Simply, here in 2020, this 35-year-old classic, with its own army of the dead, screaming for BRAINS, given a rebirth at night from a properly title Resurrection Cemetery, they’re all reborn after a chemically induced rainstorm unleashing the pain and agony rotting in their graves, needing to feed. This movie craves the attention of all horror fans, now open your minds, and give it over to the Zombies.

Let’s venture back in time to the year of 1985 the horror genre was filled  with fond memories, there was a mixed bag of tricks and treats, flooding the market from slashers, vampires to even mad-doctors up to disastrous deeds and of zombies. Speaking of zombies there were primarily three,  Day of the Dead, from George Romero fame and hit in July, then Return of the Living Dead (ROTLD) released in August and finally Hard Rock Zombies a horror-comedy in September, however most only truly know of the first two flicks. There’s likely not a horror fan, who doesn’t know everything about ROTLD, but I’m still reviewing it and looking to dig some new elements for some to enjoy, I do hope you’re hungry.

I admit that this is likely one of my favorite zombie movies rivaling Zombie [1979], the music still fits the movie, the actions and names of the punk characters work phenomenally well, great chemistry and the storyline is darker, and its well-placed comedic lines make it an enjoyable film. So how did this movie come about well the procession was not easy, first the copyright issue, after Night of the Living Dead (1968) [NOTLD], director George Romero parted ways with his film partners, John Russo, Russell Streiner and Rudy Ricci and to cut through a lot of backstory Russo and Romero remained friends, and mutually cut the copyright in half with George using “of the Dead” and rest “Living Dead” in the end though this story becomes muddled. Nevertheless, horror fans enjoy both franchises of zombie movies from these two men, it varies somewhat different from those who argue about the slasher titans Freddy and Jason. By 1978, Russo tried unsuccessfully to market his novel Return of the Living Dead into an actual film, the story is unrelated to the movie, but the title had some interest and eventually found its way to the proper hands of the right financing team. Among them was successful executive producers John Daly and Derek Gibson both who the previous year back The Terminator [1984], with producers Graham Henderson, and Tom Fox (he was the only one to stay on board for the other 4-films in the franchise, RIP 2004). As the film neared production, after numerous delays, Tobe Hooper (Lifeforce [1985]) originally slated to direct the movie in 3-D, but left the project when offered a 3-picture deal with The Cannon Group, placing it in the hands of Dan O’Bannon (Alien [1979]), who originally penned it for Tobe. Dan had seen it all as unique opportunity and liked the story ideas from Russo, Ricci and Streiner, taking the story in a new direction while it was faithful to the beginning of NOTLD a new original storyline was created for the film. He incorporated the usage of punk misfits, hated by police, indulged in numerous sexual deviant aspect and just simply misfits living their youth to the fullest, all while making a low-budget horror flick which had a successful reaping of $14 million at the box office and devoured the rental markets of then. As previously stated, the film contains well-placed comedic lines, but I truly don’t consider it a comedy horror film, when I think of that subgenre films such as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein [1948] or Young Frankenstein [1974] come to mind and the gore factor stays an even level, it goes with the brains, oops pardon me, “BRRRAAAIIINNNS!” The movie kicks-ass 35-years later, timeless and aged well in 2020, yes some of the special effects are clunky as well as a few set-pieces, but that’s minor compared to all the pluses, its first distribution came theatrically from Orion Pictures, since then has come and gone with different releases, most recently from Scream Factory , with a slight change in soundtrack music used on the film.



Now, I could go step-by-munch through the entire movie, but many know the plot extremely well, and there’s a possibility someone might stumble upon this review and be completely unaware of the story, therefore I shall skim over parts of it. We start on July 3rd, at the UNEEDA Medical Supply Warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky, with employee Frank (James Karen (Poltergeist [1982]) training Freddy (Thom Mathews) and begins showing around and then suckers him about a story concerning NOTLD and how to chemically to kill marijuana actually resulted in bringing the dead back to life and inadvertently sent the canisters of them to their location. A quick visit down to basement to visit it winds up with the actual movie starting as a gas emits and all hell breaks loose. O’Bannon then switches to the introduction of the punks who want to party and Tina (Beverly Randolph) and her boyfriend Tommy knows the hot spots, hence we start discovering all of them, namely ride (Mark Venturini) Suicide’s car (what a name!). Realizing they have to wait for Tommy to get off work they decide to party in a cemetery, which soon has Trash (Linnea Quigley (Silent Night, Deadly Night [1984])), originally known as Legs, fantasizing about being eaten to death (major foreshadowing) leads to a tombstone striptease act, and contains some controversy over her nether region. An interesting character sometimes forgotten is Ernie (Don Calfa (Chopper Chicks in Zombietown [1989])) the mortician next door who had curious background, hinted at never fully developed, his relation to the Nazi Party, listening to Germanic music and very handy with his Walther P38, who helps his friend Burt (Clu Gulager (Terror at London Bridge [1985])), with his undead problem. throughout the first half of the film, a constant cutback to what is happening with the punks until the two factions meet up and once more that classic on-point soundtrack kicks into high-gear. Then there’s another wonderful half female zombie (Cherry Davis), the practical special effects still work today, it’s from her that the audience and characters all learn about the afterlife and why they feed on brains.

