The Return of the Living Dead


Of course you do! If you’re like me, you read that just as the song sounds and now it’s stuck in your head. On the flip side, perhaps you have no idea what I’m talking about. Perhaps you’ve been living under a rock your entire life and haven’t had the pleasure of enjoying this classic of horror cinema.

Either way, hop in and buckle up. We’re going for a drive.

“How come you guys only come around when you need a ride someplace?”

The Return of the Living Dead, released in 1985, is the brainchild of writer John Russo, who was also the co-writer for another legendary film bearing the Living Dead name, George Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead. As legend would have it, both Romero and Russo had varying ideas for sequels, so they parted ways with an agreement that Romero would drop the word “living” from his future titles. Romero went on to direct Dawn of the Dead while Russo put in work on the story for Return of the Living Dead, released as a novel in 1977

This film, however, is nothing like the original story and we can thank none other than writer/director Dan O’Bannon (Alien) for that. He felt the story was too much of a serious attempt at a sequel to Night and, fearing that he’d be treading onto Romero’s turf, decided to change things up. This, in my opinion, was a marvelous decision. Instead of a dark, apocalyptic zombie film (let’s face it, Romero has that covered) we get something completely different with The Return of the Living Dead. It’s campy, laden with black humor and chock full with some of the genre’s most memorable scenes and characters.

“It worked in the movie!”

Lovable and bumbling Frank (James Karen) is tasked with training the new kid, Freddy (Thom Matthews) at the UneedA medical supply warehouse. All goes well until Frank decides to show Freddy what they have stored in the basement: a canister misplaced by the military containing the remains of a zombie. Being the show off, Frank accidently releases the noxious gas contained within, 245 Trioxin, and sets off a deadly chain of events.

Meanwhile, waiting for Freddy to get off work, his friends decide to “kill some time” at a nearby cemetery. We’re treated to a lovely ensemble of punk rockers and new wave aficionados, including Suicide (Mark Venturini), Scuz (Brian Peck) and Freddy’s girlfriend, Tina (Beverly Randolph). One of the most memorable scenes, however, belong to Spider (Miguel Nunez Jr.) and Trash (Linnea Quigley).

“Do you ever fantasize about death?”

Rounding out this amazing cast is Burt (Clu Gulager), the owner of UneedA Medical Supply who decides that the only way to dispose of a corpse is to take it across the street to his friend Ernie (Don Calfa), who runs a crematorium. After some hilarious banter, they burn the reanimated remains. Unbeknownst to them, this unleashes a hellish mixture of ash and dust, combined with the 245 Trioxin, into the atmosphere, causing a radioactive rain storm that brings the dead back to life.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the most iconic character of this film (and perhaps all zombie films), Tarman, played by actor and puppeteer Allan Trautman, who is best known for his work with Jim Henson and The Muppets. This is, in my opinion, one of the most memorable undead makeups of all time. It’s gooey and undoubtedly smells as bad as it looks. The way the tongue moves behind those teeth and the off-set eyes. What makes it work so well though is the way Trautman moves underneath all that Methocel (a thickening agent used in milkshakes).

“More BRAINS!”

All of this sets the stage for one of the most beloved and enjoyable horror films ever to be released. It pays homage to its roots while also veering from the original concept of the “slow, lumbering zombie”. They’re fast moving, they’re strategic and most importantly, they speak.

I could spend hours expounding on why this is my favorite horror movie. The casting is spot on, the dry humor is refreshing and the soundtrack is amazing. Hell, to be perfectly honest, this is my favorite movie. So yeah, sure, maybe I’m biased. To be fair, though, we recently covered it on our podcast, The House That Screams, and so far it is the only film that has received a perfect 10 out of 10 score! If you ask me, that speaks volumes. Don’t take my word for it, though. If you still haven’t seen this gem, I suggest you do so at once! If you have, watch it again!

-Shawn “shwn0fth3d3ad” Smith

The House That Screams

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