They’re Back From The Grave and Ready To Party!
Directed by Dan O’Bannon and starring James Karen as Frank, Thom Mathews as Freddy, Clu Gulager as Burt and Don Calfa as Ernie. Also stars Beverly Randolph as Tina, Linnea Quigley as Trash, Mark Venturini as Suicide, Miguel A. Núñez Jr. as Spider, Jewel Shepard as Casey, Brian Peck as Scuz, John Philbin as Chuck and Jonathan Terry as Colonel Glover.
I first saw this at the pictures when I was a teenager and I loved it. I still love it. In fact, I love all the sequels too. I love Frank’s line in this one, “Did you see that movie, Night of the Living Dead?” Welcome to the 80s at their best, The Return of the Living Dead is both a product and shining example of its time.
Frank and Freddy work in the Uneeda Medical Supply warehouse. Frank is showing Freddy the ropes. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the the neighbourhood, a gang of punk rockers, including Freddy’s girlfriend, Tina, are looking for somewhere to party. Frank shows Freddy the chemical drums where the corpses from the ‘true’ story behind Night of the Living Dead (1968) are stored, but carelessly slaps one of the drums releasing a noxious gas and they are both knocked out. The punk rockers, while they’re waiting for Freddy to get off work, decide to party in Resurrection Cemetery, a graveyard beside the medical supply warehouse. When Frank and Freddy come round the corpse from the drum is gone and Frank and Freddy are feeling very sick. They soon discover the dead are being reanimated. They call the boss, Burt, who helps them dispatch and dispose of, with help from Ernie the mortician, a revived corpse; but is cremating the still-wriggling pieces a good idea? What goes up must come down, in this case in the form of dead-reviving acid rain that falls on Resurrection Cemetery.
The truly great thing about The Return of the Living Dead is its energy. The cast is phenomenal, a really watchable collection of individuals. The sets are awesome, Resurrection Cemetery in particular looks fantastic. The soundtrack’s superb, my favourite track on there is Surfin’ Dead by The Cramps. The effects are utterly brilliant, no CGI here, just beautiful 80s goodness. Put all this together and it’s no surprise that horror fans love this film to death (pardon the pun).
And then there’s Tarman, one of the best zombies ever; fuck it, the best. The Return of the Living Dead is a comedy-horror film; it’s where “Brains!” comes from. But, like Evil Dead II (1987), the comedy is merely a wonderfully blended-in aspect of it, never getting in the way of the story, never overshadowing the film, just complimenting it. The fact the zombies can talk, unlike Romero’s living dead, is unusual, but it works, a treat. That’s what this film is from beginning to end, a real treat. How many times have I seen it? I have no idea but I’m looking forward to the next time and that hopefully gives you some idea of what a classic it is.