Return of the Living Dead (1985) 3.71/5 (1)


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Rating: The Good – 74.6
Genre: Horror
Duration: 91 mins
Director: Dan O’Bannon
Stars: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa

Tongue in cheek punk horror, every bit the cult classic, funny as hell, and damn near the best zombie film not made by George A. Romero. When a couple of blundering warehouse employees open a misplaced government capsule containing a zombified corpse, toxic gases escape into the atmosphere and turn everything not living into a fully conscious hyper zombie. Yes, even before the concept was flogged to post zombification by generations of creatively stunted film (& tv show!) makers, writer director Dan O’Bannon still insisted that even his comedy zombies bring something new to the canon.

And what a re-imagining it is. The quick rampaging zombie (predating Boyle’s 28 days later) adds a whole new level of terror to the concept while the “conscious” aspect was the perfect platform for outrageous comedy horror. Thus, the zombies of Return of the Living Dead have no problems or indeed hesitation in getting on the radio and asking the police to “send more cops”, paramedics, or anything else they fancy a bite of, and it’s freakin hilarious hearing them do it.

The scenario is equally humour friendly as the primary fodder for the undead hordes are a group of punks who crash the local cemetery for an impromptu party only to get caught in the inevitable tenant uprising so to speak. The colourful punk getup of the gang combined with the even more classic punk soundtrack provides a wonderfully reflexive backdrop to the carnage as casual anarchist meets the truest incarnation of their tribe’s ideal. As limbs fly, the angrily expressed fear of the disenfranchised generation is a sound to behold for the ensuing apocalypse seems just plain inconvenient! The casting in this film is inspired with James Karen in the form of his life as one of the two warehouse caretakers and Don Calfa reminding us yet again why he should’ve had a bigger career as he steals every scene as the odd-ball embalmer. Clu Gulager also puts in a strong show and for a film that hinged on how well the cast got what the film was about, much of its success must go down to the younger and older actors who filled it out.

In the final analysis, Return of the Living Dead can be largely understood to be the fruit of O’Bannon’s (err..) delicious screenplay and in many places inspired action direction. The concept of intelligent zombies is exploited in one ridiculously funny sequence after another to such a great extent, one wonders why we haven’t seen more of it since. The momentum he gives to the proceedings is spot on perfect and when channeled through that thumpingly witty Matt Clifford score, it becomes the most enjoyable feature of the film. And to top it all off we have a cheeky “Fail-Safe” like close taking us into the credits with a genuine sense of having spent 90 minutes of worthy film viewing. “Classic” is right.

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