The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

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Director: Dan O’Bannon

Cast: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa

Review Author: Tony

Rating: 4 / 5 Guinness

Next entry to this Halloween’s horror season is another Horror Comedy, (Baby steps, I’ll get to the scary stuff soon), The Return of the Living Dead. This was a recommendation and a last-second entry to my list of horror films to review this month (shock, horror, we actually plan this stuff). While the film shares a similar title to George Romero’s horror classic, Night of the Living Dead, it serves as more of an homage due to the fact that Romero went on to direct a true sequel, Dawn of the Dead,  followed by Day of the Dead.

The film begins in a medical warehouse where the manager, Burt, is leaving the new guy, Freddy, with the foreman, Frank, to lock up. Frank can resist showing off to Freddy that the film the Night of the Living Dead was actually based real-life events, and that some of the zombies are down the basement inside military barrels. Of course, their curiosity leads to the outbreak of a toxic gas from the barrels that renders the dead living again with an insatiable hunger. It’s up to Freddy, Frank, Frank’s mortician friend, and a group of teenage punk rockers to deal with the outbreak of the undead.

Night of the Living Dead was the first film to truly showcase zombies as terrifying creatures, which shocked audiences. They used to just be shambling minions for protagonists to swat aside with little effort. Romero turned them into flesh-eating monsters that will stop at nothing to devour you. Romero’s zombie is perhaps the most influential zombie to date, he set the template for the undead in mainstream media and every film that followed in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s heavily borrowed this template. Almost every film except for Return of the Living Dead.

An interesting piece of trivia about Return of the Living Dead is that the zombie trait of eating brains originates from it. Return of the Living Dead’s zombie threw Romero’s template out the window. These zombies can run, talk, and are a real pain to kill. Even the characters in the film are bewildered that these zombies don’t follow the usual rules. There’s a hilarious scene where the warehouse employees try to put down a newly reanimated corpse only to discover just how durable these zombies are.

Return of the Living Dead is a prime example of an 80’s horror film. It’s camp, over the top, and filled top to bottom with gratuitous nudity and gore. The effects are as grisly one would expect from the time, and the tar man still impresses. The music is fantastic from the synth theme song to the rocking soundtrack, it all matches the tone of the film perfectly. While not particularly scary, the film delivers on the comedy in spades, from slapstick to gory gags the film had me laughing throughout.

Return of the living dead is now up there with Evil Dead 2, Shaun of the Dead and American Werewolf in London as my favourite Horror comedies which I’ll be revisiting every Halloween. Not one second of its one hour and thirty minutes runtime is wasted. The movie is a beautiful escalation of carnage, gore, and comedy. It’s a must-see for all horror aficionados.

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