There are many great scenes and memorable lines in the film, all the horror fans who’ve seen this have their favorites, and it’s only fair I share mine, the first time the skull rises up from the grave, the music starts with “Party time!” by 45 Grave, this sequence is very good, so much occurring and learning about the rain burning the skin, who punks truly care for in their fleeing from impending doom. Next up is two quotes, “Send… more… paramedics,” stated by old zombie, who understands that dispatch with send out more food to them; and another is bizarre quote “I know you’re here, because I can smell your brains,” from Freddy to Tina, clearly showing his love for her.  Finally, the creation and appearance of Tarman (Allan Trautman) who used a costume made from the thickening agent of milkshakes and made the excited statement of “Brains…. More Brains,” a hugely comical, everlasting slimly delight to all the fans. Nonetheless, that soundtrack really is terrific for the movie!

Often critics and fans point to the difference between O’Bannon and Romero films as Dan’s zombies move at a normal pace, able to communicate and have some higher-level problem-solving skills; while George used many social metaphors and his zombies shuffle at a snail’s pace. However, this is slightly incorrect, in both NOTLD and Dawn of the Dead [1978] his undead creations do have problem-solving skills, in the 1968 film the first graveyard zombie (S. William Hinzman) uses a rock to try to smash the car window and in the 1978, film, one zombie (John Harrison) poses as mannequin and lounges out Roger (Scott H. Reiniger). Another element overlooked by some, in NOTLD if one is bitten or they die, if the brain isn’t completely destroyed they return as a zombie however in ROTLD, the rain is mixed with the chemicals used on the undead and later the cremated corpse to gives life to the dead, in addition, as everyone knows in other zombie flicks shooting or striking one in the head kills them, not so in the O’Bannon’s version.

There’s really not a lot to nitpick with this movie, and some might say that is a basis of mine, but most of the special effects still work, aided by a clever story, that includes an origin background, a solid cast, with an incredible fan base. The fans extend past the cinema lover to musicians that named their bands after the parts of the film such as Send More Paramedics; countless versions of the soundtracks, and plenty of merchandise. No one can forget about the impact of the character Spider (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.; who was homeless at the time of making the film, but never let on about his status), while others know about Jewel Shephard displeasure of her role of Casey, she was up for the character of Trash, which since subsided greatly;  however many may be unaware of Brian Peck’s involvement with the franchise, in part 1 as Scuz, Part II was a zombie and then moved to crew personnel by Brian Yuzna’s Part III. One of the keys to this movie, comes from the cast, they had the luxury that most low-budget productions, don’t get, which is ample rehearsal time, to become familiar and even natural with characters, dialogue and especially each other, it truly makes them all very believable as they nailed their parts for shifting tone throughout the film. One needs to understand that film is fair and balance, it doesn’t condense to the audience, rather treating them with respect and allowing the characters to think, rationalize and justify their actions, and yet it still all results more undead hordes, craving them. Some may be or perhaps unaware this movie connects the Friday the 13th universe, three of the actors starred in two sequels first Mark Venturini and Miguel A. Nunez Jr had roles of Vic and Demon respectively in Friday 13th: A New Beginning [1985] which was released in March and then Thom Matthews as Tommy in Friday 13th Part VI: Jason Lives [1986].

What else can I really say about The Return of the Living Dead, it’s a champion, low-budget horror, with high-scale success, it never goes for a cheap thrill, or corny lines of humor, the cast treated was smartly as well as the viewer. As I stated earlier, the cast was allowed to grow into their characters with ample rehearsal time, discovering their own personalities, chemistry all works and feels very nature on screen. Face it, zombie movies never clear survivor in overall terms, it’s more of living for the moment and everlasting plans; until this movie truly only two veins existed in zombies movies, Romero’s and Italian Undead Universe, but this unlocked the gates to new variations, and while it took time for the dead, claw and climb out of their graves it was well worth the wait for the brain munching to start a feeding frenzy.

TAGLINE: They’re Back From The Grave and Ready To Party!

IMDb Rating: 7.3/10

Baron’s Rating: 8.0/10

Followed by: 

Return of the Living Dead II (1988)

Return of the Living Dead III (1993)

Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis (2005)

Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave (2005)

Edited into: 

Cent une tueries de zombies (2012) (Short)


Soundtrack Review – of CD from HERE.

Where to buy: