Return Of The Living Dead (1985)

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?


  1. Can't wait to hear your thoughts on this one, man. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is one of my Top Five Favorite Horror Films of All Time.

    No kiddin'.


  2. Same here.. Probably the first real horror movie I ever saw at a sleep-over birthday party in 4th grade. We all went to get pizza, came back, had cake, looked at comic books, parents went to bed, and we watched Return Of The Living Dead, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and then TCM 2 the next morning. It sounds so cheesy but it was life changing.


  3. This movie rocked! The zombie effects are awesome as far as I remember. For a comedy/horror I thought they really pulled this off well.
    As James mentioned, can't wait to hear your 2 pennies.

  4. A few thoughts:
    I remember the commercial when it was first released and it scared the hell out of me. They showed the headlights of a car driving into the cemetary and all of the zombies frozen in the weeds like ET in a crowd of stuffed animals.
    When the cops and paramedics show up has got to be the best scene in zombie movie history. You just never see it coming. These guys are fast AND smart. The same thing with the ending. As usual the government expected all of this to happen and has a plan, but they did not do anything to prevent it in the first place.
    "Send more cops."
    "I can smell your brains, they're so tangy and spicy."

  5. How was Jewel Shepard looking? I don't know what you'd say to her but she'd have my gratitude for the many "releases" she was responsible for. I'm referring to movies, of course.

  6. "You think this is a fuckin' costume? This is a way of life."

    Return of the Living Dead is one of my all-time favorite flicks. This and Night of the Demons are the reason that I still have incredibly naughty dreams about Linea Quigley.

  7. Good review. I would say this is one of my all time favorite horror films... top 10 for sure. The tarman zombie is one of the greatest zombies ever. The way he moves, the make-up, the voice.

    Classic "... more BRAINS"

  8. A rare horror/comedy where the comedy is actually funny, and the horror is actually scary, and both aspects are integral and natural to the plot. AWIL is the only other one I can think of that blends those elements this well.

    And there's actually some emotionally moving stuff here too, as when one of the slowly-turning-to-zombies takes the not-so-easy way out, and the other older guy holding the young girl while the zombies get closer and closer to breaking in on them.

    And maybe I'm a sentimental softie, but the girlfriend/boyfriend scenes are both hilarious and sad. "If you loved me, you'd let me eat your brains!" That's funny. But him coming after her, desperate to eat the girl he once loved? Scary.

    Great flick.

  9. Well said, Vicar. One thing that I've always felt elevated RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD above other films of its kind is the wonderful acting. It's the little moments that I find alternately chilling/hilarious. Moments like: the "it's not weasels in the bag" confession . . . the mortician whispering to Burt "I think things have gotten a little out of hand, old buddy," after the punks inform them how horribly things have escalated . . . and Frank taking several seconds to compose himself before not-so-calmly picking up the phone and telling his boss, "We have a little problem."

    I'm rambling. Sorry. But GOD, I love this movie. Gonna have to watch it tonight now -- all this talk has gotten me in the mood to see it for the 300th-or-so time. :)


  10. Hey BC this has to be one of the best horror movies ever....It has everything..comedy..gore..and nudity by a hot red head :)... I remember watching this when i was younger and bought the new special edition when it came out....Part 2 is also very funny.. Part 2 Has a talking head zombie and one that is dressed up like Michael jackson haha...3rd one has the hot mom from THE OC Julie Cooper and again has some good humor and great gore and she gets nakey...Anyway great movie..i hope they never try to remake this one..take care

  11. It's the HALF DOOOOGS!!!!! AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!

    Yeah. great great movie.

  12. The *only* movie that trumps this one for that perfectly realized, addictive blend of horror-comedy- gore is Evil Dead II (and there's no shame in coming runner-up to Raimi and co.) ROTLD is really something special and so friggin' hilarious in parts it will make you pee your pants. I LOVE James Karen in this. His nervous, over-the-top performance makes this movie. So does the on-screen chemistry between him and Thom Matthews.

    Burt: If that is a re-animated body, we're gonna have to kill it.
    Freddy: How do you kill something that's already dead?
    Burt: How do I know, Fred? Let me think!
    Frank: It's not a bad question, Burt.


  13. "You mean the movie LIED?!"


  14. 3 Friday the 13th vets, you forgot Mark (chocolate bars make me want to ax you in the back)Venturini

  15. One of the greatest horror movies of all time. Humor, light scares, sweet graveyard nudity, and a sick soundtrack. Sign me uppppppp.

  16. I grew up in a very religious family. Movies like this were completely out of the question. My friends would tell me about naked women in movies. Man o man did I want to see a movie like that. As luck would have it, I ended up at this kid's house whom I didn't know too well, and neither did my parents. He had surprisingly cool parents who rented this movie for him, and suddenly I found myself watching a movie with a VERY naked women. I could not believe my eyes!!! The horror effects were amazing as well. I don' think I finished he movie, but I got close. For some reason, the half dog totally freaked me out. I don't know if I spent more time (after the film) thinking about the naked chick or that damn dog.

    So, many years later I see this darn thing again. Great, GREAT movie. I was pretty well engaged the whole time. I didn't laugh out loud too many times, but I did have the inner laugh going. Loved the characters. the ending was cool. I think I'm in love.


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