Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Remembering Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Seeing as it is that Halloween season, and I already discussed my best costume ever last year, I thought, what would be an appropriate topic to talk about this year?

I remembered some of the campy horror movies from the 1980's that I loved so much, like CHUD, The Stuff and Night of the Creeps... but I also wrote about those last August.

So there was really only one movie I could talk about this year, a zombiefest that both followed and broke the genre rules in 1985. Of course, I am referring to Return of the Living Dead.

Return of the Living Dead takes place in Louisville, Kentucky in the neighborhood surrounding the rundown Uneeda Medical Supply Warehouse, an organization which is staffed by a couple of somewhat incompetent employees, Frank(James Karen) and Freddy(Thom Mathews). After a freak chemical leak from an Army canister in the basement, unwittingly caused by the assurances that it couldn't do so, the dead begin to reanimate in the warehouse and unlike their counterparts in the movies, damaging or destroying the brain of the afflicted doesn't stop them.

The situation gets progressively worse as more people get involved in trying to deal with it quietly, as each solution devised exacerbates the problem, and things really start to go off the tracks when the dead begin rising from the grave at a nearby cemetery.

Return of the Living Dead took the genre in a slightly different direction than the George Romero films, though it does borrow heavily from those very same films and even references the original Night of the Living Dead with a character claiming that the movie was real and what was in a container in the basement of the warehouse was evidence of those events. Of course, as you no doubt know, things take a terrible turn after that.

There are also features which would enrich other future films in the genre. For instance, the zombies, especially of the recently deceased, could move very fast and could talk, while at the same time, they were also capable of ingenuity and guile.

The lighter tone and comedic elements also predate Shaun of the Dead by almost 20 years and show that yes, a horrific zombie movie can also be funny. And that sense of whimsy has also influenced video games tackling the zombie theme as well.

The movie also had something which to me is a rare sight in a zombie movie... zombie animals. I mean, really, how many times do you see undead animals. And as an additional bit of 1980's nostalgia, Freddy's friends are all punks, and the movie's soundtrack reflects that, especially the dual shotgun blast of Partytime by 45 Grave and the Surfin' Dead by the Cramps.

The whole thing is just a lot of fun all in all, however, I can't in good conscience recommend the sequels however. They are a little subpar, especially as they really approached the limits of schlock.


Diesel said...

Hmmm, don't think I ever saw that one. I loved Dawn of the Dead, and the original Night of the Living Dead though. And that recent one with Dennis Hopper that I can never remember the name of. That was surprisingly good.

MC said...

Land of the Dead... yeah, that was pretty good too.