March 23, 2015

Blu-ray Review: The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

"One of the best zombie movies ever made."
(aka Tarman's Revenge.)
Release Date: August 16th, 1985.
Country: USA.
Rating: R.
Written by: Rudy Ricci, John Russo, Russell Streiner, and Dan O'Bannon.
Directed by: Dan O'Bannon.
Starring: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Beverly Randolph, and Linnea Quigley.
Plenty of hyperbole tends to get thrown around when people discuss or review movies:

"It's the best ever!"
"It's the worst ever!"
"It's perfect!"
"It's genre-defining!"

When it comes to The Return of the Living Dead though, the moniker of "Best zombie movie ever!" doesn't seem all that exaggerated.

You could definitely argue that there are other zombie movies that are better, or at the very least, just as good as ROTLD, but aside from Dawn of the Dead (1978), which ones are objectively better? Night of the Living Dead? Shaun of the Dead? Zombieland? Dead Snow? What does it actually take for a zombie movie to be considered the best? Are the zombies in 28 Days Later really even zombies? Does Re-Animator count as a true "zombie" flick? Do you dare tout a remake like Dawn of the Dead (2004) as  being one of the best in its class? And what about the "Fulci-style" Italian zombie flicks of the late 70's/early 80's? You really can't watch something like The Beyond and tell me that it's not amazing in its own right.

In the end, it most likely comes down to taste and preference, and that's fine. Every zombie movie that I just mentioned, along with plenty of others, are all excellent entries into what is one of the most popular sub-genres in Horror, so who cares which one is "The Best." No need to argue. We can love them all.
That said, any "Best of" zombie movies list that doesn't include The Return of the Living Dead is invalid, because this little gem is in a class all its own. 

In a medical supply warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky, two rubes are messing around with some old tanks that somehow ended up in the basement, when one springs a leak, spraying some sort of noxious chemical in their faces. Since these tanks (drums, if you'd rather) are rumored to be leftover from some sort of government cover-up back in the 60's (yes, there's your Night of the Living Dead tie in), it's probably safe to assume that the shit inside is bad news.

When the gas starts to reanimate everything in the warehouse, including a cadaver, the rubes call their boss, who comes up with a plan to decapitate and cremate the thing into oblivion, and then never speak of it again. Of course when the smoke from said cremation mixes with rain outside, it creates an acid rain which reanimates everything in the graveyard next door. They probably should have just called the 800-number that was on the drum, huh? 

In the graveyard next door, a group of punk rockers are partying and rebelling against society while waiting for rube #1 to get off of work. When the acid rain starts to burn them, and the dead start to rise from their graves, they head for the nearby warehouse to seek shelter. Little do they know that there's a slimy zombie lurking inside who is hungry for brains, although dealing with him is probably better than trying to fight the hundreds that are outside trying to eat them.

Will they send more Cops? Will they send more Paramedics? Will Tarman ever get some more brains? Far be it from me to ruin what happens next for you here, but suffice it to say that everyone dies, and as usual, it's the Government's fault. Just kidding. Or am I?

The greatest thing about The Return of the Living Dead is how well it blends Horror and Comedy together; this is a scary and gory flick, but it's elevated by a steady stream of self-reverential. morbid humor that makes this into one of the best Horror/Comedy hybrids of all time. Also, it's one of the best zombie movies ever made.

There are lots of reasons why ROTLD is such a great movie, but here are the big ones:

  • Tarman was brilliant, and stands to day as one of, if not the best zombies ever put to film.
  • Clu Gulager, James Karen, and Don Calfa were perfect in their roles, bringing both class and humor to the production. 
  • The zombies were fantastic, both in form and function, and the fact that they talked made them even more terrifying.
  • ROTLD is the movie that introduced the idea that zombies prefer to eat brains as opposed to just flesh.
  • The soundtrack was perfect.

Everything about this movie just works at a level that most movies of its kind never seem to be able to reach.

We also love how this movie evolved. It was originally intended by writer John Russo to be a sequel or follow-up to George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, until Dan O'Bannon came along rewrote his script, injecting humor into it, which made it into an even better film. Watching ROTLD, you can see how it could have been a serious sequel to Romero's classic (which Russo owned the name rights to), but we're glad it never went that route.

This movie needed more Tarman! Of course that's just us being greedy about things because we really loved the character, but couldn't they have given him a spin-off movie or something? We'd watch something called "Tarman's Revenge," and you know that you would too.

With the amazing groundwork that was laid by ROTLD, could they not have given us a better sequel than Return of The Living Dead 2? The whole thing was just goofy and cheap by comparison, which is a shame.

There's plenty of brain-eating, blood-spraying, and spine-severing in this one, all of which makes for a bloody good time. It's not the goriest of affairs, but it's gory enough.

Linnea Quigley does her famous "naked grave dance" scene in this one, and then later runs around naked while eating brains as a zombie. It's nothing crazy gratuitous, bit it's a classic bit of Horror Genre nudity, none the less.

Zombie movies don't get much better than this. Also, zombies have feelings; sure, they're mostly bad feelings, but they have them.

The Return of the Living Dead rightly occupies a spot in the upper echelon of zombie movie history; it's not only gruesome and genuinely funny, but it broke new ground in the genre, and still plays as good as it did when it debuted 30 years ago.

If you don't already own this movie, or even worse, if you've never seen it, then you owe it to yourself to spend the paltry $9 and add it to your collection. It really is a classic.


Return of the Living Dead is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD.

As much as we love Scream Queen Linnea Quigley, let's take a moment to appreciate the ever-lovely Jewel Shepard instead. She was pretty awesome too.

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