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The 31 Greatest Horror Movies For Your 2005 Drunken Halloween Bash
(That Probably Cost Less To Make Than You Paid to Rent Out A Few Kegs*)
Horror Movie # 23:  Return of the Living Dead

Halloween is a weird holiday. It's the only one where we celebrate spirits, reanimated corpses, and death (if you don't count Christmas). It's the one day out of the year where freaks can look normal and normal people go out of their way to look like freaks. And, best of all, it's a great excuse to pull out your stash of horror DVDs -- ranging from laughable low-budget garbage to quality low-budget classics -- and party like those dancing corpses in the Thriller video. Since many people consider a Halloween Party with the Scream trilogy and some Old Milwaukee a "smashing success," I figured I would put my unhealthy obsession with all things horror to good use and let the world in on the cinematic secrets to giving the best damn Halloween party ever! A new movie will be added daily, right through until the morning of October 31st! You can thank me later. Now, would be fine, too. Either way.

20 years since Return of the Living Dead
and no one has been able to come up with a
cooler looking zombie than the Tarman. 
"Tarman:  Proof you don't need CGI to make
an impression, since 1985."

The Return of the Living Dead
Review written by: Alex Sandell

The Story

A young man named Freddy (Thom Mathews) finds work at a medical supply warehouse where he's told that George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead was based on a "true case."  A toxin meant to be sprayed on marijuana ended up leaking onto some corpses, reanimating the bodies.  The corpses were captured by the military and accidentally shipped to the warehouse where Freddy's currently employed.  His manager Frank (James Karen) is eager to show Freddy the bottled-up bodies.  One of the canisters opens and sprays gas all over the two bumbling workers.  They wake up to find that a corpse has been reanimated.  Frank tells Freddy, who's spending his first day on the job, to "watch your tongue, boy, if you like this job!"  After being gassed and chased by corpses, Freddy responds by shaking his head in disbelief and mumbling, "like this job?"  Burt (Clu Gulager), the owner of the facility is called in and decides to cover everything up, rather than have his business shut down.  He puts various pieces of the chopped up corpse ("I thought you said if we destroyed the brain, it would die?!?"  "Well, it worked in the movie."  Well it ain't workin' now."  "You mean the movie lied?"), along with the barking "half-dogs" (dogs literally cut in half for science labs) into numerous garbage bags and takes them to his old friend Ernie (Don Calfa), hoping to have the evidence destroyed by way of cremation.  A reluctant Ernie agrees, lights up the oven and reduces the body parts (and living dead half-dogs) to nothing but ashes.  The ashes rise from the crematorium's chimney, into the clouds, just as a storm is building, and rain down upon the nearby cemetery.  In a matter of minutes, the dead are up and walking the earth ...  

How Many Beers Should Be Consumed Before Watching?

This movie is one of the best horror movies released in the 1980's.  You can watch it sober and love it, but a few beers wouldn't hurt (do they ever?  Outside of the inevitable liver failure and kidney transplants they bring about later in life.).  I'd say this is a 3 beer movie.  

Gore Score

Choosing between a score of "Light Bruising," "Recently Deceased," "Badly Decomposed" and "Puke-Inducing," The Return of the Living Dead gets a rating of "Puke-Inducing."  With pick-axes to the brain, large bites of gray matter taken from people's blood-spurting heads, talking corpses describing how much death hurts, reanimated half-dogs barking and wagging their cute little reanimated corpse tails, rigor-mortis setting in on a couple of people who still happen to be conscience, etc. etc., this movie won't make you feel good about dying.  Then again, does the thought of dying ever make you feel good?

Would You Like Cheese With That?

Horror movies can be "Easy on the Cheese," "Regular Cheese," "Extra Cheesy" or "Instant Cheese Based Coronary."  The Return of the Living Dead is slightly cheesy.  Some would say it's the cheesiest thing ever made, but I think it works as such a clever homage to both Night of the Living Dead and EC Comics of old (Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Weird Science), I have trouble giving it anything more than a "Regular Cheese" rating.  And that's for the deliberate humor.  This movie is well-crafted and doesn't have many "accidental" laughs (the only ones I can think of come from the slightly underdeveloped acting talents of a few of the teenage punks hanging out in the graveyard toward the beginning of the film).  Dan O'Bannon's screenplay hits your funny bone with a meathook and doesn't let go.

Drug Use 

With "Let Off With a Warning," "Pay a Small Fine," "Put on Probation" and "Go Directly to Jail" to choose from, The Return of the Living Dead gets "Let Off With a Warning."  No illegal drugs to be found in this film.  Hopefully you can say the same thing about your house, if the zombie cops bust your Halloween party with drug-sniffing half-dogs. 

