I was quite late to the party with ‘Return of the Living Dead’ and man oh man! do I regret it! It wasnt that easily available in the UK for various licensing reasons, but in the mid 2010’s I nabbed an original VHS copy from 1986 (God bless Vestron) followed quickly by Second Sights Bluray release and more recently Scream Factories 4k offering. Frankly? After the first viewing I never looked back.
This things just…INCREDIBLY daft good fun. a something of a sequel to ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (In universe the 1968 movie was released, but it transpires the movie was actually a fictional retelling of an ACTUAL failed government experiment that got largely covered up, with the film being made to muddy the waters) As we follow a hapless group of punks, new wave kids and some technicians at a medical supply facility (and mortuary) as they accidentally release Trioxin, a chemical that reanimates the dead onto some medical supplies, reanimating them, ultimately leading to a mass ressurection of the dead.
And this things damn near perfect in that subgenre of zombie movies that dont take themselves too seriously. The scripts zippy, perfectly paced, with a rock solid tone, some fantastic comedy on multiple levels thats near perfectly balanced between slapstick and witty dialogue. Speaking of which, the dialogues largely rock solid as well. Its a clean 3 acts that transition seamlessly and effortlessly. a minor criticism is it DOES slow down just a tiny bit in the 3rd act…at least…a tiny bit slower than I personally would have liked. But im splitting hairs honestly, this things one of the best horror movie scripts i’ve ever seen.
The directions more than solid too with a cast and crew that seemingly really got into the swing of things and as a result, we have a highly styalized, creative and unique looking picture thats Iconography absolutely preceeds it. How do you one up a near perfect script? you marry it up to some near perfect visuals!
The cast direction is unlike anything i’ve seen before, this thing plays like a comic book, and I love it for that. the cast are all very melodramatic, know exactly what tone to play this thing as and its clear Dan knew what he wanted from the cast because, they deliver something that, I dont feel any other cast would have quite been able to match.
As for the cine? Wonderful, simply wonderful. We have a lovely grungy punk aesthetic with PLENTY of wonderful uses of colour and lighting (the night work here is fantastic) for a largely wet set, the work thats been done here is nothing short of miraculous. shots are well composed, with moments here that EVEN TO THIS DAY, are considered the high water mark for zombie movies in terms of cine.
The camera is constantly moving around the sets and locations, this is a production that feels like it has a personality behind it, it doesnt feel dead behind the eyes, it doesnt feel like its going through the motions. It feels like, between the direction and cine, these people WANTED to tell you this story. and I absolutely loved it. It looks gorgeous quite frankly.
Time HAS revealed a few cracks in this thing I will say, while the puppet work in this thing is just beautiful, modern remastering has revealed a lot of the string and wire work that fuzzy VHS vision was very kind towards, the same goes for some of the prosthetics. On VHS and DVD they were more than fine, but in the age of HD, there are a few cracks appearing. But honestly? I’d say given everything that DOES work here, a few signs of age is neither surprisng or unwanted. It still looks damn fine doing what it does.
The performances are equally utterly delightful, for my money the pairing of Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa and Thom Matthews as the owners of the morg and medical stock suppliers (With Tom tagging along as Freddy, the ‘learning the ropes’ first day-er) Was an absolute force, that gave this film some of it’s absolute best moments. they balance genuine horror with some delightful black comedy near perfectly, and this film gives them the chance to work a full range of delighted to violently ill across the whole runtime. They do NOT dissapoint.
Linnea Quigly is probably most peoples go to here as ‘Trash’ playing a wonderfully demented punk who quite literally gets turned on by the thought of death (her tombstone dance sequence was no doubt one of the key moments in many a horror fans lives that convinced them they’d made the right choice on movie night) But the other punks all have their own unique characters and much like the above they bring their all to proceedings creating a film that feels a touch hammy, but certainly all the better for it.
Oh! and because most people miss him, good LORD can we raise a beer to Allan Trautman, The ‘Tar Man’ in this movie. I’ve NEVER seen someone move like that before, he genuinely sells the audience on being a rotting and decomposing tub zombie.
And the soundtrack OH MAN THE SOUNDTRACK, all punk and new wave. it’s just…*chefs kiss* its the perfect marriage of a fantastic piece of work to another fantastic piece of work, with the likes of ‘The Cramps’, ‘SSQ’, ’45 Grave’ and the ‘Jet Black Berries’ this score enhances the film 10 fold, taking it WELL above and beyond anything a more conventional scoring could have ever hoped to achieve.
What more can I say? this is the ‘Comfy Chair and roaring fireplace’ of movies, it’s the ‘Steak and mash potatos’ of movies, it’s a total comfort watch, its easy going, incredibly well made, and most importantly FUN. i’d argue it was quite possibly my favourite zombie movie (it’s definitely top 3) and I have a real soft spot for it, absolutley one not to miss!