The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Genre: Horror Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 31 min.

Release Date: August 16th, 1985 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Dan O’Bannon Actors: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Beverly Randolph, John Philbin, Jewel Shepard, Miguel Nunez, Brian Peck, Linnea Quigley, Mark Venturini




he events portrayed in this film are all real.” This line, however, is entirely facetious. It’s July 3rd, 1984, at the Uneeda warehouse for medical supplies (in the Piedmont district of Louisville, Kentucky), and youngster Freddy (Thom Mathews) is learning the ropes over the big weekend. He’s enthusiastic at first, though the fresh cadavers in cold storage visibly unnerve him. His tutor, the elderly Frank (James Karen), makes the situation worse by telling tall tales of chemical spills in Pennsylvania that caused dead bodies to come back to life – the real-life basis for the movie “Night of the Living Dead.” Apparently, the reanimated corpses were transported by the U.S. Army by accident to the warehouse – and have been kept in the basement for 14 years, in sealed tanks. While showing off the find, Frank unwittingly thaws out one of the bodies, releasing a noxious gas that knocks them unconscious – before the corpse disappears.

Later that day, a group of seven punks, including Freddy’s girlfriend Tina (Beverly Randolph), plan to pick up Freddy when he gets off work around 10:00 PM. To kill a couple of hours, they break into the neighboring Resurrection Cemetery for an impromptu party, where they crank up a boom box while one of the girls strips and dances on a grave. In no time at all, the teenagers split up, wander off, and become victims to a never-ending supply of zombies (resurrected by frantic attempts to dispose of a contaminated corpse that ends up infecting the entire area).

“Gimme the bone saw.” As a mock sequel (or a comical remake) to George Romero’s iconic zombie classic, “Return of the Living Dead” is spot on. It’s not long before a reanimated cadaver attacks the boss (Clu Gulager as Burt Wilson), requiring a hasty axe to the brain and a slow decapitation – neither of which slows down the attacker. It’s gruesome yet hysterical, like a slapstick routine by the Three Stooges set in a mortuary. Dismemberment, a pasty-faced embalmer (Don Calfa as Ernie), illegal crematorium usage, and oddly intelligent flesh-eaters (zombies who can operate machinery and even talk) further add to the over-the-top hysteria.

“I can smell your brains … ” With its low-budget feel, comedic notes, and quirky bloodthirstiness, the film resembles a John Carpenter or Tom Holland work – a sensational blend of exploitive laughs and thrills. The scares are always accompanied by silliness, though the special makeup effects are often outstanding, contributing to a considerable yuck factor – especially when the ground-zero-zombie (Allan Trautman) demands more brains to sate his appetite. Rain and mud causes characters to trip and fall; Linnea Quigley manages to remain practically nude the entire time she’s onscreen; and a little-person zombie is unexpectedly effective in an ambush. Even when situations begin with a horrific sincerity, they devolve into outright camp, made funnier by rampant cursing, exaggerated screaming, and incredibly creative violence (including the use of prosthetics and animatronics). The zombie shenanigans carry on too long and reveal some unfortunate repetition, but the main idea is thoroughly entertaining (so much so that this picture would spawn a sequel-laden franchise of its own).

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10