Sex and the Psycho

Horror flicks and sex go together like romantic comedies and crap.  A terror movie can be rated "Nun," "Curious Schoolboy," "Chick After 8 Beers" or "Paris Hilton."  Linnea Quigley all but stole the "Scream Queen" title from Jamie Lee Curtis when she bared all for the duration of the movie.  Her dance on top of a grave is arousing as hell and definitely warrants a "Chick After 8 Beers" sex rating.  It's pretty hard-on worthy.  I've heard it said that women can't even resist the allure of her perfectly rounded buttocks, swaying in the wind like really sexy er ... buttocks.

When Should it Crash the Halloween Party?

Early on, when your guests still want to be entertained by your horror collection, rather than just entertaining themselves by laughing at it.  This might be a good one to start with, due to its rockin' soundtrack and the lyrics screaming, "DO YOU WANNA PARTY!"  It could really get people wild, pretty early on.  Whatever you do, make sure you put it in before schlocky crap like ParasiteParasite needs the accompaniment of a lot of beer and even more dead brain cells to fully enjoy.  Return of the Living Dead is entertaining when you're revelers are still working their way through the cheap entrees you've provided them.   

Will You Hate Yourself in the Morning?

Waking up from a night of partying can be downright depressing.  Waking up with a cheap horror movie in your DVD player can feel like "Sex With a Hotty," "Sex With Someone in Your League," "Sex With Your Sister" or "Sex With a Sheep."  The Return of the Living Dead is like having "Sex With a Hotty."  This was the first horror movie I saw in a theater.  I was a wee lad of 10 or 11.  The only thing that had scared me more in my young life was seeing my uncle dead in a casket.  It looked like the embalmers had done nothing more than paint his face with a bunch of varnish.  Suddenly the thought of death made me squeamish.  To this day I'm requesting a closed-casket funeral -- with padlocks on the damn coffin.  Return of the Living Dead didn't make me feel any better about death, than my uncle's funeral did.  The movie is a horror comedy, but it doesn't shy away from the horror part of the equation.  It's dark and morbid.  Re-watching it for my 10th or 11th time last night to write this review, I really picked up on what a living, breathing EC comic book the movie is.  The smoke rising from the crematorium door as that Danny Elfman-ish music pounds over the speakers.  The camera moving slowly through the gothic graveyard, as you hear the dead pounding on their coffin lids, screaming and clawing their way out of the ground.  The sexy nude zombie (Linnea Quigley) rising from the mud, being washed nude by the rain, later emerging from the fog to eat her first brains .  The upper-half of a corpse, describing the pain of death and how she can feel herself rot -- the only way to stop the pain is by eating brains (her spine wiggles back and forth throughout her monologue).  The way the image pauses as one of the characters busts open an attic door and eerily moans, "Tiiiiinaaaa."  And, last but not least, the zombie that's affectionately become known as "Tarman."  This guy could have been ripped from the cover of any number of EC comic books.  All that's missing in this movie is the Crypt Keeper.  Let me go back to Tarman for a second.  Over the years, he's turned into one of the most -- if not thee most -- revered zombies in horror history.  He's always reminded me of The Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz gone bad.  The makeup job on the monster is incredible, and whoever was in that outfit (or was it animatronics?) did zombie like no one before or since.  And his signature line, "more brains" has entered the horror lexicon (attend any Fangoria Weekend of Horrors if you need proof).  The character is funny and scary, all at the same time.  "Funny and scary" sums up The The Return of the Living Dead perfectly.  There's no way not to laugh over the crazy antics of Burt, Ernie, Frank and Freddy.  The actors are so good at what they're doing in this movie, and the delivery of their crazy dialogue is so outrageously funny ("rabid weasels?!?"  "One question Frank, the guy screaming in there ... you sure he's a dead cadaver?"  "Why don't you open the door and find out?"  "Eh, I'm sorry Frank, I'll take your word for that."), it's a shame they didn't form a comedy team and start an act in Vegas, or something.  Speaking of memorable lines, "Send more paramedics" will be one of your most commonly used lines from a movie, right after something like, "May the Force be with you."  The line, and the way it's delivered, is lasting (you'll just have to see and hear it for yourself).  This film is one of my guiltiest pleasures.  The only full-fledged zombie movie that I enjoy more is the original Night of the Living Dead.  With The Return of the Living Dead, Dan O'Bannon made the definitive splatterpunk movie.  It takes perverse delight in being disgusting.  If you like Shaun of the Dead, Evil Dead 2, Dead/Alive (AKA: Brain Dead), and/or Army of Darkness, you owe it to yourself to see The Return of the Living Dead.  This one came first, and it's still one of the best.  Add it to your "must buy" list and have a very happy Halloween! 

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Fellow horror hound?  Have any comments on this film?  Recommendations for the list?  Email Alex!

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