1985 produced this sort-of quisi-official sequel.
Written and directed by Dan O’Bannon, The Return of the Living Dead bears little resemblance to its progenitor. The single biggest difference being the shift in tone towards black comedy (not unusual for ’80s horror, and similar to Night of the Demons).
Return of the Living Dead posits that Night… was a highly fictionalized account of a true story. The true story involved an experimental chemical developed by the military and a small zombie outbreak in a morgue. The chemicals (and the reanimated corpses) were sealed into tanks and shipped off for storage; of course, some of them were accidentally sent to the Uneeda Medical Supply Warehouse.
It’s not long into teenage store clerk Freddy’s first day that one of the tanks is ruptured, reanimating all the dead things in the warehouse, and the unfortunately placed cemetery beside it.
The cast is basically broken into two groups: the old people and the punks. The old people consist of Burt and Frank, the owner and foreman of Uneeda respectively; and Ernie, the mortician next door. Yes, Burt and Ernie. The three actors playing them had long, successful careers before this film, and it certainly shows in their performance. James Karen as Frank goes a little overboard at times, but it’s a good foil for the comedic violence later in the film. Burt and Ernie have a nice dynamic in the film. Not unlike Adama and Tigh in Battlestar Galactica, two older men drawing on experience to solve new problems. They’re able to maintain just enough seriousness to keep the movie from falling into self-parody
The punks are an odd collection of people who don’t make a lot of sense together. Frank is their connection to the old people. Despite being the only one with a job, he is also the go-to guy for finding awesome parties. His girlfriend, Tina, is the ‘good girl’ of the group. She spends most of the movie crying. There are the punks, Suicide (the angry guy with the car), Scuz (who does not distinguish himself in any way) and Spider (the black guy who takes charge when things go bad). There’s also Chuck and Casey, who seem to be more new wave than punk, and yet Casey hates Chuck.
The nature of the zombies is quite different from that seen in Night of the Living Dead. Not only do they run, they also speak, reason, and strategize. For all intents and purposes, they’re just humans with an affliction that makes them mean. That said, the Make-up and special effects are huge step up, with bodies displaying a variety of injuries and stages of decomposition.
The Return of the Living Dead isn’t the ground breaking work that its namesake was, but it is a fun wall-to-wall gory zombie dark comedy film.