‘The Return of the Living Dead’ offers blood, brains, mayhem


Illustration by Kathleen Hetherington.

In keeping with the theme of overlooked horror movies from the ’80s, the horror recommendation column comes to an end with a discussion of one of the greatest, a movie which takes what people know about zombies and throws it out the window. That movie is “The Return of the Living Dead.”

A satirical send-up of George Romero’s classic “of the Dead” movies, “The Return of the Living Dead” eschews the grim, apocalyptic tone of those movies in favor of style and humor while retaining a terrifying edge thanks to the film’s portrayal of the undead.

A middle manager at a medical warehouse recounts to the new recruit a tale about how “Night of the Living Dead” is based on real events, but the facts were changed around. When the two go to investigate the mysterious barrels kept in the basement, a leak causes a mysterious gas to seep out and into the building, a gas which eventually resurrects the dead occupants of a nearby cemetery.

“The Return of the Living Dead” plays out like a theatrical “Tales from the Crypt” episode, with oodles of violence, sexual imagery and twists to surprise the viewer. Throw a punk soundtrack into the mix and the result is a classic with an interesting take on the living dead.

In films like “Zombieland” and “The Walking Dead,” the rules are that a zombie is killed by destroying the brain. That is not the case here. When the two medical warehouse employees and their boss try to kill one of the reanimated cadavers running amok in the building, they discover that the rules Romero established don’t work.

Not only that, but these zombies are fast and intelligent, not to mention they crave brains, a now-engraved idea into pop culture, but probably not because of this movie.

“The Return of the Living Dead” did the concept of the running dead long before directors Zach Snyder and Danny Boyle ever came up with the idea to do it in their own pictures.

What keeps this movie entertaining is its excellent balance of horror and humor, all handled with ease by writer/director Dan O’Bannon. The man who wrote “Alien” and “Lifeforce” keeps things moving along and punctuates the situations with clever dialogue and memorable characters.

In an era where the concept of zombies is played out, “The Return of the Living Dead” still feels fresh, even nearly 35 years after its release. 

On Halloween night, bust out the drinks and snacks, invite some friends over and enjoy the greatest zombie story ever put on film.