THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD (1985)
Article 4350 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Dan O’Bannon
Featuring Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa
What it is: Zombie comedy
Canisters containing a gas that resulted in the zombies from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD being created are misdelivered to a medical supplies warehouse. When one of them breaks open, a local cemetery is doused with the gas, resulting in a an outbreak of zombies.
I read a lot of trivia on this one, but I can’t vouch for how much is true, so if I’m wrong on some of this, bear with me. The original screenplay of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD was co-written by George Romero and John Russo. They had a parting of ways, and for the rights to the story, Russo got the “living dead” phrase, while Romero had to use “the dead” for his sequels. Russo’s treatment sat on the shelf for several years until it was offered to Dan O’Bannon for his first directorial assignment; O’Bannon refused to take the original treatment due to its being overly similar to the original movie, and rewrote it to make it a comedy. This is the result.
As far as I’m concerned, O’Bannon was on the right track. Done straight, this would have been just another zombie movie. As it is, the frantic pace is ideal for comedy, and O’Bannon (who penned the scripts for both ALIEN and DARK STAR) certainly knew his way around the genres. It’s only a semi-sequel to the original movie; the movie uses the explanation that the original movie was based on a true event, but the makers were denied the right to tell the story truthfully by the military, and changed a lot of the facts around. As a result, this movie uses the opportunity to change the zombie lore. The zombies move a lot quicker, they’re able to talk, they’re able to reason, and they don’t eat people in their entirety; they’re just after brains. They’re also nearly impossible to kill. All these changes are used for both horrific and comic effect, and the movie ends up being fast-moving and fun. It’s so fast-moving, in fact, that I was seriously wondering whether the movie would have enough incident to keep enough characters alive to fill out a 90 minute running time. This is also the movie that made Linnea Quigley (who spends most of her running time naked) a scream queen. All in all, this was a worthy reworking of the “living dead” concept of the original.