Dan O' Bannon deserves no introduction to genre fans. His credits as a co-writer are numerous, and include "Alien", "Dead and Buried", Heavy Metal", the story treatment for "Total Recall", and numerous others. As a director, he did the classic movie that's being reviewed today, as well as the underrated Lovecraft adaptation "The Resurrected", which itself was an adaptation of "The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward." I write all this today because Dan is dead. The genre and it's fans are incredibly grateful for his contributions, and he will be missed.
Now, on to the review.
Zombies and comedy are so regular these days, that one can almost be forgiven for being tired of the concept. That's not the way it always was though. With a few exceptions, the living dead were treated with an utmost seriousness. Very few dared to mix the two. 1985 was a serious game changer though, as two classics were released that essentially changed the rules. The first one was Stuart Gordon's directorial debut, which was a very loose adaptation of Lovecraft's "Herbert West: The Re-Animator." The other was from also a directorial debut, only it was from Dan O Bannon, who was no stranger to the genre. His movie was originally supposed to be a Romero free sequel of "Night of the Living Dead", which Tobe Hooper was supposed to direct. Hooper turned that down, so it went to Dan, who decided to add a fun atmosphere to the proceedings. Interestingly enough, he went on to co-write "Lifeforce", which Tobe did direct.
The plot goes like this: Two employees at a medical supply warehouse are talking, when the older of the two named Frank (James Karen) reveals that "Night of the Living Dead" was actually a true story, only with a few tweaks. Well, he decides to show Freddy (Thom Mathews) one of the corpses, and through a Three-Stooges style mix up, the vapors that re-animated the dead years ago get loose, starting a whole new storm of problems. To make matters worse, Freddy's pals are partying at the Resurrection Cemetery, and sooner or later, the government is going to get involved.
From start to finish, "Return of the Living Dead" is awesome. The acting is really fun, with veteran character actors like James Karen, Clu Gulager and Don Calfa being allowed to do there thing, while the younger cast is game and up to task (especially legendary scream queen Linnea Quigley as Trash, whose more than willing to disrobe). The soundtrack (featuring TSOL, The Cramps, The Damned and more) is exceptional. And the whole movie is hilarious-and intentionally so.
O Bannon realized that trying to do the same tired "dead return to life" scenario straight would be overdone, so he injects a refreshingly smart sense of humor to the whole thing, from puns that don't hurt (Culager and Calfa's characters are named Bert and Ernie), absurd and hilarious situations (just about everything Karen says and does for a while after things turn bad is hilarious) and a bevy of awesome one liners ("You mean the movie lied!?" "Send More Paramedics!") In fact, the whole thing creates a great, almost party like atmosphere. It may even be the ultimate party horror movie-everyone who knows of this movie loves it, and for good reason too.
I could go on and on, but "Return of the Living Dead" is everything one would want and then some. It's a classic, and it gets better every time you watch it. If you haven't seen it, see it immediately, and if you have, see it again.
In short. Thank you Dan. You will be missed.