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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
"The events portrayed in this film are all true. The names are real names of real people and real organizations."
You would think that a film titled THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD beginning with the above statement would prepare you for what would follow. But this brilliant parody of George A. Romero's seminal zombie films dishes out equal doses of extreme humor and horror with over-the-top performances and visceral gore that is unexpected for a first time viewer.
Some familiarity with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD will help an audience appreciate what director / screenwriter Dan O' Bannon (Screenwriter of ALIEN, LIFEFORCE, BLEEDERS, SCREAMERS) did here, but I think only the die-hard fans will really love it.
The date is July 3, 1984. The setting is Louisville, Kentucky at the Uneeda Medical Supply Company, located across the street from the Resurrection Funeral Home and Cemetery. Frank (James Karen: POLTERGIEST, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II, INVADERS FROM MARS, APT PUPIL) is training a new employee, teenage Freddy (Thom Mathews, FRIDAY THE 13TH PART IV, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART II, NEMESIS) in the art of packing skeletons for universities and in the knowledge of split dogs for veterinarians.
Freddy is doing such a good job, Frank decides to share the company secret. The film NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was based on a true story. Back in 1969 (a mistake in the script as NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was released in 1968), the U.S. Army experimented with a chemical that caused dead bodies to reanimate. The corpses were contained, sealed in oil drums, and accidentally shipped to Uneeda where they've sat for the past fourteen years. Stored in the basement, Frank and Freddy breach one of the barrels which releases a gas that knocks them out. It also reanimates a cadaver in the freezer.
Waiting for Freddy to finish work is his girlfriend Tina (Beverly Randolph) and their friends - a mix of new wave, valley girl, and punk rock teens: Spider (Miguel A. Nunez Jr.: FRIDAY THE 13TH V, SHADOW ZONE, CARNOSAUR 2), Casey (Scream Queen Jewel Shepard: RAW FORCE, ROOTS OF EVIL, SCANNER COP II), Chuck (John Philbin: CHILDREN OF THE CORN), Scuz (Brian Peck: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD II, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD III, CHILDREN OF THE CORN III), Suicide (Mark Venturini: FRIDAY THE 13TH V), and Trash (Scream Queen Linnea Quigley: SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 4, INNOCENT BLOOD). Armed with a boombox and booze, the gang parties in the cemetery while they wait.
Frank and Freddy recover, looking rather pale, and soon realize what they've unleashed when they hear the cries of the freezer room cadaver. They call in the boss, Burt (Clu Gulager: A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY'S REVENGE), for help. Counting on the logic from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, the trio attempt to destroy the zombie's brain in a hilarious scene where they learn "the movie lied."
Burt's solution is to bring the living corpse to Ernie (Don Calfa: CHOPPER CHICKS IN ZOMBIE TOWN, NECRONOMICON, THE PROGENY), the gun-toting mortician. Burt and Ernie's friendship goes back twenty-five years (can you say Sesame Street? I knew you could.), and Burt believes if they burn up the body in Ernie's crematorium, it'll solve all their problems. But the smoke from the cremation rises and seeds the clouds, causing an acid rain to fall. The tainted rainfall seeps into the ground of the cemetery and - in a scene both creepy and funny - the dead crawl out of their graves (something never done in any of George A. Romero's Dead films) to the tune of 45 Graves' "Partytime."
But these aren't the shambling undead of most zombie flicks. These creatures sprint like track stars, tackle their prey like football players, and display intelligence (after attacking police, one zombie picks up the CB mike and tells dispatch to "send more cops."). They're also very vocal in their hunger, not for human flesh, but for brains alone.
Allan A. Apone (PROPHECY, PARASITE, INVADERS FROM MARS, DEEP BLUE SEA, UNBREAKABLE), Tony Gardner (THE BLOB , DARKMAN, THE ADDAMS FAMILY, THE CRAFT, SLEEPWALKERS, THE TOMMY KNOCKERS, ARMY OF DARKNESS, STIR OF ECHOES), and Michael Joyce (GREMLINS, THE FACULTY) provide the special makeup and visual effects. The gruesome feasting of brains is as disturbing and effective as anything Tom Savini has done. The comical combination of skeletal puppetry and actors portraying the dead predates Sam Raimi's ARMY OF DARKNESS by eight years.
The reluctant heroics of the characters are humorous and more realistic than the actions of the protagonists in most horror films. THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is well cast. Miguel Nunez's Spider continues George Romero's tradition of a black man (following in the footsteps of Duane Jones, Ken Foree and Terry Alexander) taking charge of the situation (even if he bows under Gulager's Burt, he's still a strong character). Venturini's hysterically manic Suicide and Quigley's sexpot Trash - who has an obsession with death - dominate the scenes they appear in. Karen and Mathews must be commended for their performances of characters both comedic and tragic.
The story was conceived by cast and crew veterans of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, John A. Russo (who is actually the author of the 1978 novel "Return of the Living Dead," Russo's intended sequel to NIGHT, which this film is not based on), Rudy Ricci and Russell Streiner ("They're coming to get you Barbara."). The fantastic punk rock soundtrack includes songs by The Cramps, The Damned, Tall Boys, The Flesheaters, TSOL, Roky Erickson, SSQ, The Jet Black Berries, and the aforementioned 45 Grave.
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is a horror comedy classic.
Five Shriek Girls.