It can be so hard to tell whether a zombie film is science fiction or not.
Take The Return of the Living Dead: we have the usual government secret weapon, we have barrels full of zombies, and the usual accidental release.
But this time around, those darn zombies don’t seem to have any physical constraints on their new “life.” Some are little more than skeletons, and even the severed limbs just keep going and going…
Even the way in which the zombie plague spreads raises questions, as the smoke and ask from burning the first victim is deposited by a convenient rainstorm on a nearby cemetery.
But what The Return of the Living Dead does have is legendary Alien screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, who directs (from his own script), creating one of the blackest and funniest films about the undead ever made. It is also one of most influential, inspiring vast numbers of other zombie films, good and bad, and seems to have set off the stampede of zombie comedies which followed.
it’s also notable as the film which introduced one of those classic bits of zombie lore which has appeared in even more films:
Their insatiable desire for brains…
The basic story is almost…classic in its standardness: trapped people have to fight zombies to survive.
In this case, it is the bumbling employees of a medical warehouse who release the plague, at the same time that a violent punk gang decides to throw a party in the quiet cemetery next door — a cemetery which isn’t going to remain quiet for much longer.
As you’d expect, there’s a lot of imagination and creativity on display, with some great, freaky details, like the preserved medical specimen dog, sliced in half lengthwise to show its innards and mounted on a stand, which soon comes to life. Or the display of mounted butterflies which starts fluttering again, or the bag full of squirming dismembered body parts, — or Ernie the undertaker’s collection of Nazi memorabilia.
The film also helped launch the careers of Scream Queens Jewel Sheppard and Linnea Quigley. While Jewell somehow manages to keep her clothes on through the whole film, Linnea loses hers early on in an outrageous cemetery strip tease, then spends most of the rest of the film naked.
Even after she’s dead.
Look, The Return of The Living Dead is brash, obnoxious and loud. It’s extremely black, and filled chock full of gore and nudity.
But it is suspenseful, unexpected, and quite funny, with a lot of great lines.
And it’s as close to a classic as any zombie comedy is ever going to be…
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