Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Brains In The 80’s: Review of Return of the Living Dead

With punk sarcasm, cheesy acting, and not-so-cheesy gore, Return of the Living Dead turns the Godfather of horror into a sleaze show. But that’s a good thing. Released in ‘85, the film picks up where George Romer’s The Night of The Living Dead left off, asking the logical question: What happened to all the zombies? It turns out the military vacuum sealed them in barrels, then lost them. Those canisters somehow got into the basement of a medical supply store, where they’ve been gathering dust… until now. Frank, hilariously played by James Karen, is a senior employee with an over-developed sense of humor. He’s teaching the new-kid the ropes when they accidently break one the canisters open, releasing a noxious gas that turns the dead, into the un-dead. Too bad for them the store is located beside a cemetery where a bunch of punks are listening to bad 80’s music on a huge boom box.

This movie succeeds in all the places it shouldn’t. With the exception of Karen, the acting is ridiculous; a bunch of teens with names such as Scuz, Spider, Suicide, and Trash, complain about life while desecrating a cemetary, yet refreshingly, and unexpectedly, by the end of the movie it’s clear that everything is the grownups’ fault. When the owner of the medical store shows up, he’d rather try to fix the mess himself than get bad press, which leads to some sick scenes in a mortuary, and furthers the spread of the infection. Then there’s the military, and they sure aren’t going to fix anything. By the time infected rain begins to fall on Trash, dancing naked between gravestones, the world seems long gone. But not before the movie cranks out a mass of solid gore to a soundtrack featuring such bands as The Cramps, Flesh Eaters, and The Damned.

Beyond the zombies’ obvious craving for brains, many of the film’s ideas are just plain demented. I mean, did anyone expect to see a split dog used for medical education barking on its side on the floor? Or two men who are still alive when rigormortis sets in and blood pools inside their flesh? Then there’s the torso of a woman, her exposed spine flipping around like a fish out of water, who shrieks, “Brains make the pain go away!” All right, maybe you would expect that. But there’s another twist: the zombies are smarter than those in Romero’s film and move a lot faster. This concept has been recently exploited, but seeing it done well in the 80’s is a treat.

Filled with epic moments, like a zombie reaching for a police CB and requesting, “Send more cops,” this movie is hilarious and surprising. But for all the camp, when the original zombie from the canister makes his appearance, the special effects are enough to gross out even the most seasoned horror fans.

No comments: