Review: The Return of the Living Dead

Directed by Dan O’Bannon

Out now from Second Sight on DVD and Blu-ray

Cult horror comedy that really doesn’t need “more brains”.

For a small, low budget genre movie, The Return of the Living Dead has done all right for itself. It grossed more than three times its budget domestically, went on to spawn a number of sequels – an entire franchise, in fact – not to mention building a legion of loyal fans and being nominated for awards. With shows like The Walking Dead and movies such as the forthcoming World War Z flying the zombie flag at the moment, now is probably the perfect time commercially to re-release this one, along with a clutch of extras.

Louisville,Kentucky, 1984, and new employee Freddy (Thom Matthews) is being given a tour of the medical supply warehouse where he works by foreman Frank (James Karen). Out to impress, Frank shows him the hidden corpses in the basement – part of an experiment by the army to reanimate the dead – and accidentally damages one of the containers, releasing a toxic gas.

Meanwhile, a bunch of teens – including Trash (famous scream queen Linnea Quigley) who doesn’t seem able to keep her clothes on – have broken into the nearby graveyard, to ‘party’. It isn’t long before the inhabitants are also rising from those graves, and the group have to take refuge in a mortuary belonging to gun-toting embalmer Ernie (Don Calfa). As more zombies are created and the town overrun, it becomes a question of who will survive – especially when the military become involved once again.

Brainchild of John Russo, of Night of the Living Dead fame, and directed by Alien writer Dan O’Bannon – who rewrote the script to reflect his love of EC Comics – this movie certainly has some major horror credentials behind it. But for those who haven’t seen the film before, don’t expect some kind of cousin to George Romero’s series. Or if it is, it’s the kind of cousin who shows up at your house at Christmas and you get drunk and have a great time with, but then leaves after he’s trashed your place.

The Return of the Living Dead’s major selling point is also its greatest weakness: it’s a theme park ride, with some genuine laugh out loud moments (the re-animated split-section dog for instance), but you come out of it wondering if you’ve just wasted an hour and a half of your life you’ll never get back. Fortunately, Return… knows exactly what it is, and what it wants to do, so there are never any pretensions to something greater; apart from, perhaps, in the effects department. Even the actors know it’s nonsense and tailor their performances to suit. The only danger is, that in this serious day and age of The Walking Dead and World War Z, does dated 1980s horror comedy still have the same attraction? Well, some might just argue we need it more than ever before…

A fun zombie romp, but don’t expect anything more than that. 7/10

Paul Kane

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