Director Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 zombie picture is about as pitch perfect a horror comedy you can get. The film itself re-imagines the walking dead and manages to deliver oodles of comedy and horror nuggets to its audience that has kept it alive and kicking since its initial release. What many thought was once an untouchable formula transformed the walking dead in to a beast anyone could tinker with, and allowed other writers and directors a chance at re-creating the modern zombie. Sadly, none have been quite as successful as Dan O’Bannon and the minds of “The Return of the Living Dead.”
Taking from George Romero’s mold, Dan O’Bannon paints a mid-eighties punk rock universe where the walking dead are infectious unstoppable monsters with a lust for brains. Brains, of course, are like crack to them. Turning zombies in to undead drug fiends is still a very relevant and clever commentary on the decade, and the very notion that brains somewhat eases the pain of being dead is absolutely brilliant and only one wicked footnote in a film filled with iconic asides and wonderful back story. O’Bannon’s film is a meta horror comedy that envisions the events of “Night of the Living Dead” as a true event that actually happened all thanks to 245 Trioxin accidentally unleashed upon the public.
A local storage house in Kentucky has accidentally wound up with the barrels of the dread experimental gas, two hapless workers unleash the gas reviving a corpse in the storage house. After battling it and cremating its still moving remains, the smoke from the infected monster spreads in to the sky bringing down acid rain laced with the gas that awakens the denizens of parallel massive graveyard. The cycle of the Trioxin begins yet again as hordes of brain eating zombies rise from their tombs prepared to eat anything in sight.
Starring an abundance of cult actors including Clu Galagher and Linnea Quigley, “The Return of the Living Dead” strives in being equal parts funny and horrifying as the gas unleashes the corpses from the graveyard turning every dead thing in to carnivorous, fiending, and unstoppable monsters craving fresh human brains. What’s worse is that creatures will do anything to get brains. Even forming their bands of raiding armies that trick unwitting ambulances and SWAT teams in to their web so they can feast. Over the course of the night, “The Return of the Living Dead” cleverly handles multiple storylines, all of which involve a group of punks and storage workers banding together to fend off the rising horde of the undead; all the while delivering its fair share of classic horror moments.
From the emergence of the horrific and enigmatic being Tarman, to the fate of the storage house workers and their rapidly decaying bodies infected with the gas, “The Return of the Living Dead” almost never slows down, but thankfully never feels clumsy or poorly written. Every bit of dialogue and story element feels shrewdly placed within the momentum of the horror, and the film, in spite of clearly pegged in the mid-eighties around the time punk rock was all the rage, never feels dated. “The Return of the Living Dead” continues living on because its characters and excellent screenplay, and the eighties couture is more charming than an expiration date. With “The Return of the Living Dead” most of the premise feels absolutely hopeless and while the characters all fight for their lives, most of their efforts are fruitless and filled with dead ends, respectively.
There’s seemingly no real end to the infected doused with the toxic gas, and when the finale rears its ugly head, there’s implication that battling this outbreak of Trioxin is gong to be like trying to ice skate uphill. Sadly, the sequels failed to live up to this brilliant installment. Though after O’Bannon’s zombie film proved to be a horror gem, it’d have been impossible to top Trash dancing naked in a graveyard, or Freddy’s endless pursuit to eat his loving girlfriend’s brains. Did I mention Linnea Quigley gets naked? Director Dan O’Bannon’s unofficial spin off of George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” is a timeless and absolutely ball busting horror comedy classic that continues to live on the hearts of horror fans, outliving the shadow of Romero’s classic film. For pure eighties, punk rock, walking dead, brain eating mayhem, this is the film to watch.