Thursday, February 7, 2013

Return of the Living Dead - Splatterpunk Zombies Rise From the Grave!

The Return of the Living Dead
Directed by Dan O'Bannon
Written by Dan O"Bannon, Rudy Ricci, John Russo, Russell Streiner
Starring - Clu Gulager, James Karen, Thom Mathews, Linnea Quigley & Don Calfa

They're Back From The Grave and Ready To Party!

Alternative Titles:
El regreso de los muertos vivientes (Return of the Living Dead) - Mexico
Batallion - Japan
Τα Ζόμπι Δεν Είναι Χορτοφάγα (The Army is Not Vegan) (!)  - Greece
A Volta dos Mortos Vivos (Return of the Living Dead ) - Brazil
Az élőhalottak visszatérnek (Return of the Living Dead) - Hungary
A halál visszatér (Death Returns) - Hungary Alternate Title
El Regreso de los Muertos Vivos (Return of the Livind Dead) - Argentina
Elävien kuolleiden paluu (Return of the Living Dead) - Finland
Il ritorno dei morti viventi (Return of the Living Dead) - Italy
Le retour des morts vivants (Return of the Living Dead) - France
Ligene er ligeglade (The Bodies are Indifferent) - Denmark
O Regresso dos Mortos Vivos (Return of the Living Dead) - Portugal
Povratak živih mrtvaca (Return of the Living Dead) - Serbia
Verdammt, die Zombies kommen (Damn, Come the Zombies) - West Germany
Ze zijn terug en hebben honger (They Are Back and Hungry) - Netherlands

Whoa!  It's all true?!?!??

Hey.....wait a minute.....

Do ya wanna party?  It's PARTY TIME!!!!
Way back in 1968, George A. Romero made a little film called Night of the Living Dead.  It was a revolutionary film which in turn unleashed the zombie genre on the world.  After the film was completed, Russo retained the rights to any titles that contained Living Dead, while Romero was able to create sequels of his own.  If you are reading this then you are more than likely familiar with Romero's quintessential series of Dead films.

What you may not know is that Return of the Living Dead and it's four sequels are parallel sequels to Romero's films.  The script for RotLD is based off of a novel written by Russo and was originally to be shot in 3D and directed by Tobe Hooper.  Hooper however decided to back out and make Lifeforce instead.  The job was then offered to Dan O'Bannon....the man who brought us Alien.  Part of the deal that O'Bannon struck with Russo was that he would be able to rewrite the script to further differentiate the film from Romero's Dead films.  The final film has almost nothing to do with the source novel....the there was a novelization of the film written afterwards.  Still with me?  Good.  I should also mention that Russo also made another sequel that he considers "cannon" to the original NotLD called Children of the Dead.

We're the kids of America....whoa-oh.....

Frank tells Freddie about 2.4.5 Trioxin....
Okay, now that we got all that history out of the way, we can get on with the rest of this post!  Time to hit up the Midnight Cinephile Time Machine™ and go back to the early 90's.  I was in 8th Grade.  My older sister was in high school and was in the marching band.  On Friday nights, the band played at the football game.  So Friday nights worked a little like this:  My mother would get home from work and make up the grocery list.  My sister would get her band uniform ready and we'd pile into the car.....drop her off at the high school and then Mom, my younger sister and I would go grocery shopping. Sometimes we'd stop at the video store.....sometimes not.

Once we got home, we'd unload and put away the groceries.  By this point it was about 7:00 or so. We'd have dinner and then my younger sister was put to bed around 8:00.  After she was in bed, my mother would go down to the high school to wait for my older sister to get back from the football field and such.  I would stay home with the kiddo.  Sometimes they weren't gone long....other times it was quite a while...depending on how the game went, traffic, etc.


