Return of the Living Dead (1985)

One from the re-watch pile…

Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Film: I have a very personal relationship with this film, The Return of the Living Dead, more so than with any other film: As a young teen, it was the first film I ever took a girl to… and that girl never spoke to me again, such is its power, and the course of young love.

The Return of the Living Dead was written and directed by Dan O’Bannon, the writer of Alien, based on a novel and story idea by John Russo with some amazing production design by the outstanding artist William Stout. Producer Tom Fox originally purchased the rights to Russo’s story, and when O’Bannon was hired to direct, he also decided to rewrite it less serious and a bit more fun, so as not to receive too much comparison to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and the result is this spectacular film in the zombie genre. And let me tell you, there were running zombies well before 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead (03), and this film has them…in spades!!

The Return of the Living Dead tells of new worker at the U-Need-a Medical Supply Company, Freddy (Thom Mathews) who is learning his new job from superior Frank (James Karen). The big boss, Bert (Clu Gulager) leaves early for a long weekend, allowing Frank to run through a few final things with Freddy, but Frank reveals to Freddy the horrible secret kept in the basement: corpses, now in barrels, that had once been resurrected by a chemical spill, the same corpses that the film The Night of the Living Dead was based on!! Going downstairs to investigate, Freddy and Frank accidentally expose themselves to the toxic chemicals, and the chemical re-animates many of the dead things the company sell, including a corpse kept in a ‘cool room’.

Freddy and Frank panic and get Ernie to return to the warehouse to figure out to do with the screaming, hungry corpse in the cool room. They release it, and cut it into smaller pieces, so they can transport it across the street to a mortuary, run by Bert’s friend, Ernie (get it? Bert…and Ernie?), where they hope to cremate the dismembered corpse. They convince Ernie to do so, but what they don’t realise is, is that the smoke from the burning reanimated corpse seeds the clouds, and contaminated rain falls into the graveyard surrounding the mortuary.

Meantime, Freddy’s girlfriend Tina (Beverly Randolph) convinces his punk friends (including Jewel Shepard, Brian Peck, John Phillbin, Miguel Nunez Jr, Mark Venturini and Linnea Quigley) to go and pick Freddy up from work, and when the realize they are far too early to get Freddy, they decide to find somewhere to hang out, and the graveyard across the street seems to be the perfect place. Perfect, until the rain starts to fall….

This is one of those films where almost every set-piece strikes a memorable chord: Trash’s (Linnea Quigley’s) naked dance, the Tar Man (Allan Trautman), the naked, screaming yellow corpse getting its head sawn off…. Director Dan O’Bannon just provides hit after hit of stunning scenes. The entire production is run with a wry sense of humour, with even some obscure background elements joining in (there is a Coke machine in the background of the warehouse that has a sign on it that exclaims ‘Caution: Caustic Soda). The entire cast plays the story completely straight, which seems to make the movie even more bizarre and the comedy completely black. Now I am no real fan of the ‘horror comedy’ but The Return of the Living Dead is so subtle and clever in its presentation that it all plays perfectly. Heaps of gory, bloody fun!

Score: ****1/2

Format: This film was reviewed with the UK release bluray which is presented in an almost perfect 1.85:1 image and a great Dolby DTS 5.1 audio, with also the option for the original PCM Dual Mono 2.0, which also sounds fine.

Score: ****

Extras: There’s an EPIC bunch of extras on this disc.

More Brains! is an almost exhaustive documentary about the making of the film, told as a timeline of the creation, and with interviews with many members of the surviving cast and crew, and they don’t just find the main actors for these interviews! There are producers, casting directors, special effects people… its just a thorough look at the making of the film.

Then there is a bunch of extras from More Brains, including:

The Last Interview with Dan O’Bannon is just that, and he talks about his career, his work ethic and the making of the film.

They Won’t Stay Dead: A Look at Return Of The Living Dead Part 2 which is more interviews from the More Brains doco, but about the second film in the series.

Love Beyond the Grave: A Look at Return of the Living Dead Part III is again, more footage from the More Brains doco, but with a few extra interviews here and there.

These two extras above aren’t just fluff pieces either, Part 2’s goes for about 30 minutes and Part 3’s goes for about 20 minutes.

Stacy Q Live! ‘Tonight’ music video is exactly what the title suggests it is. Pop star Stacy Q, of Two of Hearts fame, sings her song from the movie.

There’s a bunch of deleted scenes that obviously didn’t need to be in the film but have some funny stories regardless.

Return of the Living Dead in 3 minutes has the cast do the whole film with snippets of dialogue from the cast from when the doco was filmed.

Resurrected Setting: The Filming Locations Today sees Beverly Randolph and Brian Peck have a look at the locations from the film, and what they look like today. This is pretty funny and has some amusing references to other horror films.

The Origins of Return of the Living Dead looks at the ideas behind the story of the film with an extensive interview with John Russo.

The FX of the Living Dead looks at the production design and special effects of the film.

Party Time: 45 Grave and the Sounds of Return of the Living Dead peeks at the music used in the film, focusing on the song ‘Partytime’ by 45 Grave.

There’s also a couple of trailers for the film.

Also, in this edition of the film, is a booklet about the film with words and pictures by Christian Sellars and Gary Smart, who wrote the book The Complete History of Return of the Living Dead.                                                                          

Score: *****

WISIA: How could one not rewatch such a great example of horror comedy, and a fine zombie film to boot.

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