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The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

A 1985 movie directed by Dan O'Bannon.

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"Watch your mouth if you like this job!"

  • Mar 26, 2004
"Over the top" doesn't even begin to describe this film. It's a rare movie that works as a satire of a beloved genre (NIGHT & DAWN OF THE DEAD) and stands more or less alone as a credible horror movie on its own. Unlike something like SCARY MOVIE, which has no pretensions of telling a serious story amidst all the humor, this one is a great zombie movie first, and a gentle parody second.

Set primarily in a medical supply warehouse, a funeral home and a graveyard (how's that for a trifecta of great locations!), we follow the story of what happens when a long hidden government "nerve agent" is released and it turns out it has the power to reanimate the dead. And I don't mean intact corpses. It raises body parts, including, memorably, the remains of a dog that was cut in half (for classroom purposes). The shot of the poor creature, normal on one side and organ's exposed on the other, trying to run, sticks with you. It's disturbing, gross, funny and totally original.

The movie ups the ante with these zombies too. They CAN'T be killed with a shot to the head. In fact, nothing short of totally burning them up in a crematorium does the trick. When warehouse owner Clu Gallagher shows up at the funeral home with a pile of twitching plastic bags, that is a GREAT, grisly moment. Another great touch was having the two characters who breathed in the agent directly (when they were still alive) go straight from being alive to being zombies without all that annoying dieing stuff! The paramedics examine the shivering, but conscious and coherent men, only to discover they have NO heartbeat or blood pressure. Cool idea!

The movie is mostly populated with a bunch of obnoxious teenagers partying at the cemetary. They are the barest caricatures (but funny, because they are caricatures of early '80s teenagers!), and not terribly interesting. The characters we actually care anything about are the older actors. James Karen, as the warehouse manager, is particularly great. His overacting is epic, and yet fits the tone of the film PERFECTLY. It's a comic / horror gem.

The movie features a loud rock score...with some truly terrible songs. And one of the characters, whose name I forget, is a pink haired girl with a death wish, who apparently likes to stip all her clothes off and strut around for hours. So in the midst of all the gore, we also have lengthy full frontal nudity. So if you don't mind your kids seeing crazy zombie violence and brain-eating...you might still shy away from the graphic nudity. I'm not sure the movie could get an "R" anymore these days.

If you haven't seen it, you should probably check out at least NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD first, just so the conventions being poked fun at are fully appreciated. But if you are a fan of those movies, this is the movie for you!

The extras on the DVD are really just a fairly detailed but actually not terribly interesting making-of documentary. I'm sorry, but lovingly telling us about the costume design for this film just doesn't do much for me.

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More The Return of the Living Dead reviews
review by . August 01, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****     "The Return of the Living Dead" is a simple, clever, and very fun take on the zombie-comedy movement of zombie cinema. It carries with it some fairly intelligent satire, some solid slapstick, and a whole lot of fun nonetheless. Zombie -movie-die-hards will probably love it; and those unassociated with the genre on a fanboy level might enjoy it too. I know that I enjoyed it so much that the least I can do is, yes, watch the sequel.    The …
review by . July 19, 2011
There's a great scene in this movie that occurs approximately an hour and nineteen minutes into its runtime. Cranky character actor Clu Gulagher and a few obnoxious teenagers are trapped in his medical supply warehouse by brain-hungry zombies, and the only phone available is located in the warehouse's basement, the door of which is locked and guarded by a particularly ravenous zombie. After retrieving a baseball bat, old Clu instructs one of the kids to open the door and the others to stand …
review by . May 13, 2009
This horror/comedy kind of take-off on Night of the Living Dead was surprisingly good. It goes under the assumption that the Night of the Living Dead movie was based on a true happening. Except it really was a failed top-secret government experiment. As this whole thing is explained to two unsuspecting young men, they accidently release the top secret gas that starts to animate all dead things. The dead come walking demanding "brains." In this one it seems it is impossible to totally kill any of …
review by . August 21, 2009
Return of the Living Dead was a spoof/homage and sequel to the zombie genre and Night of the Living Dead. A couple of workers in a medical supply warehouse are fooling around and "accidentally" open an old oil drum that was holding a nasty looking cadaver. After a mysterious toxic gas escapes from the the cheaply made container the two workers become gravely ill from it's after effects. Meanwhile a car load of punks are coming by to pick up their friend who happens to work in the medical …
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Ranked #146
I've got my own site, www.afilmcritic.com, on which I'm posting my reviews. I am 46 years old, married 25 years, two kids (23 & 18) and currently work in accounting/finance. I spent 15 years … more
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About this movie


Loosely based upon a novel written by John Russo.

Originally was going to be in 3-D and directed by Tobe Hooper.

Followed by four sequels.

Part of Russo's ...Living Dead series.

The first film of the Return of the Living Dead series.
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