Film Flashback: Return of the Living Dead

The Return of the Living Dead (1985), dir. Dan O’Bannon, Orion Pictures

The 1980’s was a strange time for horror films, and the middle of the decade even more so. Small companies were churning out hack and slash films about every other week. With the lowered cost of VHS and VCR’s, the home video market exploded, with major retailers and independent stores dotting the landscape.

The film has been dissected by some of the best around, but a slight recap is still in order. On July 3rd, at the Uneeda Medical Supply Company, Frank (James Karen) is showing new stock Freddy (Thom Matthews) the ropes.
Frank, showing Freddy the strangest thing he’s ever seen at the company, shows off some barrels in the basement containing bodies exposed to 345 Trioxin, a chemical with the side effect of making the dead come back to life. Assuring the younger man of the barrel’s safety, Frank slaps the aged metal, rupturing a seam and exposing the entire warehouse (themselves included) to the chemical.

Meanwhile, Freddy’s friends (a motley collection of punks as envisioned by the finest screenwriters around), crash the cemetery next door to Undeeda and party.

Burt, the Undeeda boss, arrives and is a bit upset by Frank’s actions. Relying on the knowledge of horror films, they try to kill the reanimated cadaver with a pickax to the brain. Much to their shock, it fails to work. “You mean the movie lied?” I can’t stress enough how much I love that scene.

Taking the dismembered but still moving corpse to Ernie the undertaker, our heroes toss the remains into Ernie’s crematorium. Problem solved, right? Well, it turns out the body was so saturated with Trioxin the flames release the chemical into the air, which turn causes it to rain right over the punks and the cemetery. Things get worse from there.

Return of the Living Dead was an amazing film. It played with the conventions of the zombie genre, making it both grim yet darkly humorous. We also see things from the zombie’s perspective, again, a rarity. Extremely worth the effort to see.

“They’re Back from the Grave and Ready to Party!”