93. The Return of the Living Dead

ReturnOfLivingDead1One of the big ones in the Dan O’Bannon o’canon. This film did not start with him, and in fact has something of a convoluted backstory — but so does everything connected to the Romero Dead super-series. We start with Night of the Living Dead, which spawns a sequel, Dawn, and from Dawn we get the Zombie series, a remake, another sequel, and a parallel sequel in Return.

This movie treats Night like it actually happened, and was just part of some big coverup. But this guy’s got the proof — decaying zombie corpses in weird containment units. In a surprise turn, the zombies get loose, and what’s unique about the Return movie and series is that these zombies are basically invincible. You cannot ever stop this zombie plague.

I know what you’re thinking: that sounds stupid.

Yes, it does, and it is — given this movie stretches into sequel territory (and that’s a big ‘if’), because that’s a premise that can’t really sustain itself. Return of the Living Dead is kind of like a short film but with a feature’s runtime, it’s an exercise in decline, descent, a spiral into inevitable oblivion. Not a lot of depth there, but it’s doing a specific thing, so that doesn’t matter.

How does a movie like that keep itself from being unbelievably depressing? Well, Return is actually one of the better zombie-comedies out there, and arguably remains the best American zomcom to date. It’s twofold — the characters are endearing (lovable idiot types), and the set pieces are highly entertaining.

You wouldn’t think it given these days of The Walking Dead and World War Z, but there’s a whole lot one can do with zombies. Who could forget “send more paramedics?” or even more visual iconography like the Tarman, who’s become the melty face of the franchise (though I might prefer Julie from Return III, as referenced in the Sin City post earlier).

Ultimately, what makes this film work is the moment-to-moment. It’s a bizarre balance of terror and escapism, because it would be really exciting to be boarding up the house from the undead horde, shouting unintentionally funny (from the characters’ perspectives) things at each other. But this is no zombocalypse I’d ever want to be a part of.

The unkillable zombie doesn’t really sit well with anyone, although it does lead to some pretty good body horror-style gags. My favorite instances of zombie murder, and this is definitely a generic choice, is actually in Dawn of the Dead. I’m pretty sure Joe Grizzly shoots one of them in the arm, and he goes down.

How’s that for escapism? You don’t even have to be a good shot, and there’s plenty of blood. And when it rains, don’t worry about it.

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