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The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

A 1985 movie directed by Dan O'Bannon.

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At least the equal of Romero's efforts

  • Jul 19, 2011
  • by
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 back. The door swings open to admit a repulsive, shambling undead horror, its flesh rotted to an oozing, tar-like substance after decades of storage in a sealed container. A good hard swing from Gulagher knocks the thing's head clean off, and he and his young associates rush past it. About a decade ago, a good friend and I rewound and watched this scene over a dozen times. While it's not as hilarious to me now as it was when I was very drunk and in my late teens, I still can't watch this inspired bit of stupidity without laughing.

Writer/director Dan O'Bannon cut his teeth while collaborating with John Carpenter on the latter's quirky sci-fi/comedy debut, Dark Star; a few years later, he penned a script for an obscure movie that a few people have seen called Alien. O'Bannon has worked sporadically over the past few decades, screen writing with occasional success, but this spin-off of George Romero's popular zombie movies is the only film in which he was able to convey his sick sense of humor and love of gore as he saw fit.

The result is impressive: Return is grotesque, cleverly plotted and very amusing, making the best of a tiny budget and third-rate cast. Hammy performances are abundant, and entirely appropriate for such a goofy script. Screen veteran Gulagher, who has plenty of experience in schlock productions, is particularly enjoyable to watch: when he calls a young punk "dick-brain," it's not unlike hearing your father when he's in a foul mood.

I can't fault the production design of this film. William Stout's effects are as excellent as they are vile, and it's clear that he shares O'Bannon's sensibilities in creating monsters that are equally comedic and repellent. This was clearly intended to be just another drive-in flick, and while I wouldn't call it a classic, it definitely ranks a cut above the average horror picture.

Like most early MGM DVDs, the standard edition of Return is double-sided, containing the pan & scan 1.33:1 aspect ratio butcher cut of the film on one side and the theatrical 1.85:1 version on the other. Language options include a hilarious Spanish dialogue dub, as well as English, French and Spanish subtitles. RotLD isn't a beautiful film by any means, but this disc's print looks just fine, and its sound mix is easy on the ears.

Furthermore, its special features are quite entertaining. Tobe Hooper was first tasked to direct Return, and if you've heard the excellent commentary track that he recorded with Daniel Pearl and Gunnar Hansen for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, rest assured that the commentary track voiced by O'Bannon and Stout on this disc is equally detailed, informative and amusing. These two have plenty of stories to tell regarding the production of this movie and many others! One art gallery includes Stout's most recognizable storyboards and quite a lot of his production artwork, all of which is drawn in a comic book style and quite good besides. The Designing the Dead featurette consists of interviews with O'Bannon and Stout in which they explain circumstances involving the film's production in even more detail. This isn't really a necessary addition, but it's nice to see two slightly underrated talents afforded some screen time. Theatrical trailers for both general and restricted audiences are included, as are well over a dozen TV spots, most of which differ only slightly from one another.

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August 12, 2011
Ahhh, this is just cream of the crop. I simply can't imagine zomedies without this entry. I recently bought the bluray/dvd combo for less than $10. It looks great! Halloween is right around the corner & I will be playing the heck out of ROTLD. Nice call.
August 14, 2011
This was recommended to me for years and I'm fond of O'Bannon, but I didn't see this until it was featured on MonsterVision in the late '90s. This is probably my favorite picture on the subject of zombies, preferable to Romero's best, and I could watch Gulagher's batting scene a hundred times over. BTW, where did you buy the combo pack?
August 15, 2011
I bought the bluray/dvd combo at Best Buy not too long ago for $8. I couldn't resist.
August 16, 2011
Have been watching this since I was around 10. I saw this long before I ever caught a Romero flick. Maybe that would explain why I might be impartial to it but I still watch this here and there even now.
August 20, 2011
Very nice; I'll keep my eyes open for it.
September 03, 2011
I went back to Best Buy last weekend & their copy is now $20 for the Bluray/dvd combo. It's probably still worth it but the $8 sale really had me at hello.
September 04, 2011
Never an avid retail shopper for anything save groceries, I was nonetheless shocked by the affordability of an $11 Blu-ray/DVD Inception combo last year while wandering about Target.
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 . 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 …
review by . March 26, 2004
posted in Movie Hype
"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 …
About the reviewer
Robert Buchanan ()
Ranked #30
I'm a bibliophile, ailurophile, inveterate aggregator, dedicated middlebrow and anastrophizing syntax addict. My personality type is that of superlative INTJ.
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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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