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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 17.33%
Average: 2.67%
Pretty Bad: 2.67%
Total Crap: 13.33%

4 reviews, 51 user ratings

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Return of the Living Dead
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by Jay Seaver

"Good messy fun."
5 stars

"The Return of the Living Dead" is something close to a failure as a horror movie, if it was even trying to be one. That's no bad thing; of all the hyphenated genres, "horror-comedy" is the one whose components are most at cross-purposes, and in a case like that, it's better to do one thing very well than to do two poorly.

The film posits that the events of Night of the Living Dead actually happened, although Romero took some liberties in adapting the story. Afterward, the military put the zombies into containers, some of which were accidentally shipped to a biological supplies distributor in Louisville, KY. The place's night manager, Frank (James Karen), is showing these barrels to new employee Freddy (Thom Mathews) when he breaks the seal, letting one zombie out. Frank, Freddy, and their boss Burt (Clu Gulager) subdue it somewhat, but no amount of dismemberment will actually stop it moving. They get the bright idea of bringing it to the funeral home Ernie Kaltenbrunner (Don Calfa) owns next door and burning it in the crematorium. It's not a bad plan, but the smoke coming out of the stack combines with the rain clouds overhead, basically putting the virus that reanimates corpses into an aerosol form. That's the bad news; the worse news is that there's a graveyard nearby where Freddy's punk friends are waiting for him to finish work.

It's easy to make a zombie movie sound silly just by listing what happens in it, but writer/director Dan O'Bannon embraces that silliness better than most. The little details are funny, and he gets his cast to play it not quite straight, but far short of mugging. When Burt and Frank are trying to convince Ernie to let them burn a few rather active garbage bags full of zombie parts, they spin a lame story about the bags being full of rabid weasels which is obviously ridiculous, and there's this look on their faces that says they're sorry it's the best they could come up with, but, you know, this isn't a situation they're prepared for. That's the feel of the whole movie in a nutshell, from the paramedics examining someone who has recently been infected to the military liaison (Jonathan Terry) who has been waiting for a call like this for a while - we're doing the best we can, but the whole zombie thing is throwing us off.

There's a lot of fun to be had from the fact that O'Bannon's zombies are almost a hundred and eighty degrees away from the traditional characteristics - they're able to run, speak, and use tools just as well as they could when they were alive, barring any damage to their bodies. They could probably fit into everyday society if not for the overwhelming urge to eat the brains of the living. There's not a whole lot of explanation given for why, but it seems to make perfect sense to the zombies, and who else really needs to worry about it beyond making sure that their own brains aren't eaten. The zombies' tendency to draw the word "braaaaaaaaains" out manages to both wink at the audience at how arbitrary and silly it is while still being vaguely threatening.

The film serves up a bunch of gross-yet-funny gags, and the guys doing special effects and makeup don't falter very often. A half-rotted corpse (more or less completely gone below the waist) is plenty grisly, but Cherry Jones has enough leeway to give a chatty, funny performance. There's plenty of blood all over the place, of course - it's the most cost-effective way to a gorehound's heart - but there's some other fairly impressive bits. One of the things in the biological supply house is cross-sectioned dogs, which are naturally animated by the zombie gas, and it's a pretty cool effect for 1985; something that would probably be done with CGI now and have people claiming it couldn't be done any other way.

What the cast may lack in star power, it makes up for in enthusiasm. The younger actors all seem to recognize that the worst thing they can be is wooden, so veer more toward the hammy, especially Mark Venturini and Linnea Quigley, playing punkers with nicknames like "Suicide" and "Trash". Thom Mathews has a likable "in over his head" quality as Freddy. The real prizes are the older guys, though - Don Calfa, Clu Gulager, and James Karen play people settled in the world, and some of the early scenes where Calfa's laid-back Ernie contrasts with Gulager's panicking, while Karen plays as dim as the teenagers, are priceless. Jonathan Terry also comes close to stealing the movie as a gruff old soldier.

"The Return of the Living Dead" straddles the fine line between being a funny zombie movie and being a parody of the genre, leaning more toward the first because it's willing to do its own thing rather than be beholden to what other films have done as the source of its jokes. It's a ton of fun in a crowded theater, and doesn't need to be anything else.

