This weeks nostalgic look back at the rental movies from my youth brings me to the bonkers horror comedy The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Tagline – They’re Back From The Grave and Ready To Party!
Who’s our hero today?
There’s no, just one, hero here but a collective of human brain bags struggling to survive. I will pick Burt (Clu Gulager) the owner of the medical supply warehouse and the catalyst for the cranium carnage.
Had I seen this one on VHS back in the day?
I had! However, actually working in my favour, I didn’t remember much at all, well of course I recalled the tomb stone dance for obvious reasons. The whole film had me chuckling like I was back in my teenage years. Like a time machine to my youth.
Quick plot run down.
Foreman manager Frank (James Karen) has a new young recruit in Freddy (Thom Mathews) to help him out in the store room of macabre oddities. Frank being an older gentleman should of known better but he was keen to show off to his new apprentice. Which results in accidentally unleashing a zombie creating toxic gas into the atmosphere of the small town. The warehouse happens to be next to the local mortuary and cemetery. As toxic rain falls the dead are returned to the…. LIVING!? (Add high pitched scream here)
Does the hero have a day job?
Burt (Clu Gulager) is the owner of the medical supply warehouse. A whole-store that supplies hospitals and colleges with skeletons and cadavers. It has it’s own meat locker and basement for the storage of top secret military test waste.
What’s our heroes special skills?
Burt can think on his feet and is willing to do, or bargain, his way out of this mess if he can. He’s also not afraid to get his hands dirty.
Heroes weapon of choice?
Burt is handy with a lead plumbers pipe or to be honest any other blunt skull smashing object hanging around.
Heroes drink of choice?
As Clu Gulager was born in Oklahoma and he knows I’m writing this review for him I’d say he would offer me a big glass of spirits from the Prairie Wolf Distillery from his home town. I read he can turn his hand to a bartender when he needs to. I haven’t seen it, yet, but I hear he plays one in his son John Gulager film, Feast (2005).
Does hero have a sidekick?
His best friend of 25 years is the mortician next door, Ernie (Don Calfa). A German doctor armed with a Walther p38 pistol and listens to German war matching anthems as he goes about his daily embalming. Ernie also has access to a large furnace for cremations. The ideal way to burn through the undead, heart, brain and bones they say.
Hot girl? Damsel in distress or ass kicker?
There’s three ladies to be running from psychotic zombies. There’s Tina (Beverly Randolph) who is young Freddy, at the warehouse, girlfriend. And there’s the 80’s day glow neon Casey (Jewel Shepard) who’s stuck with the suit wearing Chuck (John Philbin) who carries the ghetto blaster like a suitcase. And last but not least, Trash (Linnea Quigley) who will be featured in the question section a few paragraphs down the page. Yeah I’m sure you know the one?
Who’s the main baddie?
Tarman (Allan Trautman) is the catalyst for what is to come. Quick frankly he looks rather cute! Ok I wouldn’t wanna be best buddies with him and take him down the local boozer with me. But those wide eyes and that crazy doofus looking smile is adorable? Right? What do you say?
Baddies special skills?
Strong and still agile with all things considered. Kept squashed in a barrel for god knows how long, and the fact he was meant to be dead! So running fast and even problem solving was amazing to see for a guy with no eyelids, lips and craving for sweet tasty brains…
Tarman – “BRAAAAIIINS!“
Psycho baddies rating out of ten? (Tarman) 7/10 (The Cadaver) – 8.5/10 (Zombies as a collective) – 10/10
Tarman, the poor guy, has been cooped up in a barrel for many years. All his skin has melted off and been replaced with some tar like substance. He does his bad stuff mainly in the basement. The Cadaver on the other hand is screaming mad and unkillable! Plus he’s naked! Then there’s the hordes of zombies. As a rampaging group of crazed killing machines starved for brains, they are relentless.
Heroes balls of steel and anger ratings out of ten? 9/10
The combo of the two Sesame Street named friends, Burt and Ernie, do everything humanly possible to stay alive and keep the continuous swarm of zombie out of the building. Running from room to room whacking skulls, boarding up windows and even dragging a decapitated, still chomping, zombie corpse into the operating room. Whatever had to be done these two gave it their best shot.
Surely it features a training montage scene?
Unfortunately not on today’s eighties movie revisit.
Does it feature an impossible mission?
Yep. When the aptly named “Resurrection Cemetery” is only next door and you can hear them screaming in their graves as they dig themselves out to come eat your brains… Yep your survival might indeed be marked as an impossible mission.
Does the hero get a chance to show off their muscles?
No time for Burt to rip his shirt off but I reckon he was rocking a well aged, taut set of guns for an old man.
Will I be needing to pause the video player? AKA are there any boobies?