Awww...she's wagging her spine....she must be happy.
We used to get WPIX out of New York and in October, they would run a horror film for their 8 O'Clock movie.....and being that it was a month long theme, they called it Shocktober.  Clever, eh?  Well, one rainy and miserable Friday night, I tuned in to find that the film being shown was the subject of this here post.  I had seen Night of the Living Dead many times and I had heard of Return....but I hadn't seen it.  That night turned out to be one of the nights that Mom had to wait quite a while for my sister to get to the car.  I was more than an hour into the film before they got home, and I was completely mesmerized by the black comedy.  I didn't get to finish the film that night......I don't remember why exactly, but all I know is I missed the last half of the film.  This was quickly rectified on my next visit to the video store.

Return of the Living Dead is a black comedy at heart, striking a delicate balance between gore, horror and comedy gags.  The film absolutely drips with atmosphere, which is set up almost immediately with my favorite scene between Frank (Karen) and Freddie (Mathews).  See Freddie is a new employee at the Uneeda (Get it?  Get it?!?) Medical Supply Warehouse.  While sitting at a head to head double desk, Frank is filling out some forms and Freddie is flipping through a medical supply catalog.  Freddie asks Frank what the weirdest thing he's ever seen.  This is where Frank relates the story of Night of the Living Dead, telling Freddie that it's really based on a true story, but the facts got changed so the filmmakers could avoid getting sued.  Apparently, the army developed a chemical called 2.4.5. Trioxin as a pesticide and it had an unfortunate side effect on dead bodies.  The bodies that were affected by the chemical were collected in drums by the army and instead of being sent to be destroyed were delivered to Uneeda accidentally.  They'd been sitting in the basement ever since.  The story is interrupted by the phone ringing, causing a nice jump scare moment.  I don't know exactly what it is about this scene that I love so much....sure it's pretty much just exposition, but it has such a great campfire tale quality to it.  A large part of it has to do with James Karen's fantastic acting.

Other highlights include Linnea Quigley's character, Trash.  A morbid, death obsessed punk chic who pretty rapidly discovers that her fantasy death is not what she was hoping for.  See, in her fantasy, a bunch of old dirty men surround her and biting and pulling her apart.  When she's surrounded by zombies, she doesn't seem like she's enjoying it as much as she thought she might earlier.  Linnea spends most of the film naked, after a strip tease on top of an outdoor crypt ends in screaming and running.

Om Nom Nom Nom Nom!!!!!
RotLD portrays the zombies as intelligent and capable of speech, which was quite a departure from other zombie films.  Return was also the first time that the zombies were depicted as eating brains, instead of just flesh.  This is most effectively shown when the zombies eat a pair of paramedic's brains and then use their radio to call dispatch and "Send more paramedics!"  Oddly enough, the brain thing really stuck in the public's consciousness.....more times than not if you see someone doing a zombie impression, they're moaning for brains.

Come on guys, we're gonna do the Thriller Dance!
Return of the Living Dead sports one the best punk rock soundtracks to come out of any 80's horror movie, including music from 45 Grave, The Cramps and SSQ.  It doesn't get much better than least it didn't until The Lost Boys came out...but that's a whole other story!

Midnight Cinephile Totals:

Body Count:  There are about 12 major on screen deaths...but if you want to get really technical about it, the the zombies are dead bodies that are reanimated, so technically......or if you want to get really technical......the death toll is probably up in the thousands.  You'll see what I mean at the end of the film.

Boob Count:  As mentioned before, Linnea Quigley gives us a strip tease and then spends the rest of the film wearing only leg warmers....even as a blue tinged zombie!  We also get the upper half of a rotted female zombie.  Not exactly what you were hoping for, I know...but she's still got boobs, so I guess that counts.

Beast Count:  Zombies.  Lots and lots of zombies.

Final Thoughts:
This truly is quintessential 80's splatterpunk.  It's four sequels got steadily worse and I suppose I will cover them at some point....but if you dig zombies and you thought that Shaun of the Dead was the only ZomCom out there, then you need to check out this film.  Required viewing for any self respecting Cinephile.

Final Rating:
Five out of Five Pizza Rolls!