The Return of the Living Dead is a 1985 American horror-comedy written and directed by Alien’s Dan O’Bannon. The movie is most notable for popularising the notion in the public consciousness of zombies eating specifically brains, as opposed to just flesh.
Back in the days of VHS, the movie was a popular title to rent with horror fans who loved a good zombie gore fest, and who had waited for years for a sequel to George A. Romero’s 1968 classic, Night of the Living Dead. However, unlike those in the latter movie, the zombies in O’Bannon’s offering differed somewhat from their predecessors. For one thing, they certainly moved faster than the shambling corpses of Romero. For another, they co-operated with each other quite effectively as they went on the rampage against their human foe. Oh yes, and they of course just LOVED to gobble down the odd piece of brain or two.
The basic story of The Return of the Living Dead starts with several drums containing a discarded experiment once conducted by the military. Apparently, this experiment was horribly botched, and the incompetent foreman in the film, Frank (James Karen), whilst giving Freddy (Thom Matthews) a tour of the basement to the warehouse where they work, accidentally releases one of the drums. This causes escaping gas to fill up the room, reanimating a cadaver. Needless to say, all hell soon breaks loose.
After a desperate fight with the resurrected corpse, Freddy and Frank finally subdue it and transport it to the local mortuary, with a view to burning it in the cremator. Meanwhile, as Freddy’s friends, a group of teenage punks, wait for him in the town’s graveyard, his girlfriend, Tina, becomes impatient and decides to return to the warehouse. But she makes a big mistake here, as she is immediately set upon by a ferocious zombie, who will become known as “Tarman” to the viewing public.
Back at the mortuary, as the first zombie is incinerated, the smoke that rises from the vents becomes a lethal gas, which contaminates the air and poisons the rainfall. As Freddy’s friends take refuge in the warehouse to escape the deadly downpour, they find Tina struggling desperately against Tarman. They are soon forced to make their way back through the graveyard in the hope of finding Freddy. They are then shocked to encounter many dead corpses emerging from their graves.
Before they can get to Freddy, he becomes infected with the zombie contagion, as does Frank. As the pair hideously metamorphose, they become new additions to the ravenous army of the living dead.
For me, The Return of the Living Dead is not really the kind of zombie flick that I can return to again and again, unlike the 1968 Romero masterpiece, which I just love. Whilst Return of the Living Dead was entertaining in some parts – with its generous splatterings of gore and nudity – the film generally suffered from a little too much humour, corniness and dullness of plot. Some parts in it were very slow, and to an almost irritating extent. Though promoted as a sequel to Romero’s 1968 classic, it was nowhere near as gripping and entertaining, and whilst I can certainly appreciate the huge cult following the movie has attracted over the years, it doesn’t surprise me that it didn’t exactly set the box office alight, for it was just a moderate success.
The movie’s limited impact on box office ratings certainly didn’t stop it from spawning a string of sequels, namely Return of the Living Dead II (1988), Return of the Living Dead III
(1993), Necropolis (2005), and Rave From The Grave (2005). Of all these follow ups, the only one I thought was any good was Return of the Living Dead III.
Fans of Return of the Living Dead were ecstatic when Scream Factory released a 30th anniversary Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray on July 19, 2016, complete with tons of extras and a gorgeous looking slipcover. You can buy this Scream Factory release now by clicking on the movie’s image link above this article.