GORE IN THE STORE
REVIEWS BY FANS FOR FANS
5 STAR FAB - 1 STAR RUBBISH
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD - ****
UK Blu-Ray & DVD release date 4th June 2012.
Dan O’Bannon’s living cartoon nightmare returns on shiny blu ray this month and is every bit as wonderful as it was twenty five years ago. From the opening statement declaring the events you are about to see to be “real” you know what kind of a ride you’re in for. And as this seminal 80’s zombie flick get’s underway with a tantalising pre-credits sequence and amazing psych-disco opening score one can’t help but think it has been criminally overlooked.
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (ROTLD) was one of those big boxed video shop classics that sat on dusty shelves beside HOUSE, GHOULIES, TROLL and other numerous horrors of the era. But what makes this entry more than synonymous was its grime/ punk attributes is that it embraced these sub-cultural elements, integrating them into its very fabric. From the Goth/ rock soundtrack (The Damned, The Cramps etc) the lavish punk characters with names like Trash and Suicide and impressive make up special effects all doused in dirty neon. ROTLD stood out from the affiliated dross of the time, and despite its strong association with 80s fashion it has dated very well.
The film opens with a “teenage” Freddy, fresh out of school whom has just been given his first job as an assistant in a medical supply house. Working with Freddy is Ernie, a craggy old manager showing him ropes, and the batch of dead bodies in army canisters stored in the medical house basement. After accidentally cracking open one of the canisters Freddy and Ernie get exposed to a toxic gas that triggers off the zombie outbreak. With a sub-plot centred on Freddy’s girlfriend leading a clan of demented punk caricatures, the film primarily focuses on a gang of fifty something’s imprisoned in the medical supply centre, fending off the living dead attacks in various inventive ways.
As much as you think you have seen it all before in respect of zombie film plotting (a group isolated against their will in a single location and forced to fight off a living dead invasion) and characters so wooden you could build a bookshelf out of them, ROTLD boasts variations on most of the clichés and stereotypes. There is a dumb blonde and a “jock douche bastard” but three of the main characters are in their fifties and the younger stereotypes are so submerged in the Goth sub-culture and knowingly clichéd, when remnants of their true individual identities surface beyond the cartoon face values it seems refreshing and interesting rather than just two dimensional alpha co-eds and airheads pouting and flailing around a forest.
One character named “Suicide” has a metal chain connecting his ear to the side of his lip, but has a moment where he breaks down to a gyrating and completely naked Linnea Quigley, confessing that he feels confused because no one understands him. In the context of a completely demented neon caked zombie nightmare this seems more interesting than it should. As all of the characters are portrayed with maddening tongue in cheek relish with exaggerated emotions, this suggests that they are in on the joke just the right amount for it to be not to be considered a total spoof.
Literally referencing Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in the set up, ROTLD feels like a cousin of the original zombie cannon but is in far superior to the last two films in the series. And as with many horror films of the 1980s it can be looked upon from a modern perspective with the same kind of coy fondness one has for the horror and sci-fi movies of the 50’s a 60’s. ROTLD is not scary in the slightest, which might be considered one of its downfalls for viewers expecting something dramatic or terrifying. And the sag in the centre of the story when the characters do nothing but run around screaming for forty minutes suggest its far from perfectly structured. But by its very nature, being a scattershot splat-fest, ROTLD would maybe have benefited less if it had adhered to a strict script structure.
Like AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and SEAN OF THE DEAD, ROTLD is a comedy with gruelling horror scenes and while the gore is remarkable it is the one thing that isn’t exaggerated or in overabundance (the film has now been down rated to a 15). Coupled with an astounding 80s soundtrack this is one of the best overlooked zombie films of the decade with hilarious sequences but not many scares. It is structurally flawed but incredibly fun and the exaggerated characters, performances, and comic scenarios make this a vibrant, crazy and very likeable zombie gem from an era when there was a lot of hokum about. Forget the sequels but seek out this exuberant, visceral, neon soaked thrill ride.