- Movie Rating -

The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

| August 16, 1985

Ten minutes into The Return of the Living Dead I was smiling.  Frank, the manager of a medical supply warehouse has been showing his new employee Freedy the ropes and has sat down to do some paperwork while the kid leafs through a medical book.  The kid reasonably asked “What’s the strangest thing you ever saw in here” and with that, the manager asks a question that I wouldn’t have expected in a million years: “Have you ever seen that movie ‘Night of the Living Dead’?”  Curiosity peaked!

Manager Frank goes on to say that Romero’s classic wasn’t fiction, it was based on a true story about a government experiment that led to some dead bodies being reanimated – and OH! – the bodies are stored in secure canisters down in the basement of this very warehouse!

From there The Return of the Living Dead declares itself.  This movie is not nestled in George Romero’s Dead movies, but is something separate all together.  Romeo’s movie, it says, was really only a movie.  The Return of the Living Dead is the real thing.  That’s a declaration that takes guts.

This movie has obviously been made with a separate intent, which reported legal issues have made possible.  It’s not like Night of the Living Dead or Dawn of the Dead or the awful Day of the Dead (stay tuned).  The ghouls in this movie seem hungrier, more violent, more aggressive and, I’ll say it, more entertaining.  The movie balances a comedic tone with the horror stuff that make this an odd but effective match.  It’s really a horror comedy largely because the ghouls are just as rancid and obnoxious as their living victims.

The story kicks off when the manager is showing the canisters in the basement, slaps one on the side and is met with a cloud of green gas that makes its way into the ventilation shaft and into the freezer, which contains a human cadaver.  The guy in the freezer begins to scream and bang on the walls but when he is released turns into one of the funniest scenes that I’ve seen in a very long time.

When the guys attempt to get rid of the body by cremating it, the gas then seeps into the local cemetery and soon grisly ghouls from every tomb are closing in to seal their doom.  That’s bad luck for them and bad luck for the troop of local punks who have come by early to pick up Freddy and have busied themselves partying in the graveyard.  When the ghouls begin to rise the punks find themselves running for their lives.  One girl whose stated dream is to be eaten alive by old men finds her wish coming true.

The rest of the movie tips its hat to your standard zombie pictures with panicked survivors boarding up doors and windows while thousands of zombies try and break in to feed on their brains.  The tension is palatable.  There are scenes in this movie that are really quite scary, particularly a rather unappetizing fellow in the basement of the warehouse whose skin and organs drip from his body while he lurches forward looking for fresh victims.

This is, of course, standard stuff but I was dazzled by the approach.  The movie offers what it promises but offers a little bit more.  There’s a sense of style and energy here that you don’t expect from a movie like this, and a sense of dread that mixes with the comedy in a way that could have gone wrong.  It talks just enough to keep things moving but never forgets to be a fast-moving horror picture.  This is the best zombie movie I’ve seen in years.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1985) View IMDB Filed in: Horror