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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Day 295: Return Of The Living Dead

Return Of The Living Dead
Party time! Excellent! Woo-ooo-ooo!

When you say “zombie movie” the average person instinctively think of George Romero and his slew of movies. Horror fans, though, know of another series of zombie movies that have been terrifying movies goers for years. John Russo was a co-writer on Night Of The Living Dead. After Russo and George Romero went their separate ways, Russo kept the rights to any title featuring “Living Dead” and wrote a book titled Return Of The Living Dead. While the movie had essentially nothing to do with the book it was based on, it still served as a good jumping-off point for violence and mayhem.

Return Of The Living Dead is a 1985 zombie horror movie starring Clu Gulager (The Last Picture Show, The Tall Man) as Burt Wilson and Thom Matthews (ER, Return Of The Living Dead Part II) as Freddy. Freddy has just started his new job at the Uneeda medical supply warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky. The foreman Frank (James Karen, Any Given Sunday, Apt Pupil) shows Freddy the ropes when he decides to let him in on a little secret. He explains that the events of the movie Night Of The Living Dead are based on a true story. An experimental gas called 2-4-5 Trioxin escaped from the morgue in a VA hospital in Pittsburgh. The gas reanimated corpses and they had to be contained in giant drums. Due to a military mix-up, Uneeda received the drums, which they kept in the basement for years. Frank takes Freddy down to the basement to look at them and are accidentally hit in the face with gas from the drums, knocking them out. At the same time, Freddy's girlfriend Tina (Beverly Randolph, Underground Entertainment, More Brains!: A Return To The Living Dead) and her friends, a group of punk rockers, head to Uneeda to get Freddy. They have to wait until 10:00 for him to get out, so they break into the shuttered cemetery across the street. Frank and Freddy awake to discover that the corpse inside the drum is missing and that the gas has reanimated a cadaver in a meat locker. When their boss Burt comes, they try to subdue the raging zombie, hitting it in the head with a pick-ax. When that doesn't kill it, they dismember the body, but it keeps moving. They fill garbage bags with the body parts and head across the street to the mortuary run by Ernie Kaltenbrunner (Don Calfa, Bugsy, Weekend At Bernie's). Meanwhile, Tina has gone to Uneeda to find Freddy, but instead discovers the zombie that escaped the drum. She locks herself in a closet as the zombie tries to pry it open, screaming about eating her brains. The punks hear her screams and go to help her and one of them (Suicide) is killed in the rescue. Back at the mortuary, Ernie has cremated the zombie, sending it's ashes into the sky. Acid rain begins to fall, seeping into the ground in the cemetery, reanimating all the corpses. At the same time, both Freddy and Ernie have started to change into zombies themselves. How will the two groups survive against this horde of unkillable zombies with an unending lust for brains? 

"Oh my god! It's Justin Bieber! EEEEEEEE!"

Though it may not be the most well-known zombie movie (by mainstream standards), Return Of The Living Dead has managed to creep it's way into common knowledge. When you see references to zombies eating brains, they're most likely talking about this movie, not any Romero zombie film. Return Of The Living Dead is a fun zombie movie with lots of action and suspense. The movie mixes a lot of comedy into the horror which can be good or bad depending on your preference. It seems that every time the movie starts to focus on horror, they feel the need to crack a few jokes. It's not slapstick comedy, so it's nothing over the top or ridiculous, but it's enough to take the edge off the horror, which is unfortunate. The movie does have some genuinely scary moments like when Ernie speaks to half of a rotting corpse and learns that the zombies eat brains to reduce the pain of being dead. The puppet used in the scene is very creepy and it's eerie whisper-like voice still haunts me. There is a good bit of violence throughout the movie, though not as much explicit gore as you'd expect.

"Do I have zombie breath? I feel like I have zombie breath."

The story is pretty good with the action starting almost immediately. The inclusion of 80's punks to the story adds a fun uniqueness to the film and gives us a full-frontal naked dance scene in a graveyard. Unnecessary, but I won't complain. Director/Writer Dan O'Bannon (Alien, Total Recall) shot some classic scenes such as a horde of zombies swarming police cars as the pull into the cemetery. I do have a few nits to pick with the film, though. Why make the zombies unkillable? This takes the feeling of hope completely out of the film. All other zombie films have a way of killing the zombies, thus giving the characters and the audience a feeling of hope that they will survive. These zombies are also far smarter than the usual undead and they can also speak. The smarter thing, fine, I can deal with it, but how can they speak, especially zombies that are more bones than flesh? We get the iconic “Braaaaaains!” but I still don't like the ability of speech coming from a rotten corpse. Another issue, which may be the biggest, is the movie's inconsistency with bites. One of the punk girls, Trash, is attacked by a group of zombies. Later, she reappears, pale and demonic-looking, as a zombie. Beyond the fact that she is still in one piece despite being engulfed by zombies, why is she a zombie when some of the other punks are bitten? We see the same thing as a bitten police officer becomes a zombie, waving in more cops just to be ambushed by zombies. Consistency would have been nice.

 We're the kids in America!

Return Of The Living Dead is a fun, unique take on the zombie genre that adds it's own creative spin, which has become part of zombie canon. Many punk and metal bands have used sound clips from the movie in the songs. The zombiecore/thrash metal band Send More Paramedics get their name from a scene in the movie where a zombie gets on the radio in an ambulance. There is plenty of suspense, action, and violence to satisfy any horror fan. The acting is good and the directing is spot-on. The zombies look good, especially the more rotten-looking corpses. There are some genuinely scary moments along with comedic ones. The movie does have a few things in it that I didn't like in regards to zombies, such as being unkillable and inconsistencies with biting. If you're a zombie purist, little things like that may get to you. Overall, Return Of The Living Dead is a fun zombie movie and worth going out of your way to watch.


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