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originally posted: 06/09/07 10:03:34
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User Comments

10/30/16 morris campbell fun and scary zombies and the ending works what other choice did they have 4 stars
9/25/12 roscoe fun, vut zombies took too long to come. The ending was terrible too and sudden. a cop-out. 4 stars
11/16/11 Golden J. Williams Jr. SOO GOOD, Linnea Quigley dancing nude on the crypt; oh yes! 5 stars
10/09/11 KingNeutron Still a classic, and some good performances - serious homage 4 stars
1/11/10 art A GREAT HORROR FLICK! V 3 stars
12/29/09 Chad Dillon Cooper Perfect blend of horror and comedy with attitude. 5 stars
1/20/09 Camilo Espinoza Fun, fun, fun 5 stars
1/17/09 Shaun Wallner Scary Film! 5 stars
4/01/08 Justin One of the best of the horror-comedies 5 stars
6/10/07 Blizz Tarman is the best-looking zombie to ever grace the silver screen. See it for him alone!!! 4 stars
5/02/07 fattyjoe37 Best zombie movie ever. Hilarious and horrifying at the same time. 5 stars
12/28/06 David Pollastrini good gore. 4 stars
11/27/05 cr a campy zombie movie with wild teenagers , goofy story, acting was decent, bad ending 2 stars
10/26/05 chris an ok movie but the comedy spoilt it 3 stars
8/23/05 ES If you like zombies that shuffle around and eat people, look no farther, fairly good 4 stars
8/04/05 Gobledygook LONG LIVE TARMAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
6/26/05 DennyRoss The zombie standard in the 80's. Full of gore, humor & plausibility. Great flick 5 stars
12/30/04 Gray sucked 1 stars
12/24/04 Anne-Marie A riot! Good unclean zombie fun 5 stars
9/25/04 Sugarfoot Thom Mathews was great in this movie, what happened to this guy's career? 4 stars
5/01/04 dead next door I LOVE THIS MOVIE. 5 stars
4/18/04 lee simpson utterly fantastic, kitsch and kookie - loved it! 5 stars
3/29/04 true review - correct review everytime weak story but great execution, much better than dawn of the dead which has no plot at all 4 stars
3/28/04 HorrorScribbler A hoot from start to finish. Send more cops! Send more paramedics! 5 stars
2/07/04 KMG what a great film! 5 stars
1/26/04 Eric Matthews and the old dude make it great. their the 2 stooges of horror. A great team 4 stars
12/21/03 Amsterdam I love 5 stars
11/02/03 American Slasher Goddess One of the great horror comedies of the 80's. 5 stars
10/19/03 dead motherf**ker kicked ass! 5 stars
10/18/03 Samuel Justus Corny brain-munching zombies...I LOVE IT!!! 5 stars
5/13/03 zombiemeister mmmm.brains.(yawn) 5 stars
4/05/03 y2mckay Clever and funny zombie parody, Linnea Quigleys tits amazing, call it "Romero Lite" 4 stars
3/13/03 kelley jewell great movie 4 stars
3/12/03 The Talking Elbow " BraiNz!!!!!! " that's some funny shit, but at the end l was scratching my head, wtf? 2 stars
12/28/02 KMG WHAT A PIECE OF SHIT 1 stars
11/22/02 Charles Tatum Top 20? No. 4 stars
11/22/02 Kyle Great horror comedy. 5 stars
11/22/02 dead i love it 5 stars
10/12/02 Djfunkmasterg New Life into an old subject. 5 stars
9/22/02 Morally Sound Nude cemetery dancing, What more can one say? 5 stars
9/08/02 Film Dude Andrew, why the hell did you rate this 3 times? 5 stars
9/03/02 Shannon Best movie EVER! Love the dvd, but they dubbed the best zombies!I love this movie above all 5 stars
5/21/02 the Grinch ROTLD is out of print....Look on Ebay, it's there all the time...VHS around $30..DVD more $ 5 stars
4/05/02 Tracy My favorite movie. Braiiiiiiiiiiins!!! Cannot find it though on sale anywhere 5 stars
2/17/02 Clarance eah... thanks 1 stars
2/02/02 Apocalypstick Oi! Rubbed me the right way 5 stars
10/24/01 C. Phelps In a word: Brilliant. 5 stars
10/15/01 ElephantShoes BRAINS! BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAINS!! 5 stars
3/21/01 John A Masterpiece 5 stars
2/19/00 Vlad_M animated split dogs! 4 stars
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  02-Mar-1985 (R)



Directed by
  Dan O'Bannon

Written by
  Dan O'Bannon

  Clu Gulager
  James Karen
  Linnea Quigley
  Don Calfa
  Thom Mathews

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