Sci-Fi Nerd: Commentary, reflection, and accolades from a fan’s point of view on all things sci-fi and fantasy
The horrifying eighties are on full display in this odd attempt at a camp parody, tongue-in-cheek version of the classic Night of the Living Dead.
Let me start by saying I once thought this movie was amusing and pretty good, but people change and so does taste. I understand this film is considered a beloved cult classic in some circles, but it is not one I can personally recommend. Return Of The Living Dead is a bad movie. It does have some amusing moments, but for all the wrong reasons. It has very little in the way of redeeming qualities, and even repeated nude appearances by a beautiful punk rock girl character named Trash (Linnea Quigley) is not enough to save it. There’s just not enough to help compensate for the bad writing, acting, lighting, and all around miserable production quality of this failed attempt at a funny zombie movie. The film makes an attempted approach at dark humor reminiscent of the original Little Shop Of Horrors.
I was reminded of the eighties watching this film. In fact, it’s unavoidable not to be. The exaggerated depiction of the questionable choices people made regarding fashion, and hairstyles, is impossible to escape. There’s even a boom box on full display in one of the earliest scenes in the film. Also in evidence are several characters dressed up in almost comical “punk rock” style outfits, complete with safety pins piercing their flesh. (I did enjoy the film’s soundtrack though.)
Directed by horror legend Dan O’Bannon, the movie is memorable for several reasons and the zombies that insatiably crave “brains, more brains” is chief among them. In fact, the zombies are more fun to watch than the rest of the cast in this one and the scene where the living dead charge a police barricade is one of the best in the movie. These are your fast-moving variety of zombies, who can talk and who also demonstrate an ability to think strategically.
The trouble begins when a couple of moronic medical supply warehouse employees accidentally unseal a canister of experimental gas created by the army that was accidentally shipped to the warehouse years earlier. The gas has the effect of reanimating any dead thing in the vicinity and immediately animates a cadaver stored in a meat locker upstairs in the warehouse, along with several sliced-in-half-lengthwise dog cadaver specimens that also get stored there.
When this occurs the morons call their boss (Clu Gulager) and he takes charge of the situation. He decides they need to burn the evidence at a nearby mortuary owned by a friend (Don Calfa). This turns out to be a bad idea. The affected corpses have absorbed the substance in the gas, and when they get burned the resulting smoke carries the same properties. It begins to rain, and a nearby cemetery gets soaked in the stuff revitalizing all of the occupants of the place. At this point, all hell breaks loose, and there are zombies everywhere. There are multiple beheadings and dismemberments that take place amidst the chaos. Also, there is one zombie that is worthy of note, an animatronic female corpse that is cut in half when trying to enter the mortuary by the remaining humans inside. She gets questioned about why the zombies are being so antisocial and eating people, and she explains these zombies are only interested in eating brains to stop the pain of being dead.
The story depends on a series of coincidences that are a little too contrived, and it seems like they knew they didn’t have enough material to make a movie-length production, This results in lots of pointless shots that serve no purpose, except to milk it to last longer, and that’s annoying. A good 15-20 minutes of this film could have been removed without changing it anyway.
The finale is actually amusing. [SPOILER ALERT]
When the army is finally notified of what has happened, their immediate response is to nuke the area where the occurrence takes place. Too bad they didn’t get informed sooner.