Jeez whizz is there ever! Bang on the 20 minute mark the skull crotch wearing Linnea Quigley and her character Trash takes one for the team and gives us a wonder show. Never had the words “from the womb to the tomb” been so right. Up she jumps, up on the tomb, and grinds out a strip tease. Not only that, she spends the rest of her time stark naked, boobs, butt cheeks and ummmm a flesh coloured bikini bottom. She’s like a Barbie doll down there. Come on, that gyrating in your face like Elvis has just entered the building would of surely got the cinema run stopped. So we are blessed with little Miss Linnea other two delights and they are indeed mighty fine. Sure she’d catch a death of a cold!… OH!
No, not here. No one wants to watch zombies do it? Do we? Anyhow there’s no blood pumping around. What’s that? Give them a batch of blue tablets and make a run for it! Are you insane? One thing to have a zombie rampaging after you for your brains but also running after you with a rampaging _______ (fill in the blank) would be completely outrageous!
Any good totally random surprise scenes?
The half decapitated body of a lady zombie is dragged in by our fighting for survival gang. Tying her down they proceed to interrogate her?? Yeah I know right, a conversation with a zombie. “I can feel myself rot.“
Films body count? Low/Medium/High?
Yeah it high, very high.
Best death scene?
I’d have to go for the bald naked cadaver man in the warehouse. It’s a nuts scene. Screaming and running. Only for the trio to find out he’s completely unkillable!
Explosion ratio? Low/Medium/High?
Thinking back, I’m sure there was only one? It’s a big one though.
How many stuntmen probably really died making this film?
The way Burt is swinging that iron plumbers pipe I’d of said most of the extra’s and stuntmen would of received broken bones and concussions. Until I read that they replaced the iron pipe with a rubber one thinking Clu Gulager might get into the role a little too much… hehe
Frank – “Let me ask you a question, kid: did you ever see that movie, “Night of the Living Dead”?“
Freddy – “Yeah, yeah, yeah – that’s the one where the corpses start eating the people, right? What about it?“
Frank – “Did you know that story was based on a true case?“
Freddy – “Aw, c’mon, you’re shitting me, right?“
Frank – “I ain’t never been more serious in my life.“
Ernie – “What is that? What is that?“
Spider – “It’s dead people screamin’!“
Burt – “I thought you said if we destroyed the brain, it’d die!“
Frank – “It worked in the movie!“
Any other familiar faces and actors pop up?
Both Clu Gulager and James Karen are seasoned film and television stars with hundreds of tv shows and films on their filmography credits. James passed away only a few years ago at the grand age of 94 and Clu is still going and pops up in films to this day. With a bit part as a book store guy in QT‘s Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood (2019)
One guy who I hadn’t recognised but should of was Miguel A. Núñez Jr who plays one of the punk gang members called Spider. How did I not realise he was Dee Jay in the classic (hehe) Street Fighter (1994)? Ok keep it on the low down please, I got my street cred to keep up but I do have a little guilty soft spot for that film and Mortal Kombat (1995) Shhhhhhh.
The Return of the Living Dead is directed by Dan O’Bannon. He also does the screenplay from a story by John A Russo who was the original writer alongside the other zombie master George A Romero. They had both worked on Night of the Living Dead (1968) and on parting on their separate ways they split the zombie titles. John took the “Living Dead” and George had “Of The Dead” title names.
Dan O’Bannon is a legend in his own right. When he started writing the script, along with Ronald Shusett, for a film called Star Beast. Which would be re-titled Alien (1979). Now his name is credited to all the Alien franchise for good or for bad. Prometheus! Yuk lol. I know he had nothing to do with it… But anyway he’s worked screenplays for many cult film favourites like Dark Star (1974), Dead and Buried (1981), Total Recall (1990) and a personal fav in Lifeforce (1985)
Special effects guy Tony Gardner brings his incredible skills to the film for the animatronic half-corpse. His makeup effects are always great but this was one of his first major independent projects and it’s fantastic.
Because it’s a comedy the Cheese-O-Meter doesn’t really apply so I’d say it’s low. The cheese is all part of the fun.
IMDB score rating – 7.3/10
Wolfman ACTION & FUN rating – 9/10
Wolfman over all film rating – 7.5/10
This was so much entertainment. Like I say at the beginning these revisits always take me back to the those original exciting days of going to the video rental store. Coming home with a few boxes with crazy artwork and ridiculous taglines and not having a clue what I was about to watch. You just knew it was gonna be madness of some kind or another. I think there was 4 sequels? I never managed to watch any others in that “Return” offshoot franchise. II (1988) and III (1993) sound ok? The next two? Rave to the Grave (2005) and Necropolis (2005) sound awful. lol.. Did you have fun with this movie back in the day? Let me know if you wish.
Feel free to let me know your thoughts on the film if you want. But most importantly have fun with the movies.
Keep it filmy…. Mikey Wolf.