AUGUST 27, 2008
I recall starting to watch Return Of The Living Dead when I was about 15. I fell asleep, and for whatever reason I didn’t watch the rest the next day. Then in 2002 I bought the DVD, hoping to watch it that night or the next, and didn’t get around to it (I just took the shrinkwrap off today to watch the extras for this review). So now, 13 years after my first attempt, I finally sat down and watched the damn thing. And I have Clu Gulager to thank.
Clu stars in the film as Bert (not Burt, Rotten!) Wilson, owner of the Uneeda Medical Supply (say it out loud). But Clu is also a staple at my beloved New Beverly Cinema, and thus the owners are giving him his due with a Clu Gulager Festival, where they would show a handful of films in which he appears, and since he would be in the crowd anyway, the legend would give introductions to the film and have his co-stars and crew come on down to talk as well. Indeed, the panel for ROTLD is the largest I have ever seen at the Bev – 12 cast and crew members, plus director Jeff Burr as a moderator.
The crowd was also pretty packed (yay!) which meant that the movie itself was even more of a blast. Even if some of the humor is dated, you still can’t help but laugh and cheer all the same. Not for nothing, but it’s a bit of a slow film at times (the zombies don’t really begin their siege on Culager and co. until the one hour mark), yet it’s impossible to be bored when everyone is having such a great time.
And when it’s going, it goes great. The zombie makeup is some of the best seen; the decomposed bodies move and look incredible, putting recent CGI efforts to shame despite being over 20 years old at this point. Ironically, my two favorite parts of the movie don’t even have zombies. One is of an Army asshole coming home and being a complete dick to his wife (it’s a lot like that scene in The Ape that I loved so much) before retreating to his real love: booze (his other scene is a gem too, as he nonchalantly takes down details from Clu, then essentially kills him). The other is just an odd bit where Don Calfa (Scarface from Foul Play!) stops a scene cold in order to cut a torn part of his pants off, something he takes his time with while the rest of the cast patiently waits for the scene to resume.
Plus, it’s got one of the most likable casts in a zombie movie ever. By wisely avoiding the usual sort of “the real enemy is each other” scenarios, you get a bunch of folks you want to see survive, and working together to keep the zombies at bay (the sight of Clu boarding up a window with two “punk” kids is just bliss) rather than yell at each other the whole time like in the same year's Day of the Dead.
Speaking of the cast, there’s an assload of genre notables here. Besides Clu, we get James Karen from Poltergeist, B-movie staple Linnea Quigley, Raw Force’s Jewel Shepard (my biggest disappointment of the night was not getting a chance to talk to her), and two Friday the 13th vets, part V’s Miguel Nunez (“Goddamn these enchiladas!”) and Tommy Jarvis the 3rd, Thom Matthews.
The music is also great. There’s a lot of punk and 80s rock, but the score is also amazing; whoever sat behind me probably got sick of me bobbing and swaying my head around to the beat. Apparently, the DVD has different music in a lot of the scenes due to some right issues, but I couldn’t tell because I had the commentary on, so Dan O’Bannon and William Stout drowned it out.
The commentary is pretty good, both men have good memories and lots of good anecdotes. O’Bannon discusses things he would have done differently, which is always interesting. The only other extra on the disc is a 13 minute retrospective with the same two guys, which is mostly filler and covers some of the stuff on the commentary anyway. Another, more special edition was released last year, with another commentary and some other making of stuff; if you don’t own it yet, you’d probably want that one (this commentary and making of are ported over, rendering this one pretty much obsolete).
Like I said, it’s a bit slow at times, and also the ending is pretty abrupt, but it’s definitely on better end of the zombie movie spectrum. And if anyone else wants to bitch about Snyder/Gunn using fast zombies, take a look back at this one, co-written by John Russo, who invented zombie movies as we know them with George Romero. I think he’s earned the right to change the rules (for the record, I prefer slow myself, but fast ones are fine).
What say you?