It’s that time of year again! Time to celebrate the Resurrection with a weeklong plunge into all things zombie! Here’s the history: In 2008, Dr. Girlfriend and I decided to spend a week or so each year marathoning through zombie films that we’d never seen before and I would blog short reviews. And simple as that, the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon was born. For the curious, here are links to 2008, 2009 (a bad year), 2010, 2011, 2012 (when we left the blog behind), and 2013. This year, we’re going old school and present to you the Easter Zombie Movie Marathon 2014: Classic Edition! Bad Friday Return of the Living Dead (1985) Written and Directed by: Dan O’Bannon Original Story: Rudy Ricci, John A. Russo, & Russell Streiner If Dawn of the Dead had served as a capstone to the Seventies, the Italian Zombie Renaissance had taken gore to another level and had served to irrigate a field in which a wide variety of mainstream zombie films would grow, and in 1985 those corpse flowers bloomed as three classics hit theaters one after the other (although the less-successful, but just as entertaining Night of the Comet had been released in November 1984). The first of these new-wave zombie films was Return of the Living Dead. It was followed quickly by Romero’s third Dead film, Day of the Dead (you can read our review of that one here), and then in October by Stuart Gordon’s Lovecraft adaptation Re-Animator (which unfortunately didn’t make the cut for this year’s marathon). Of the three, Return of the Living Dead was the most influential (although Re-Animator did kick off a wave of Lovecraft adaptations that were a genre of their own). Serving as a deliberate counterpoint to Romero’s extremely serious exploration of the zombie apocalypse and its effects on society and psychology, Return was a punk rock explosion of guts, laughs, and Linnea Quigley that hit all the right notes for teenage audiences. But it almost wasn’t. Originally conceived of as a serious horror film by John A. Russo, co-writer of the original Night of the Living Dead, to be directed by the legendary Tobe Hooper, it was quickly tied up in lawsuits with Romero. Once out of the courts, both Russo and Hooper were off the project (Hooper left to make LIfeforce, also written by Dan O’Bannon) and the reins were handed to O’Bannon, who had been brought in by Hooper to polish up the script. Unlike last entry’s Dead & Buried, Return of the Living Dead actually had O’Bannon’s hands all over it. Instead of a serious rival for Romero’s subject matter and approach, it was retooled into a chaotic horror-comedy that paid tribute to Romero’s work and forged its own path with respect and admiration for what had come before. Under O’Bannon we are introduced to zombies that exist in varying states of decomposition thanks to some clever puppet-work by infamous designer Tony Gardner, a wide variety of reference materials, and, in the case of the iconic “Tarman” zombie, an extremely thin actor (Allan Trautman). In a clever reference to Night, we discover that the events in that seminal film were based on a true story — a story we’ll be following up on in this film. Unlike Romero’s living dead, these zombies are fully re-animated and destroying the brain does no good. Hell, cut them up and all the parts will still come after you. We also get intelligent, fast-moving zombies who can plot murder and talk (and for some reason, fans don’t complain about it). Most famously, though, we get the introduction of the idea that what zombies love to eat most of all are BRAAAAAIIIINNNNNNSSS. There’s even an actual motivation for the eating of brains, thanks to O’Bannon’s inventiveness. It seems that being dead means being in a constant state of horrifying, screaming pain and only the consumption of living brain matter can alleviate the pain. However, there’s a trade-off for all this creativity, and that’s the subtext. While Romero’s work focuses on the human survivors and how existing in this new world changes them, Return is all about the thrill and the gore. Character work is thin at best, and while there’s an inherent critique of the military (or military-industrial complex), an argument enhanced by the punk nihilism of the film’s ending, it’s almost more of a by-product of simply needing a reason for the dead to rise in the first place. Sure, the chemical that re-animates the dead is the result of a military experiment in chemical warfare, but the mitigating act for this film specifically is a combination of bureaucratic mistakes and human incompetence. Most of the film’s run time is spent building up to the inevitable zombie holocaust by focusing on some rather unlikeable characters and emphasizing an impressive punk soundtrack. Events are kicked off when medical supply house manager Frank (James Karen) and new employee Freddy (Thom Mathews) accidentally break the seal on canisters of dead bodies and body-altering chemicals, setting off a chain-reaction of re-animation that almost ends when they, along with Uneeda Medical Supplies Company’s owner Burt (Clu Gulager) and the mortician at the funeral home next door, Ernie (Don Calfa), dispose of the initial re-animated corpses in the incinerator. Unfortunately, the smoke produced seeds the clouds overhead, triggering a torrential rainstorm that soaks into the ground of the cemetery across the street and away we go. In the graveyard are Freddy’s good-girl girlfriend Tina (Beverly Randolph) and his friends, a group of punks with names like Spider (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.), Scuz (Brian Peck), Suicide (Mark Venturini), and Trash, played by scream-queen Linnea Quigley, whose full-frontal nudity was a touchstone for an entire generation of teenage male horror fans’ sexual awakenings and leg warmer fetishes. The performances are good for what they are, however James Karen and Thom Mathews steal the show with their hysterical reactions to the living dead. I mean literally hysterical. Their panicked screams helped to sell both the comedy and the horror in the film as they slowly transform into zombies themselves. I could watch Karen freak out all day long and it would never stop being hilarious. And he’s even given a noble ending which allows for a touch of sentiment to creep into the final act of the film. All in all, this is one of the most successful and satisfying zombie films of the decade, and still retains its entertainment value to this day. There is one problem with the film, though. But it’s a problem that is only a problem if you’re not aware of it. The original soundtrack for the film was altered for the original DVD 2002 home video release due to issues with music rights and royalties. The next release, a Collector’s Edition in 2007, was remastered with further alterations to the soundtrack as well as a change to the Tarman’s voice but added new extras featuring the cast and crew. This is the edition that was then re-released on the 25th anniversary Blu-ray below. The original soundtrack is only available on the UK DVD/Blu-ray release from Second Sight Films available here, or directly from Amazon UK if you have a multi-region player. This release also features the definitive 2-hour documentary More Brains!: A Return To The Living Dead which can be purchased individually in the US. See larger image Return of The Living Dead Blu-ray w/ Halloween Fp New From: $6.50 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 3 Responses ABCs of Horror Day 19: N is for Night of the Demons - Psycho Drive-In November 8, 2014 […] Night, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, and most notably, Return of the Living Dead. Night of the Demons gave her what was arguably her biggest role to that point. She was still the […] Log in to Reply ABCs of Horror Day 30: Y is for Yuzna - Psycho Drive-In November 10, 2014 […] everything that was established in the first two Return movies (here’s a discussion of the first film) and crafts a heavy metal Romeo & Juliet variation on the traditional zombie film. This is a […] Log in to Reply EZMM Day 7.2: Dawn of the Dead (2004) - Psycho Drive-In March 26, 2016 […] jokes lacking a lot of bite. And while fast-moving zombies were perfectly acceptable in films like Return of the Living Dead, when fans saw Dawn‘s zombies sprinting after victims, especially so soon after 2002’s […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.