retro review: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)

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“Brrraaaaiiiinnnssss!” RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is one of the best B-Movies ever made. WALKING DEAD fans take notice.

This cult classic 80s zombie flick is severely re-watchable. It is as funny as it is frightening. It delivers buckets of blood and tons of zombie carnage. It’s also self aware before SCREAM made it cool, deconstructing the zombie genre while being a part of it.

RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is totally 80s. A most excellent movie triumphantly suited for Midnight Screenings.

The Kids Aren’t Alright

I must have rented this for over a dozen sleepovers growing up in the 80s & 90s. ROTLD is the movie you watch with a bunch of buddies and yell at the screen. It’s a total blast. If you are a fan of horror movies and haven’t seen ROTLD you have just found your new favourite hidden gem.

Do not let RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD slip through the cracks.

Keep reading to find out why… Or walk down memory lane. This article is intended for a MATURE audience.

FREDDY and his girlfriend. She’s waiting with friends for him to get off work so they can “Paaaarty!”

Our story follows a college age student, FREDDY, who gets a new job at a Medical Supplies / Army Surplus Lab. Even though this rad dude is college age, he definitely skipped out on the post secondary education. This dim bulb is a punk just trying to earn some cash. And I mean “Punk” like the real deal head-banging-dye-my-hair-pierce-my-face-type 80s PUNK. He may have toned down his aesthetics for the job but his buddies waiting for him to get off work and party are full on gnarly dudes.

So, this guy’s boss , FRANK, shows him about the workplace and talks about some secrets of the trade. This might seem boring, but there are so many dry jokes sprinkled about. This segment is absolutely hilarious. When you’re not laughing, you’re intrigued. The movie slowly sucks you in as it begins to “like, totally wig you out, bruh”.

FREDDY & FRANK from later on in the film, when they meet their first “zombie”

Frank swaps macabre stories like where those medical skeletons for classrooms really come from. He (basically – paraphrasing here) asks the young punk, “You ever wonder why these skeletons all have perfect teeth? They’re from India. We’re supposed to believe 80 year olds have perfect teeth.” Spooky.

And it gets spookier as Frank eventually tells Freddy of the big bad secret stashed in the basement. This is where ROTLD breaks the 4th wall like SCREAM. He talks of the movie NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Now the story gets really interesting.

See there’s this barrel in the basement from sort of secret militray experiment. It goes like this, GEORGE A. ROMERO knew of the true story behind this experiment. He based his zombie movie on it. The very same movie we (the audience) love. There’s a dangerous gas that can bring the dead back to life. Frank tells the story right in front of this strange barrel. He taps on the lid to puncuate his point. TSSSH! It cracks, gas escapes into the facility, and into these men’s lungs.

Ladies and gentlemen we have THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD.

Freddy’s friends wait for him to get off work and party it up in the nearby cemetery. These guys are stereotypes, more characters than people, but it works for this sort of genre flick. We get the Mohawk Guy, Skinhead Chain in his Nose Guy, Preppy Girl(friend) aka I’m Not Velma, Flock of Seagulls / I’m not Tony Hawk, Short-Haired Morbid Chick, Runaway(s) Punk Chique, and Jheri Curl (I’m Not the Token Black) Guy.

We know since this is a zombie B-movie that these guys are really just horror flick fodder. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun with them first. They have some great jokes throughout. Part of the fun is the B-movie delivery style. It has to be seen to believe. Just delicious so-bad-it’s-good character stuff.

Fast Food… From later that night (when the dead return)

As Medical Warehous guys are knocked out, inhaling more and more nerve gas, night descends on our partiers in the graveyard. This segment screams 80s. And in the best way. 80s horror was stylish fun. It was full of cool practical special effects and gooey gore. At this point we’ve been having fun without zombies. But we know they’re coming up.

Movies took more time to set everything up back then. Anticipation was part of the fun. Like foreplay. We got excited here because we knew the zombies were coming soon. Every successful 80s horror had the 3 B’s: boobs, blood, and the “beast”. Every B is covered here. The beast here being the Living Dead. The best horror films follow the formula, executing it well: set-up, fun, and delivery of the 3 Bs.

LINNEA QUIGLEY gave the young teenage me one my favourite nude scenes ever. A super guilty pleasure. Well… That covers another B. This movie shamelessly delivered what the audience wants. Unapologetic. Tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek. Once we wiped the drool away, we cheered. For no apparent reason, Quigley’s character, TRASH, decides it’s time to strip. The song is perfectly cheesy, as is her dance, and the gang’s reactions.

BURT, the Boss a.k.a. “Slave Driver” (NERD ALERT: Easter Egg in the Eye Exam Chart)

This party sequence is cross-cut with Frank & Freddy waking up. They deal with an imbaulmed corpse in an alternately scary and funny scene. They call in the Boss, BURT. Once he recovers from their mind-blowing story and sees the evidence he’s on board. They chop up the cadaver and bring the body parts over to the Cemetary’s Morgue where we meet another great B-movie character.

