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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 Rob Gonsalves

"An all-timer, now an old-timer."
5 stars

It doesn’t feel right, somehow, for a punk, gory, young and snarky thing like "The Return of the Living Dead" to be 35 years old. But here we are (it was released August 16, 1985).

Though writer-director Dan O’Bannon was a busy screenwriter in the ‘70s and ‘80s (Alien, Total Recall) and directed one other film (1991’s The Resurrected), Return feels like a one-off, almost the Never Mind the Bollocks of ‘80s horror — fast, furious, and farcical. It’s a mammoth amount of fun, with a sharp trashy punk/new wave soundtrack and a trio of perfect performances by middle-aged actors in the midst of posturing, attitudinizing youth. It’s the three older guys, I think, who make Return not just great crappy fun but just plain great.

To give you an example of the level of acting craft: there’s a scene between Clu Gulager, as the owner of a warehouse, and Don Calfa, who runs the mortuary across the way, and I would put it up against any scene anywhere. Gulager wants to use Calfa’s crematorium. Why? Well, because he has several garbage bags full of writhing undead human body parts, and he needs to incinerate them. Calfa takes one look at the bags and says, what the hell? Gulager says, “…Rabid weasels.” The exchange gets weirder and weirder, and Gulager and Calfa effortlessly find the hilarious reality in it, and I’m serious, acting gets no finer than this. And this in what’s designed to be a throwaway zombie flick for bored ‘80s teens. Which it also is, but brilliantly.

Return was O’Bannon’s firecracker rewrite of a script by Night of the Living Dead’s Russell Streiner and John Russo, who’d envisioned it as a serious sequel to that George Romero classic. O’Bannon made it more of a riff; Night is referenced but not named, as a movie that was loosely based on events in Return’s universe. Tanks of toxic guck sit in the basement of Gulager’s warehouse, operated by James Karen, the third middle-aged guy, who accidentally punctures one of the tanks when showing the ropes to new hire Thom Matthews. Karen, one of the great That Guy character actors, expertly sets the film’s irreverent tone. He’s every older guy who showed you around on your summer job, coming off as a know-it-all but actually just as dumb as anyone. Truly punk, Return of the Living Dead has little respect for humans as a self-preserving species.

The body parts go up in flames; the smoke commingles with gathering storm clouds, and re-animating rain falls on the nearby cemetery. A small group of punks hang out there, waiting for their friend Matthews. The burning rain falls on them too, and soon re-awakened corpses are chasing them all over, craving their brains. Punks in 1985? Well, the movie is set in Kentucky; maybe they’re Kentucky punks who took a while to get the memo. (The post-punk delight Repo Man had opened a year and a half earlier, and yet the two movies seem a natural double feature.) Strangely, the girls (Linnea Quigley, Jewel Shepard, Beverly Randolph) come across more vividly than do the young guys, who all seem temperamentally interchangeable except maybe Suicide (Mark Venturini), who gets a tombstone-grandstanding speech (“Nobody understands me, you know that?”) that links him with the whiny crime-doing punks in Repo Man.

I have affection and respect for all of George Romero’s zombie films, but Return of the Living Dead occupies a particularly fond piece of my heart. It’s edited (by Robert Gordon, beautifully) for comedic timing, not horror, and mostly acted that way, too. By the time we get to Colonel Glover (Jonathan Terry), who authorizes the ultimate solution in a Lynch-like deadpan over the phone (“I see. And what did you do then? … And what did they do?”), we can add Bob Newhart to the list of influences on this sarcastic, winking apocalyptic cartoon that proves the utility of paramedics once and for all.

1985 was a great year for party movies. "Return of the Living Dead" goes that one better, asking you if you wanna party, and then giving it to you. It is, after all, party time.

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originally posted: 09/14/20 02:30:40
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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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