Review: Return of the Living Dead

17 Aug
American science fiction screenwriter and dire...

Dan O'Bannon Image via Wikipedia

When I feel in the mood for a horror comedy this film is one of my first choices. When I first saw it on VHS back in 80s I had no idea it was written and directed by the late Dan O’Bannon, writer of Alien, Dark Star and Total Recall screenplays among others. He only directed two films, this film and a fairly faithful little-known adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft‘s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward called The Resurrected and starring Chris Sarandon.

Freddy (Thom Mathews) has just started his new job at the Uneeda medical supplies warehouse owned by Burt (Clu Gulager). Burt heads off on a date leaving Frank (James Karen) to show the new boy around. It’s a task that Frank really gets into, telling all sorts of stories to the naive and dumb Freddie and showing him around the ghoulish stock they have in the warehouse such as half-dogs mounted for use in veterinary schools and a fresh cadaver in the freezer.

When Freddy ask about the freakiest thing he’d ever seen Frank tells him the true story that Night of the Living Dead was based on. Trioxin, an experimental chemical herbicide, was released into the ground and this chemical re-animated corpses. Freddy wants know how Frank knows about this and Frank tells him that they have barrels with bodies in them in the warehouse, delivered there due a clerical error. He takes Freddy to basement and shows him several rusting metal barrels with a window on top showing a long dead corpse inside. Freddy asks if the barrels are safe and Frank hits one to prove how sturdy it is, which of course makes the barrel burst open and release heavy thick choking fumes that knocks out the two men. The fumes creep through the warehouse as the Trioxin theme tune plays.

Freddy’s girlfriend Tina (Beverly Randolph) is hanging out with Freddy’s pals. You can tell they are Freddy’s pals because they are punks and Tina really doesn’t seem much like them at all. They want to party and Tina wants to meet Freddy after work. Since Freddy is the man who knows about parties they all agree to go with her to meet Freddy at work. They get a lift from a big punk called Suicide that takes himself far too seriously. With couple of hours to kill they decide to hang out in the cemetery across the street from the Uneeda warehouse.

Freddy and Frank come around the basement feeling sick and covered the horrible smell of whatever came out of the barrel. They go upstairs to ring Burt and then they hear the sound of dogs yelping. They go see what it is and find it’s the half-dogs writhing on their mounts. next come the inevitable screams and banging from the freezer.

Back at the cemetery Trash (Linnea Quigley) is talking creepy to Chuck, telling him about her nightmares. This seems to be a cue that all her friends are used to as the music gets turned up and Trash strips naked except for her long woollen leggings and dances to the music on top of a tomb. Naturally this scene is notorious and I’m sure many straight boys got very excited by it.

Burt has returned to Uneeda furious with Frank. He decides to get rid  of everything and pretend that nothing happened but first they have to kill the creaming cadaver still banging on the freezer door. When they release the corpse and eventually get it pinned down Burt puts a pick-axe through its head. This does nothing to stop it struggling and even worse nor does cutting off its head. They get the body chopped up into less dangerous pieces and wrap the bits in bin bags to take them and the half-dogs across the street to the mortuary, hoping to use the crematorium oven. Ernie (Don Calfa) the mortuary owner objects to burning things which are clearly alive and when Burt tries to claim its rabid weasels he doesn’t believe a word of it. Burt shows him what’s in the bags to convince Ernie to help out. They load the body parts into the oven and burn the lot to ash. Thick smoke pours out of the chimney up into the air and with a peal of thunder it starts raining. Just then the Trioxin theme returns and we know their problems are far from over as the rain washes the chemical into the ground of the cemetery.

In my opinion this film has one of the best zombies created. While looking for Freddy in basement at Uneeda Tina runs into Tarman, the corpse that came out of the original barrel. Its flesh has mostly liquified and it is barely more than skeleton with big eyes and a horrible pink tongue lolling around in its mouth. The first time I saw Tarman I crapped myself. It comes after Tina crying ‘brains,’ a cry that is now associated with zombies thanks to this film. When Tina hides away in a cupboard it uses a block and tackle to pull the doors off. Tina is only saved when Tarman gets distracted by the juicy brains in Suicide’s head, letting her escape. These zombies are relentless, impossible to kill and as smart as people. There’s another scene later when a zombie has finshed eating the brain of a paramedic and he radios back to the base for more paramedics.

The humour feels very natural, coming from the characters reacting to their situation. James Karen, Clu Gulager and Don Calfa are all great comedy actors and they really bring the script to life without pushing it over the top. The film make a lot of use of music and not just the living dead theme that signals the spread trioxin but other music featurin punk music liked the Cramps Surfin’ Dead and the Damned’s Dead Beat Dance

There is set-up for a sequel at the end but none of ones made came close to this one.

Rating 9/10


Posted by on August 17, 2011 in Entertainment, Film


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2 responses to “Review: Return of the Living Dead

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