Return of the Living Dead (1985)

return of the living dead

“I love you, and you’ve got to let me eat your brains!”

The Scoop: 1985 R, and directed by Dan O’Bannon and starring Clu Gulager, James Karen, and Linnea Quigley

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

Summary Capsule: Zombies do what they do best: pop out of the ground and munch on people.


Justin’s rating: Scuba scuba scooby-doobie-dooba!

Justin’s review: I really miss the old horror movie stars. Not our modern, high-IQ, Dawson Creek-spouting soldiers of fortune; no, the old kind. The ones that are mostly incapable of handling normal life, and fall to extreme pieces when things start to get scary.

Return of the Living Dead has, without a doubt, the loudest, most panic-striken horror movie stars I’ve ever seen. Every other line of dialogue is screeched, and the guys scream just as much as the girls. Moreso, in some scenes. They barely ever do anything constructive, and have an odd compulsion to run headlong into the cold arms of death. Remember that old computer game Lemmings, where you had to protect your little green-haired critters from diving off cliffs to their deaths? Well, their life expectancy was higher than the stars of Return of the Living Dead.

While not a George Romero movie, the filmmakers tried for some sort of modern (eighties-modern) connection to the classic zombie flick. Supposedly, Night of the Living Dead was based on an actual (in movie terms) event, and the Army sealed up all the evidence and sent it to some cadaver storage facility. No one’s ever accused the army of being brilliant, but that’s not a great idea even so. Through a chain of unlikely events, zombie gas gets out and the dead return to haunt a bunch of punks.

Ah, punks, the “bad boy” staple of ’80s movies. Colored hair, chains, leather, really bad nicknames, and long-winded ramblings about how they’re “not understood” (well, we do understand you, because you’re mental), the punks are nothing more than cannon fodder for our new batch of zombies.

The zombies are pretty sweet in comparison to how they’re usually treated. This time around, they move FAST (faster, even, than in Resident Evil). They don’t die when their brains are smashed; indeed, the first one was pickaxed, sawed into pieces, and cremated, and that barely stopped it. In a great scene, they’ve killed the paramedics and use the radio to request more backup. The same thing with the cops. Smart critters, for dead folk.

I was rooting for them after seeing how they trounced the good guys time and again, rushing the cops with the zombie equivalent of an NFL defense squad. There’s a main zombie who’s earnest plea for “BRAINS” is darn plucky. The zombie special effects, while cheesy, are very top notch. You get to see a little bit of everything here: melting zombies, half-zombie dogs, zombie butterflies, zombie insurance salesmen.

Ultimately, Return of the Living Dead is an exercise in (1) gore, (2) people running around screaming their heads off, (3) synth rock blasted over every action scene, and (4) some absolutely funny moments. Plus, they eventually use nuclear weapons against zombies, something I bet Bruce Campbell wish he’d thought of.

You might be familiar with the slow, “jump out once in a while when we’ve built up enough money in the special effects fund” pacing of most zombie flicks — but Return of the Living Dead beats that stereotype. It is the fast food drive-thru version of horror movies: you get what you want quickly, complete with bad nutritional value, and it doesn’t drag in the digestive system. It’s nothing short of entertaining. LOUD entertainment!

Shalen’s rating: Fifty out of fifty pinned undead butterflies.

Shalen’s review: Okay, so we don’t necessarily need another review of this movie per se1. But I had to do it, because I’ve already reviewed a couple of other major entries in the Canon of Zombie Cinema2, namely Night of the Living Dead andReanimator, and it just seemed wrong to leave this one out. I’ll probably review the other two in the series, too, assuming Justin hasn’t already dropped me from the staff for lack of participation or locked me in the basement with Bob again.

See, I was already familiar with two major elements this movie has contributed to film at large before I had ever, even once, heard the title. Tons of zombie parodies, other movies, even seemingly unrelated webcomics like Sluggy Freelance and WTF, pay homage to the single hand rising from a grave and/or the crowd of undead moaning a six letter noun beginning with “B”. And then I watched all the way through Night of the Living Dead, the only zombie film with which I was familiar at the time, and neither of those things were there3. What gave? Those things seemed so old, so ubiquitous, so classic, that they couldn’t possibly have come from something made after I, mere spring chicken that I am in late 2007, was born.