The chemistry between these 4 men is almost like watching THE 3 STOOGES perform. They constantly toss jokes back and forth while dealing with a most ridiculous situation. A lot of these jokes work because of how serious this world is to these characters. Eventually, they come clean and tell the Coroner what happened.

LINNEA QUIGLEY plays TRASH

Cut back to Quigley’s super awesome naked dance with a tombstone backdrop. This joyous moment is quickly dashed as the dead rise. See: movie logic. Once the zombie nerve gas smokes from the crematorium it gathers in the clouds above, a storm brews, and stinging acid rain pours down on the cemetery.

This zombie awakening was filmed in an almost TIM BURTON sort of way, with miniatures and animatronics – slowly ascending through the layers of dirt, the coffin, through to the zombie eruption above ground. This sequence was pure nerdy delight, capped with the skeletal zombie rises from the grave, his jaw drops, and the music screams: “It’s Party Time!”

Cue the carnage. From this point on the movie doesn’t let up once. It’s actually terrifying and intense the first viewing. Our punks are attacked in the graveyard. Most of them dash for the nearby Supply Warehouse and barricade themselves inside. Later, the others end up in the Coroner’s house, with the 4 men already inside.

Quigley’s Trash has some of the darkest jokes. Before she stripped, her character volunteered one of the creepiest fetish / fantasies ever. She says she wants to die surrounded by old men and devoured. With the storm, Trash’s dreams come true. She is surrounded by zombies and attacked.

Trash later turns into a pale white zombie seductress. She arrives out of a misty steamy street, completely nude, with a deranged zombie head. That’s some shit only the 80s can give you. She stalks the police and paramedics who arrive at the cemetery.  We get a variety of zombie kills outside so we’re never bored when the scenes shift back inside with our heroes

More. Brains.

Our characters start to drop like flies. Paramedics and police arrive only to become Take-Out Meals for zombies. One of the best lines from the movie is when a zombie picks up the Ambulance’s radio and says, “Send. More. Para-medics.” Yes, these Walking Dead can talk. This is a fun 80s film, not a serious take on Zombies like WALKING DEAD.

Actually, rather than realism (regarding the zombie design) it’s more an homage to the Black & White Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. I noticed a lot of these zombies are white or varying shades of grey – like a Black & White original zombie. 

That’s not to say there isn’t any reality in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Since these Walkers can talk, our characters can ask them questions. They try and learn what happens. They ask what one zombie is feeling in a truly compelling scene. Later on, when the military gets involved with a containment plan it’s handled as realistically as you could hope for.

I’m not going to ruin who survives and who doesn’t, or how it ends. I’m hoping you’ll seek out ROTLD and give it a watch. If you like THE WALKING DEAD for some of it’s more exciting elements, or if you like zombie attacks and zombie gore, you will love this CULT CLASSIC.

There are so many awesome kills. There is inventive creature effects. There is a contained scenario where our punk heroes and medical professionals must fight to survive.

Find this movie. You may have just found your new favourite FUN zombie film.

RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is required viewing for every Zombie fan out there.

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What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Is this one of the best zombie movies ever? Or do you prefer serious zombies?

FRANK & FREDDY are sick from the nerve gas. According to the Paramedics they’re technically dead.

Did you like the comedy? Are Frank and Freddy one of your favourite comedic duos?

RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD and LINNEA QUIGLEY’s unapologetic nude scene is the stuff of CULT CLASSIC LEGEND

What are some of your favourite B-Movies from the 80s?

Remember FANGORIA? This was a nerd’s best friend pre-Interenet, full of behind the scenes secrets and practical effects work.

Was ROTLD too 80s? Down to the gratuitous nudity and extreme gore?

ROMERO’s DAWN OF THE DEAD

What is your favourite NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD movie? Do you include ROTLD (spiritually related) with the Romero films?

TRASH & SUICIDE – great names for great B-Movie characters

3 thoughts on “retro review: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)

  1. that whole exposition of being violently and sexually eaten alive by trash was
    way creepy she starts asking spider do you ever fantasise about dying he reply
    no she continues on about there’s so many different way’s of dying violently
    then she kneels up and saying about strange old men comes up to her and first
    peels of her clothes and eat me alive then she approaches an plinth and started
    continue her wacky dance that ended up going through retakes with her tackle
    covered by an prosthetic codpiece over her junk so the movie can be past by
    film sensors but later on she got it coming to her thus of becoming the most sexier
    ghoul in horror history when she reappears as fem zombie her first victim is an homeless
    dude played by William stout the films concept designer according to actor Brian peck
    he almost burnt his hand of by a flare whilst dancing like an pop concert groupie during
    the tombstone striptease scene that angered actress and model jewel shepard to say
    she really wanted that scene due to her background as an adult entertainer at strip joints
    so she didn’t get the gig but Linnea Quigley really owned that scene and fans loved her
    even today to say they still go nuts for that scene and really wanted to be her seriously
    when I first seen it I was amazed by it and I still do .

    FRANKIE NINJA SMALES
    SMALES TV UK

    Liked by 1 person

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