30 Day Horror Review – ZOMBIE FILM – The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

When two bumbling employees at a medical supply warehouse accidentally release a deadly gas into the air, the vapors cause the dead to rise again as zombies. (IMDB synopsis)

The final film on my list! It’s been one hell of a month, and I wanted to end it on a positive note – hopefully go out with a bit of a bang. I chose this one because it is supposedly the first film in which a zombie utters the word “Braaaaains!” I bet you didn’t know that! I didn’t! So now that the living dead have apparently returned from wherever they’ve been – on holiday, I expect – let’s give them the warm welcome they deserve.

Edit: This is NOT a Romero film. Just to be clear. They invited him to produce it, though, and he never responded.

Review:

So, at the beginning of this one, a young man named Freddie is being shown around a medical supply warehouse, where he’ll be working from now on. He’s a little unnerved after being shown a cadaver on a hook in one of the rooms, but I guess that’s not too shocking in a place like this; a customer’s bound to come in and ask for one sooner or later. While he’s at work, his friends hang around in a nearby abandoned cemetery and, in the case of one girl, get naked. No respect for the dead at all. Tut tut, tsk tsk.
Freddy is told by Frank, a co-worker, that Romero’s Night of the Living Dead is based on true events caused by a chemical spill, and that the bodies involved in the original incident are being kept right here in the basement. One of the military containers of course bursts open and releases the deadly chemicals, as well as the corpse living inside. Aaaaaaaand that was the first nine minutes. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD!
I didn’t know if this film was supposed to be a spiritual successor or a parody of NOTLD, and in the end, it turned out to be neither. What is it, then? Well, it’s a comedy horror that’s just as gross as it is goofy. The zombies, which are actually referred to as zombies for a change, are quite different from the undead in Romero’s original work. For one thing, these zombies don’t want to eat flesh – only brains – which they apparently do to relieve the pain of being dead. Also, the tried and true method of killing them, removing the head or destroying the brain, doesn’t work. As in The Thing, the best way to dispose of them is fire and lots of it. Unfortunately, the first time the characters try this, the resulting smoke creates a chemical rainfall which brings to life every single deceased resident of the cemetery. Whoops!
Although Freddie and Frank are responsible for the initial accident, neither of them are the protagonist. In fact, it’s not terribly clear, but I think it’s this guy called Burt – who is a total badass, by the way. Level-headed, resourceful, decisive, good with melee weapons. Everything you want in a zombie outbreak resistance leader, basically. The other characters include Ernie, a mortician, and friends of Freddie, who are all teenagers in various statement outfits. None of them really stuck out to me, with the exception of Trash, who becomes a naked zombie, and Tina, Freddie’s girlfriend, who can really scream when she wants to. And, er, not much else.
Ooh! You know what else I like about the zombies in this version? They talk! Oh yes they do! (Not that the characters are willing to have a chin-wag with them for the most part.) There’s one moment when Burt straps down a limbless zombie lady and asks it a few questions, which is always a good thing to try in an emergency. GO BURT! Another, rather amusing moment comes after the zombie horde has devoured the paramedics from a visiting ambulance. One of them drags itself closer to the two-way radio and asks the woman on the other end to send more food paramedics. But the most grim example comes when Freddie has Ernie and Tina cornered in the attic. He starts telling his old girlfriend that he loves her and to please let him up. Not a nice thing to hear. The Zombie Frank is more honourable than that – he elects to shut himself in the burny chamber in the crematorium before he goes mad and starts eating people’s brains. (It is called a burny chamber, isn’t it? What? It’s not? What’s it called? … Well I’m calling it a burny chamber.)
What else can I say? Er, a lot of the usual zombie movie stuff is present – boarding up the windows, trying to drive to safety with fifteen zombies hanging off the windscreen wipers, improvised close-range weapons, etc. etc. etc. I was surprised to see that a lot of the science was correct, e.g. blood pooling at the bottom of Zombie Freddie’s body when he sits still for too long. The whole ‘police are useless’ thing I hate so much about ALL films, not just horror, is justified in this case as the police are simply outnumbered, and their guns don’t really do anything. In fact, Burt eventually resorts to calling up the military and requesting their intervention. And what is the military’s contingency plan? A nuclear missile, of course! And, just like in Cabin Fever, this last-ditch attempt at containing the problem only serves to make things worse.
And then sequels! Four of them!

Final Verdict:

I think this was my favourite one – it was just the most fun and the most interesting one to watch. A controversial opinion, I know, but in my defense, I wasn’t brought up on Romero’s Living Dead series. MY introduction to the zombie film genre was Shaun of the Dead, so it’s sort of natural for me to gravitate towards more light-hearted zombie fare. However, I realise that there is a danger to always eschewing classic films in favour of their more parodical, cynical offspring, and so I must fight this. I must find a zombie film that takes itself seriously and learn to appreciate it!
In other words… this isn’t all, folks.

Rating:

8 jam sandwiches.

P.S. Later this week, I’ll be reviewing 28 Days Later, as requested by my good friend Jennifer. Also, tomorrow, I’ll try to wrap up this whole 30 Day Horror Review thing, with a list of all my favourites from each category. Thanks for reading!

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