I think I said this before, and am honestly too lazy to double check this, but just in case I didn’t, here is a brief history lesson. Waaaayyy back in the day, a book came out written by George A. Romero and John Russo called “Night Of The Living Dead”, from which the famous movie was derived from. Years later, John Russo wrote a sequel titled “Return Of The Living Dead”, at the same time that George Romero was filming his own sequel, Dawn Of The Dead. A lawsuit wound up occurring over the rights to the title and John Russo ended up being able to keep the use of the “Living Dead” tagline. This movie is famous for being the basis for the “Brains” chant from zombies. This movie is also what made Linnea Quigley one of the most famous Scream Queens in Hollywood, with her dance in the cemetery being a rather infamous scene. So let’s dive right into today’s movie, The Return Of The Living Dead.
The plot: At a medical supply company in Louisville, Kentucky, the foreman, Frank, is showing the new employee, Freddy, the ins and outs of the business. As they are Frank is filling out shipping forms for the skeletons they are shipping out, Frank asks him what was the weirdest thing he ever saw in there. Frank asks if Freddy saw Night Of The Living Dead and when Freddy says that he has, Frank tells him that the movie was based on a real event. Frank says that they changed things in the movie to keep people from knowing the truth but due to a shipping mishap, the bodies were sent to them. Frank takes Freddy down to the basement and shows him the drums containing the bodies and Freddy is surprised to see there actually are bodies in them. When he worries about the drums leaking, Frank says they are made by the army and bangs on the side of one of the drums but the drum bursts and releases a gas into the air that renders the two men unconscious while the body inside the drum starts to melt. Elsewhere, Colonel Glover returns to his home and checks in with the base, then goes to have dinner with his wife. His wife expresses her dislike for all of the equipment in the house but he says it is necessary that the base be able to reach him in case they ever find the missing drums. Back in Louisville, Freddy’s girlfriend Tina is hanging out with their friends Spider, Trash, Scuz, Suicide, Casey, and Chuck are driving around and when they have 2 hours before Freddy gets off work, they break into a cemetery across the street to hang out. Freddy and Frank regain consciousness, feeling sick from the gas, and notice the body is gone from the drum. As they make their way upstairs, they hear a dog barking and realize that the gas has revived the split dogs that they sell to veterinary schools. As Frank tries to kill it, they hear screaming coming from the freezer and realize that the gas brought the cadaver inside back to life. Frank locks the freezer, then calls Burt, the company owner, and has him come back to the warehouse. When he gets there, Burt yells at Frank for messing with the drums then decides to get rid of the evidence so there won’t be any sort of investigation. Handing Frank a pick-axe, Burt has Freddy open the freezer and tell Frank to smash the cadaver in the head when it comes out. When Freddy unlocks it, the cadaver rushes out and attacks Burt but Frank and Freddy pull it off of him. Burt grabs the pick-axe and swings it down into the cadaver’s head, pinning it to the ground but the cadaver is still alive. Burt attempts to kill it by cutting it’s head off with a bone saw but the body continues to move, thrashing about the warehouse so they tie it up. Trying to figure out how to destroy the body, Burt notices the light is still on at the mortuary across the street and decides to take the body over there, where his friend Ernie has a crematorium they can use to burn it and he proceeds to cut the body into pieces with the saw. They carry the pieces over to the mortuary and try to pass them off to Ernie as rabid weasels but when he gets suspicious, Burt shows him one of the arms, which grabs onto Ernie’s leg, and after they get it off him and back into the bag, Burt proceeds to tell Ernie everything. Ernie starts up the furnace and proceeds to burn all of the bags that Burt and the others brought over, but the smoke makes it’s way up the chimney and mixes with the clouds, causing a toxic rain to start falling. In the cemetery, all of the kids get back into Suicide’s car except for Tina, who had gone to the warehouse to get Freddy. Back in the mortuary, Burt is happy to see everything had been burned up but Frank and Freddy find themselves violently ill and Ernie calls the paramedics to come check them out. Meanwhile, Tina goes is looking around the warehouse and heads down into the basement to look for Freddy when she encounters Tarman, the melted body from the drum, which screams out “Brains” when it sees her. Tina tries to run out of the basement but when one of the steps breaks and she falls through the stairs, she hides herself in a metal cabinet. Meanwhile, the roof of Suicide’s car starts leaking so the group head for the warehouse and hear Tina screaming. When they head down to the basement, they see the doors to the cabinet being ripped off by a hook and chain and when Suicide goes to see who did it, Tarman grabs him and proceeds to bite through his head into his brain. Spider and the others quickly head back upstairs, then barricade the door to prevent Tarman from following them before they head over to the mortuary, when Casey and Chuck say they saw Freddy heading over there. As they make their way through the graveyard, they find that the rain has seeped into the ground and caused the bodies in the graves to come back to life and make their way up through the ground. The group split up, with Tina, Spider, and Scuz heading towards the mortuary, while Casey and Chuck head back to the