Posted May 24, 2012 by Alex Moss Editor in DVD/Blu-ray
 
 

The Return Of The Living Dead


BRAAAAINS are on the menu in this cult zombie classic.

BRAAAAINS are on the menu in this cult zombie
classic.

You hear the word
Zom-com, a sub-genre of the horror comedy, your brain probably goes to Shaun Of The Dead, but the original
zom-com came nearly twenty years prior to the Pegg-Frost-Wright monster
mash.

In a story only
Hollywood could conceive John Russo,
co-writer of George A Romero’s Night of The Living Dead, retained the
rights to the ‘Living Dead’ title and became anxious to send-up his 1968 zombie
classic. Enter Alien writer Dan O’Bannon who wrote the script and elected to direct the film as
his directorial debut. The result
is The Return Of The Living Dead, a film that so brilliantly sends up the
zombie genre it has become the blue-print for all horror pastiche. Such is the influence of the film the
likes of South Park, Family Guy and most famously The Simpsons have all borrowed from
it.

When two bumbling
medical supply employees Frank (James
Karen
) and Freddy (Thomas Mathews)
accidentally unleash a toxic gas it sets in motion a chain of events which
reanimates a cadaver stored in the warehouse. With their boss Burt (Clu
Gulager
) anxious to cover up the mess he enlists his friend Ernie (Don Calfa) to help dispose of the now
living dead. Together they throw
the body into the mortuary’s furnace, but the chemicals in the zombie seep
their way into the atmosphere and rains on the local graveyard causing the dead
to rise from their coffins. With
all hell breaking loose a group of punk kids find themselves caught in the
middle of the mess.

The Return Of The
Living Dead is a rare film in the horror comedy genre which manages to do both
horror and comedy in equal measure.
The gore on offer is the kind of thing normally reserved for
video-nasties, but the excessive methods of dispatching the zombies is
hysterically wonderful. The first
zombie gets a pickaxe to the brain before having its head sawn off and finally
all its limbs removed. Even then
the thing still wriggles around in plastic bags. It’s the kind of zombie killing efficiency Ash from Evil Dead would be proud of.

O’Bannon, no
stranger to fountains of blood with his work on Alien, finds a wonderful
balance of icky gore and a sense of fun throughout. So while the fast moving, thinking and even speaking undead
might devour brains like ice-cream going out of fashion, the gruesome moments
are offset by genuine laughs. The
now infamous Tarman being the prime example, his look his terrifying but the
bizarre Michael Jackson shuffle combined with his bug-eyes and groans of
‘Braaaains’ are pitch perfect comedy.

Of course as with
all great horror the film is a wonderful reflection of society. The punk kids feeling outside of
society suddenly find themselves overrun by a new ‘society’ of undead who just
want to eat brains to stem the pain of their rotting flesh. If those aren’t emotions we can all
relate to then what is the world coming to?

The performances
are all inch perfect. For the most
part playing it straight in such over the top situations makes for a
wonderfully humorous enterprise. Beverly Randolph excels as the cutesy
innocent scream queen desperately cradling her dying boyfriend in her arms, Linnea Quigley is bonkers as the
clothes hating Trash and Mathews drools well enough to lend a comic edge to his
slow, painful, death. But it is
the senior members who bring much of the laughs. As Ernie Don Calfa, with his shock of blonde Aryan hair, is
like an 80s Peter Lorre, big eyed
and grunting his lines while maintaining a relative calm compared to those
around him. While James Karen as
the cocksure Frank is endlessly entertaining with his rolled-back eyes and slightly
too calm exterior.

All in all The
Return Of The Living Dead is a horror-comedy delight. It’s absurd and ridiculous in such ways as can only find a
guilty pleasure in your heart.


Alex Moss Editor

 
Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com