Classic Review – The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

return of the living dead 1985


The Return of the Living Dead

Directed by Dan O’Bannon

Starring Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley

Review by Jordan

A majority of cinema goers seem to believe that the advent of running, talking zombies or meta-horror/comedies is a new one, perhaps brought about by the likes of Danny Boyle’s rage-virus introducing 28 Days Later (2002) and the hugely successful Zombieland (2009), but for a more intelligent breed of living dead where a walker wields a handgun one need just revisit George Romero’s third entry in his ongoing “… of the Dead” franchise Day of the Dead (1985), and for a horror/comedy with flesh eaters that to this day remains funnier than most comedies with make-up FX (the Tar-Man being particularly memorable) that also ensures its legacy as a true classic for horror nuts, The Return of the Living Dead (1985) is more than deserving of its esteemed status among its hard-core fans.

A clever story written by Rudy Ricci (who played a zombie in Night of the Living Dead), John A. Russo (co-writer of Night of the Living Dead) and Russell Streiner (producer of, you guessed it, Night of the Living Dead), with a screenplay by the great Dan O’Bannon who also directed, The Return of the Living dead joyously takes place in a world where Romero’s seminal 1968 masterpiece was based on true events, introducing a new epidemic once a Govt. created toxic gas is released into the air near a graveyard causing the dead bodies to become reanimated with a desire for that one apparently delicious delicacy… brains.

Choosing the wrong night to party in this graveyard are a group of mo-hawk sporting, leather-clad punks, including the immortalized fan-boy favorite Trash (scream queen Linnea Quigley), who must pair with mortuary caretaker Ernie (Don Calfa) and medical supply warehouse manager Frank (James Karen) to stay alive against the onslaught of surprisingly clever mindless creatures of the night.

Oh, some ambulance drivers turn up for a moment too, but unfortunately their nights end rather swiftly…

O’Bannon, who sadly passed away in 2009, still doesn’t get the recognition his legacy renders him deserving of, being co-writer of/acting in John Carpenter’s directorial debut and cult favorite Dark Star (1974) with later writing credits including Alien (1979), Dead & Buried (1981), Lifeforce (1985) and Total Recall (1990); all much loved genre films crafted by renowned film-makers. His influence on science fiction in particular has been profound, but through his ’85 self-aware horror effort it’s important to remember the influence he has had on horror also, noticeable whenever a new zombie movie is released intent on not taking itself too seriously; which would be most then.

4 unlucky ambulance drivers out of 5

the return of the living dead

11 responses to “Classic Review – The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

  1. Dan O’Bannon invented the whole concept of zombies eating brains, and he so seldom gets credit for it. His rationale is actually quite clever, on the directors commentary he explains that zombies eat brains for the endorphins, in order to numb the pain of having a body that is decaying and cannot repair itself. That explains why a reanimated corpse that has no need for food would attack and eat a human being.

    One of the great classics.

    • Oh great points mate! The sight of the zombie with only an upper half strapped to the operating table actually becomes strangely sad when you realise the pain it’s going through.

  2. I watched this when it came out on video for the first time and realy enjoyed it. Well done for your reviews, guys. Your choices are always spot on and we tend to have crossover of the films we are watching and reviewing. Really nice work.

  3. “Send More Police Cars”. Oh Damn I forgot how funny this movie is. Great review. You also gave me some nice flicks to watch in OBannon’s Career. So I will look out for those ones soon

  4. Brilliant film. I highly recommend the documentary MORE BRAINS! and the book THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF… which has lots of insight from those who were involved. One of my favorite films. Currently debating between Tarman and Bubba Ho-Tep to be immortalized on my arm. Still leaning towards Tarman.

    • Oh cheers man, will track them both down! It’s certainly in a different vein to the other zombie classics but by no means a lesser film.
      Ooh very hard decision!

  5. Pingback: Classic Review – Dead and Buried (1981) | Jordan and Eddie (The Movie Guys)·

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