The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

return of the living dead poster 1985 movie
8.5 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 7/10
Visuals: 9/10

Smart take on zombies, great visuals

Ending feels a bit like a copout

Movie Info

Movie Name: Return of the Living Dead

Studio: Orion Pictures

Genre(s): Horror

Release Date(s): August 16, 1985

MPAA Rating: R

return of the living dead punks trash spider miguel a nunez jr linnea quigley

Spider…do you ever feel like you are wearing too many clothes?

In Louisville, Kentucky, Frank (James Karen) and Freddy (Thom Matthews) have a big problem.  They’ve accidentally unleashed a secret stash of forgotten government chemicals which were behind the events chronicled in Night of the Living Dead.  The chemicals have spilled out into the medical supply factory where they work, but getting rid of the newly risen dead, might be harder than they thought.  When Frank and Freddy’s boss Burt Wilson (Clu Gulager) convinces the neighboring crematorium owner Ernie Kaltenbrunner (Don Calfa) to burn the bodies, the ashes create a rainstorm which awakens all the corpses in a nearby cemetery.  Now, the dead are back, and they’re hungry for brains.

Written and directed by Dan O’Bannon, The Return of the Living Dead is a zombie horror comedy.  The film came as a result of Russo keeping hold of the title “Living Dead” when he and Romero parted ways.  The movie became a big hit and critical success and is cited for modernizing the zombie tale.  The movie has a strong cult following and The Simpsons creator Matt Groening was allegedly behind the trailer tag line of “They’re Hungry, and They’re not Vegetarians”.

return of the living dead frank freddy james karen thom matthews

Frank & Freddy channeling Abbott & Costello

I watched Night of the Living Dead into the ground as a kid.  It was one of the few movies we owned on VHS and so watching it was just something to do to pass time.  The Return of the Living Dead takes Night of the Living Dead and turns it on its side while still not being insulting or condescending to the genre.

The movie has a very smart script.  The movie is horrific, but loaded with snappy dialogue that still seems fresh.  The plot keeps the movie moving and the infectious nature of zombies makes allows for some good tense moments.  The combination of punks vs. zombies is new and modern (for the time), but I think the final solution of nukes is a bit of a one-laugh weak ending since there is really no way out of the corner the writers painted the characters into.

return of the living dead table zombie

Zombie Thirst Trap Pose…

The Return of the Living Dead has a great cast.  James Karen and Thom Matthews are fun as the bumbling idiots (and ended up returning for sequel as different characters).  Clu Gulager and Don Calfa are strong as the men who try to cover the conspiracy (and the writer claims to not have named them for the famous Bert and Ernie of Sesame Street).  The punks are also great.  They are dated, but I love the movie for that.  I also love how the good girl Tina (Beverly Randolph) hangs out with the punks, but you have to love the always nude Trash (horror fan favorite Linnea Quigley).

The special effects for the film are top notch especially for the time and budget.  I love zombies like the Tar Man who was performed by Muppets puppeteer Allan Trautman, and the zombie on the table is also another great creation.  Stylistically, the movie does have some weak stuff in unnecessary slow motion, but the movie does make up for it in the zombie imagery.

return of the living dead brains tarman

Need…more…brains… (and Tar Man)

Like it or not, The Return of the Living Dead changed zombie movies.  The movie made zombies more of a joke (allegedly people claim that this is why Day of the Dead bombed shortly after its release).  The film also introduced the brain eating zombies and zombies that ran…something that now is common in zombie films.

The Return of the Living Dead is a great movie.  It is a near perfect horror, comedy.  With strong special effects that hold up, a smart script, and a fun cast, the movie still is a fun ride.  The movie is dated by the style of the film, but that just adds to the movie’s charm.  The Return of the Living Dead was followed by Return of the Living Dead Part II in 1988.

Related Links:

Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988)

Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993)

Return of the Living Dead:  Necropolis (2005)

Return of the Living Dead:  Rave to the Grave (2005)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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