warehouse, but Trash gets separated from the others and ends up being killed by the zombies. Meanwhile, the paramedics arrive at the mortuary and start examining Frank and Freddy but discover that they don’t have a pulse or any blood pressure and their body temperature is room temperature. The paramedics head out to get some stretchers so they can take them to the hospital but as they get in the ambulance, they are attacked and killed by zombies. Tina, Spider, and Scuz reach the mortuary and explain to Burt and Ernie that zombies are coming up out of the ground and convince them that they need to leave. Heading back into the embalming room, Tina sees Freddy and asks what happened to him. Seeing the ambulance still outside, Ernie goes to tell the paramedics that they need to use their ambulance to get out of there, he finds a zombie eating the brains of one of them. Ernie fires his gun at the zombie but when it gets up and comes at him, he quickly runs back to the mortuary. Ernie tells them that the paramedics are dead and he tries to call the police but the phones are dead. When the zombies start to break the glass of the windows, Burt, Ernie, Spider, and Scuz proceed to board up all the windows in the place. Heading back to the embalming room, which has steel shutters, Ernie examines Freddy when he complains of his joints stiffening and cramping and discovers that rigor mortis is setting in. Hearing a crashing sound, they see that the zombies have broken through one of the windows and work on fending them off but Scuz is killed by one of the zombies, which Burt ends up chopping in half. After securing the window, Ernie takes the remains back to the embalming room and ties them to a table. He then questions the zombie and learns that they eat brains in order to make the pain of being dead go away. Realizing that Frank and Freddy are getting worse, Burt suggest locking them in the sanctuary in case they try to attack them but Tina chooses to stay with Freddy. Meanwhile, a second paramedic team heads to the mortuary but the paramedics end up being killed by the zombies, as are a pair of cops sent to investigate the missing paramedics, while the rain that continues to fall resurrects Trash, who proceeds to kill a homeless person in the streets. Inside the chapel, Frank and Freddy transform and Freddy tries to eat Tina’s brains but she is saved by Burt and the others when Ernie throws some acid in Freddy’s face, blinding him while Frank makes his way out of the chapel. When they try to barricade the chapel door to keep Freddy inside, Ernie breaks his foot. Coming up with a last ditch effort to escape, Burt and Spider make a break for the police car and drive it up to the doors so Tina and Ernie can get in but the zombies swarm them and they are forced to leave without them. Realizing they had no choice but to leave them, Ernie has Tina head up to the attic with him and the barricade the hatch just as Freddy breaks into the room. Meanwhile, Frank starts up the crematorium and, kissing his wedding ring and hanging it on the lever, he crawls inside the furnace and activates it, choosing to burn himself to death rather than hurt anyone. Burt and Spider smash through the cemetery gates but when they find more zombies outside, they end up crashing outside the warehouse and quickly head inside, where they meet up with Casey and Chuck. Burt decides to call the police and let them know what is going on, but Chuck and Casey warn him that a zombie had broken into the office earlier and ripped out the phone. When Burt says there is another phone in the basement, he has Spider open the door, then knocks Tarman’s head off when he comes up from the basement. They head downstairs and try to call the cops but can only listen as the police barricade is overrun by the zombies. Burt then calls the number on the tank and ends up getting transferred to Colonel Carter. Carter gets all the information from Burt, then heads over to his special terminal, where he orders a nuclear artillery strike on Louisville. The shell hits just as Freddy breaks into the attic to attack Tina and Ernie. Later, Carter is going over the information on what happened and said that 20 square blocks was destroyed and 4000 people were killed but all of the zombies were eradicated. He says some people have complained about some irritation from the rain that has started falling but he dismisses the reports, unaware that the falling rain has caused a new batch of zombies to start rising from their graves.
The Return Of The Living Dead met with high praise from the critics, holding a 91% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While there isn’t a critical consensus on the site, the majority of the critics expressed praise for the special effects as well as the mix of comedy and heart-wrenching moments. The movie differed from Russo’s original novel due to director Dan O’Bannon wanting to change it so as to differentiate it from Romero’s own Dead series. The movie was a box office success, earning $14.2 million domestically off of a $4 million budget and would spawn 4 sequels.
This is a great zombie movie to watch. The acting was really good, with Clu Gulagar (Burt), Don Calfa (Ernie), and Miguel A. Nunez Jr. (Spider) doing a good job in their roles. The story was pretty good, with a lot of various elements coming together to form a great story. I did like some of the tough character choices some of the characters would make, such as Frank choosing to burn himself rather than become a zombie, or how Ernie contemplated killing Tina and himself instead of letting Freddy kill them. The special effects regarding the zombies was really good and the puppetry with the half zombie that they questioned was incredible. Definitely a good horror/comedy that is well worth watching.
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5