On Freddy's (Thom Mathews) first day working for the Uneeda Medical Supply warehouse, he is being shown the ropes by Frank (James Karen). Uneeda's main business comes from shipping corpses, skeletons, and similar dead things across the country. As part of the natural order of breaking in the new guy, Frank decides to creep Freddy out. Frank explains that the movie, Night of the Living Dead, is based on true events; the movie changed the facts to not get sued, of course, but the gist remained the same --- the dead were coming back to life. How does Frank know all this? Because the military accidentally shipped a barrel of the chemical (245 Trioxin) to Uneeda, and you can see an undead body inside. Obviously, Freddy will need to see the barrel to believe any of this, so the two go down to the basement to check it out; sure enough, there is a metal barrel with military-looking words on the side, and a skeleton visible through the barrel's window. So far, so good. Frank then makes the fatal error of hitting the side of the barrel to demonstrate how sturdy it is, which causes a rupture and Frank and Freddy get hit with a heavy dose of gas.
From this point forward, you really don't need to know the specifics of the plot, but here's the gist. The gas reanimates the dead, and these zombies don't resemble the classic film zombies. They can run, speak, think, and you can't kill them by damaging the brain (or cutting off the head, or dismembering them, or...). Freddy, Frank, and their boss, Burt (Clu Gulager), manage to get the sole corpse in their freezer chopped up into little pieces, but the pieces are still writhing and dangerous. Since Burt is friends with the mortician next door, Ernie (Don Calfa), they take the body parts over and eventually convince Ernie to cremate the SOB. As soon as the ashes leave the crematorium chimney, though, they react with the clouds above and start an acid rain, which spreads Trioxin throughout the area --- and keep in mind that the area around a mortuary/crematorium is naturally going to be a graveyard. Yes, there will be zombies a-plenty.
The first thing you will notice about The Return of the Living Dead is that it doesn't take itself seriously. At all. The characters are all fairly stupid and no one is particularly likable, so you are just waiting to see how each one dies. And they die, early and often. That is a far cry from the somber tenseness of George Romero's films, but it works surprisingly well. This isn't a flat-out comedy with zombies in it, like Shaun of the Dead. This is a horror movie that wants to revel in gore and special effects, but still have fun doing it. You don't see movies like this made any more (with the possible exception of Black Sheep), and it was a welcome change from so many of the not-scary-but-not-fun horror movies I've watched this month.
|Fact: eyeballs are the last things to rot|
Even though they are all second rate actors, I enjoyed the cast of The Return of the Living Dead. There are no good performances in this movie, but there were a many enjoyable ones. The featured adults (James Karen, Clu Gulanger, and Don Calfa) weren't terribly exciting, but they served their purpose as authority figures. Thom Mathews wasn't great, either, but it was fun seeing him slowly transition into a zombie.
|It's called "range"|
Linnea Quigley), just wants to party naked. Seriously, she's naked (aside from her legwarmers) for all but the first few minutes of this movie --- definitely the most full nudity I have seen from any actor in any movie, including some pornos.
|One of only two clothed pictures I could find online|
The special effects are actually pretty solid for being such a silly movie. Of course, skeletons rising from the grave is goofy as all hell, and a lot of the recently dead didn't require much makeup, but there are a few awesome standouts.
This is only one of two films directed by Dan O'Bannon, and I think he did a good job with what he was working with. Of course, he radically rewrote John Russo's original script beyond the point of recognition, so he had complete control over what he had to work with. Still, O'Bannon created a zombie movie that was markedly different in tone and internal logic from the Romero films. That, alone, is an accomplishment. The fact that he made watching people get torn apart genuinely entertaining is just icing on the cake.
If you are a huge fan of Romero's movies, The Return of the Living Dead might annoy you. Zombies that can speak, plot, and run don't really make much sense. I get that. However, I don't care. This is one of the few zombie movies out there that is jam-packed with action and doesn't take itself seriously. For what it is --- a fun, utterly disposable horror flick --- it's pretty good. It even has the distinguished honor of being the first film to feature zombies craving human brains. Is this a classic? I don't know if I'd go that far. Aside from the naked chick and a couple of the zombies, nothing will really stick with you after you finish the movie. On the other hand, I seriously doubt that this was intended to be a think piece. Appreciate it for what it is.