Return of the Living Dead review by The Grim Ringler

The Return of the Living Dead

If you truly want to put fear and anger into a horror movie fan’s heart you will say two words two them. Two words that form a compound word of such dark implications that the marrow in their body will chill to a Slurpee consistency. Those two words are – horror-comedy. Never in filmdom have two words done more harm, ok, save for the two words Michael Bay. For some odd reason some genius thought hey, people like peanut butter, they like chocolate, and they mixed them and it worked, let’s mix horror and comedy, how can it miss? Well, it rarely does work, basically because they either focus on one of the two and not both at once, or they try to make fun of the movie they are making, or they make fun of the audience they are appealing to, or they just have no adeptness at either genre. Sure, it works at times, some of the Abbot and Costello monster movies were fun, and there have been a few movies that were horror movies and were funny and they worked (Fright Night), but it’s rare. Usually, like I said, because they don’t really take the horror movie seriously and just try to make a comedy with a monster mask on it. Well, it don’t work. But, as I also said, it canwork. Return of the Living Dead is one of the rare cases where it does.

What you have here is your basic zombie story, and a pretty hackneyed one at that – punk kids break into a cemetery, get all rowdy and naked and nihilistic, and a bunch of zombie party crashers spoil the fun and treat the punk kids as if they are the main course at a buffet. The twist comes in the handling of the material, and in the way they set it up. Because while this instead of making up their own mythology for what the zombies are, what they want, and where they come from, the filmmakers co-opt the idea behind the classic Night of the Living Dead, and act as if it really happened. That once upon a time some corpses came back to life and ran amok (the people responsible for the story behind the movie are Russ Streiner and John Russo, two of the men behind NOTLD, and the bastards behind the new version of NOTLD. I guess, when in doubt, steal from yourself). And past that, director and writer Dan O’Bannon is off and running. He sets it all up seriously, like a regular horror film, but through the dialogue, and through the acting, the film gets a weird, black sense of humor that just adds to the fun, giving things a weird surreal quality. And their approach on zombies is neat in that these zombies are fast, are ‘smart’, and are driven by their need for brains. Throw in two wacky medical supply workers that set all of it in motion, some funny, prototypical punkers, and an ex-Nazi mortician and you are in for a heck of a good night.

Now no, this is not Art. And no, this did not change the horror genre and scare millions of people. This is a fun movie. What people in the film industry almost mockingly call a popcorn movie. And as such it’s great. The zombies, while pretty inconceivable (How do they get out of their graves? Why do they have their eyes still? How can they speak?) are scary. The characters are interesting enough that you care what happens to them. The comedy is so natural that it never feels forced or unnatural – it seems like natural reaction to unnatural situations. And the direction, for a first film, is pretty good. Nothing fancy, but it’s effective. This is how horror comedies should be. Funny, yes, but at their heart scary and honest in their scares.

This special edition disc is a great treat, and at such a cheap price (I got mine for ten bucks) it’s hard not to pick up. The film is presented in matted widescreen and full screen, there is a funny, interesting commentary, a really good making of featurette, and a cool design gallery. The gallery was the highlight for me because I would love to have a book of all the design stuff, which feature some really great zombies.

The screw of this disc is that there is a rumor that they may do an even better disc next year if this one sells enough. I know for a fact (and have seen) there is an alternate version of the film that features and alternate ending and some other scenes, and I am sure there are deleted scenes and other things they track down. Hell, why not talk to the actors, especially the gorgeous Linnea Quigley (who is the naked punker, who, if you have seen the movie, you will gleefully remember, bless her heart), who has to have some stories about making this movie.

Not knowing though whether they will make a new edition next year or not, I cannot recommend this film enough. It’s a really fun, really freaky movie that is perfect for when you are having some friends over and want something scary but not too dark. And when it comes to the blending of horror and comedy, the oil and water of the film industry, you can’t get much better than this. …c…

8 out of 10 Jackasses

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