Friday, 29 March 2013

Review - The Return of the Living Dead (1985 - Dir. Dan O'Bannon)

Frank (James Karen) and Freddy (Thom Mathews) work in a medical supplies store run by Burt (Clu Galager). Very early on we discover that the events depicted in Night of the Living Dead were based on a true story. Containers of the very gas that caused the outbreak have mistakenly been sent to their store. You can probably guess what happens next - the title kind of gives it away - and the film lives up to expectations. A group of punks also become involved as well as Ernie (Don Calfa) who works at the local crematorium. Things all get a little out of hand...

Running zombies had been seen before (Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City for instance) but The Return of the Living Dead probably did more to popularise the concept. The zombies in TROTLD are still recognisably zombies though - Tarman is a cracking piece of design and effects work - the line between zombies and vampires hasn't become blurred yet (thankfully we haven't had any sparkly zombies). To see what I mean have a look at the trailers for The Horde (zombies) and Prowl (vampires). Surely if a body has been in the ground for a few years it would have suffered severe muscular atrophy, so running zombies just seem daft (as opposed to shambling zombies: they make perfect sense.)

This came off the back of An American Werewolf in London so audiences were prepared to accept horror comedies. TROTLD manages that tricky trick of managing to meld the genres satisfactorily. The beginning of the film probably contains the funniest moments. A scene where Burt, Frank and Freddy try to dispose of a recently animated corpse is pure quality. Also, the sound effect accompanying the battering of a split dog with a crutch makes me chuckle every time I hear it. But, there are also some horrific moments: a young lady being eaten alive by a group of zombies, brains being happily munched on and a two characters locked in a attic whilst a zombie attempts to break though from below.

There is yet more that this film can do. There are at least two scenes that are actually quite emotional: one suggested by premium actor James Karen is one of the most memorable in the film. 

Much has been said about Dan O'Bannon's abilities as a director and his treatment of cast and crew but he definitely knew what he was doing when he wrote the screenplay (it's amazing how many lines have been absorbed by popular culture) and the finished film shows that he could balance all of the different elements. He can't be all that bad as a director.

Linnea Quigley. Naked. Dance. What more needs to be said? Except maybe the decision to Barbiefy her with a specially made prosthetic piece to cover her delicates. It looks a bit on the weird side.

TROTLD has gone on to spawn four sequels: Part II is basically a remake of the original but with more comedy and less quality, Part 3 is well worth a watch (review coming soon). I haven't seen the fourth or fifth instalments yet but the fact that I can't even get them on region 2 DVD probably tells me all I need to know. I will get round to watching them one day, for the sake of being a completist.

If you've never seen TROTLD give it a watch. It's one of those rare low-budget eighties films that still stands up today. Fans of Special Features will also love the recent reissue: a two hour documentary is included on the making of the film plus many other featurettes. One of the best packages I've seen in a long while. (You can stop your childish chuckling now.)

(Average rating for the season so far = 6.2)

If you like this you could also try:
Braindead, Juan of the Dead, Evil Dead II.

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