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Revive the dead, ‘Return of the Living Dead’ retrospective (minor spoilers)

Updated on March 30, 2018

Original film poster

I wouldn't really call it a party
I wouldn't really call it a party | Source

Wake the dead, with a laugh

I actually have more memories watching the sequel to this one. Whenever the original came on television I merely caught bits and pieces of it and never got to see the whole film until now. From 1985, the zombie horror comedy film The Return of the Living Dead, which was directed by Dan O’Bannon.

The plot starts with two medical supply warehouse workers who accidentally unleash an experimental chemical called Trioxin that brings cadavers and dead animals back to life. While attempting to dispose of the resurrected remains the chemical spreads to a graveyard and raises the dead. Now it’s a fight for survival as the survivors face hordes of zombies that are seemingly un-killable.

This is a very unusual but creative zombie film. The film Night of the Living Dead not only exist in this universe, but the events of it are somewhat influenced by what happens in this film. The government created the Trioxin to be used for plant control, however a barrel of it leaked near a few corpses which resurrected them. Somehow George A. Romero found out about this and created Night of the Living Dead. The government decided to let him make his film, though he had to make some changes, specifically about the zombies and leaves it ambiguous about their origins.

Speaking of changes, with the exception of being reanimated corpses who feed on living people’s body parts the zombies here are different than the ones in Night of the Living Dead. The zombies here are pretty much immortal. Shooting them in the head doesn’t kill them. Actually, completely dismembering them only causes each individual piece to move around which instinctively goes after the living. The zombies in the earlier film will basically eat the entire body of a living person, but the zombies in this film only want to eat a living person’s brain. The reason for this is that the zombies in this film can feel pain from being dead and eating a living brain helps stop the pains. In fact this film is the first zombie film to feature zombies who crave brains.

Also the zombies here are much more intelligent than the previous film. They can feel, talk, run after prey, and can even think and figure out solutions to problems. It’s a long story but basically O’Bannon wrote the zombies this way to differentiate them from Romero’s zombies.

The foreman Frank is played by James Karen. Thom Mathews plays Freddy, the new guy on the job. Together Frank and Ernie play the trope of ‘those two guys’ and actually provide much of the comedy in the film. Frank knew the story behind the government and Trioxin. He takes Freddy to see the barrels of Trioxin in the basement, which also contain corpses.

Frank accidentally unleashes the gas from one of the barrels which reanimate both the corpse in the barrels and a cadaver in the warehouse. The gas also reanimates animal remains in the warehouse, such as half a dog and preserved butterflies. Unknowingly, Frank and Freddy were also infected by the gas and slowly turn into zombies as the film progresses.

The warehouse owner Burt, played by Clu Gulager, who’s pretty much the film’s protagonist, attempts to help Frank and Freddy deal with a reanimated cadaver. The problem is that the corpse is apparently immortal. They decapitate it but find that it’s still running around attempting to get at the trio. Even when they dissect it, each piece still moves around on its own. Ernie takes the pieces to local mortician Ernie, played by Don Calfa, who cremates the pieces.

While this destroys the corpse, there is a major problem. The evaporated chemical that reanimated the corpse goes out the chimney with the smoke and gets into the air. It mixes with clouds and rains the chemical onto a graveyard. As expected, the corpses in the graves rise as zombies. They go into town killing anyone they see to eat their brain.

The film also features a heavy Goth punk feel. In fact, there’s are a group of secondary characters who are based off this. They’re actually Freddy’s friends; Spider (Miguel A. Nunez Jr.), Chuck (John Philbin), Casey (Jewel Shepard), Trash (Linnea Quigley), Scuz (Brian Peck), and Suicide (Mark Venturini). They are the stereotypical punk group from the 80s, with black leather outfits, bandanas, chains, and who smoke, drink, use vulgar body gestures and sprouts profanity. There’s actually a seventh member, Tina, played by Beverly Randolph. She’s Freddy’s girlfriend and unlike the others, she isn’t Goth and dresses more reserved.

Freddy's Goth Punk Friends
Freddy's Goth Punk Friends | Source

At one point, Tina encounters the original corpse Frank and Freddy first saw in the barrel. The zombie escapes the barrel and now resembles a skeleton covered in tar. The zombie is properly called Tarman, played by Allan Trautman, and gives Tina and the Goth teens a hard time. Tarman’s one of the most memorable parts of the film, in fact Tarman is considered the breakout character of the series.

Tarman | Source

The film features lots of 80s punk rock songs from the era. This mostly helps compliment the Goth teens with their shenanigans. Outside of that, there are creepy slow melodies that matches suspenseful moments.

Overall, Return of the Living Dead is quite a unique spin on the zombie genre. As mentioned it introduced staples that would be common in zombie pop culture, such as zombies craving brains. The meta-fiction of Night of the Living Dead existing in the film’s mythos was quite surprising and interesting how that film was incorporated into this one. The plot’s unique since it shows just how a simple mistake can spiral out of control, which ultimately leads to a dark ending similar to Romero’s film. It’s a definite must see for zombie fans. This film was followed by four sequels which were all different in tone, but don’t have the same flare as the original. Return of the Living Dead is ultimately a parody of Night of the Living Dead, but with a comedic twist and 80s feel. This is one of those flicks for those who want to laugh a little with their horror.

Original film trailer

© 2018 Staff Oneil


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