Well, never let anybody tell you nothing good came out of the eighties. Night of the Living Dead always had something of the stage play aspect about it, with the careful, articulate dialogue from otherwise ordinary people and the minimal special effects and the single location in which most of it takes place. It’s a great film, it’s riveting and intense, and I own it and periodically rewatch it, but I wouldn’t describe it as fun. Return isn’t much of a film, but it’s a ridiculously fun movie. It has the gore effects and the blaring rock soundtrack and the cast of mostly wacky youthful eighties-style characters, except instead of getting high and naked they’re getting high, naked and their brains eaten by zombies. Some of the zombies are punks, too. Perhaps those of you somewhat older than myself remember when a single nose piercing was considered an emblem of over-the-top tough rebelliousness, rather than a mild fashion statement shared by the (female) city prosecutor of my last home town, and tattoos were for punks, bikers and members of the Armed Forces instead of seventeen-year-old cheerleaders and evangelical Christians4.

Oh, and I really loved the Tar Man.

    • 1. I have no idea what that phrase actually means. It’s time I stopped living the lie. I’m pretty sure about “as such,” but I use that one way too often verbally as it is.
    • 2. Note capital letters denoting the seriousness of the subject matter. Those who disagree are encouraged to imagine themselves having their brains eaten by a living corpse in a frivolous manner.
    • 3. Yep. Romero zombies are, for the most part, unable to form coherent words. This is of course obvious to most of you, but I feel the need to point it out again. This is because I am a twit. I was born that way.
    4. Yep. There are an awful lot of those little fish tattoos around now. Some of them in places where I really hope they are not for proselytization use.
At least he’s happy about his profession, which is more than I can say about you.


  • The film came about out of a dispute between John Russo and George A. Romero over how to handle sequels to their 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead. The two reached a settlement wherein Romero’s sequels would be referred to as the Dead movies, and Russo’s sequels would bear the suffix Living Dead.
  • You ever notice how fragile humans are in zombie movies? Like their skulls are nothing stronger than egg shells and skin is like tissue paper? That’s weird.
  • “The easter eggs have hatched, I repeat, the easter eggs have hatched”
  • America has a nuclear contengency plan for zombies
  • Zombies have a sense of humor
  • End credit clip montage
  • Frank says that the events on which Night of the Living Dead is based occurred in 1969. Night of the Living Dead was released in 1968 and could not have been based on events that happened a year later.

Groovy Quotes

Casey: Chuck, I never did like you. Oh, but God, hold me tight.

Trash: Do you ever wonder about all the different ways of dying? You know, violently? And wonder, like, what would be the most horrible way to die?
Spider: I try not too think about dying too much.
Trash: Mm. Well for me, the worst way would be for a bunch of old men to get around me, and start biting and eating me alive.
Spider: I see.
Trash: First, they would tear off my clothes…
Chuck: Hey, somebody get some light over here, Trash is taking off her clothes again.

[in the middle of a zombie attack]
Burt: Watch your tongue if you like this job.
Freddy: Like this job? Like this job?

Burt: I thought you said that if we destroyed the brain, it would die.
Frank: It worked in the movie!
Burt: Well it ain’t working now Frank.
Freddy: You mean the movie lied?

Zombie: Send…more…paramedics!

Freddy: But I don’t care darling, because I love you, and you’ve got to let me eat your brains!

Ernie: What the hell is in those bags?
Burt: Rabid weasels.
Ernie: What? What the hell are you doing with a bunch of rabid weasels?
Burt: That’s what I was trying to explain to you, they came in as part of a shipment. Of course, they weren’t supposed to be rabid.

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  1. Amazing how so few people know of this movie yet “brains” entered the cultural literacy.

    One thing that cracks me up about this flick is the subtle hints that the mortician is some kind of Nazi war criminal. They never say anything specific but clues are everywhere.

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