PSA: Return Of The Living Dead (1985), or You Know What I Could Go For Right About Now? Some BRRRAAAIIIINNNSS!!!

12 04 2009

Happy Easter, everyone! It truly is a glorious day today. The sun is out (behind a bunch of gray clouds), the sky is blue (or it will be once the clouds clear), and it seems like nature itself has truly blessed this day. But you know what? There’s something amiss! Can you guess what it is? It’s not the bunnies hopping merrily in the fields. It’s not the classy Democrat in the Oval Office. Nope; it’s the churches! That’s right, ladies and germs. Today, millions, and perhaps even billions, of people are filling America’s churches to celebrate. Because this very Sunday (allegedly) marks the day where (allegedly) Jesus Christ ROSE FROM THE GRAVE three days after he was killed by evil Romans. Allegedly. Yes, through the power of God, Jesus returned from his eternal slumber and walked among the living after three days of rotting and decomposing in a cave. But Jesus was not content as he was before his death. He had a hunger; a deep, powerful hunger that could only be sated with the one thing that truly filled him on the inside. And that one thing was warm, fresh, still-thinking human brains. He went from hut to hut in the burning sands of Jerusalem, tearing people apart, searching for a cure for what ailed him. They became like bloody piƱatas unto our Lord and Saviour, for no one brain could alone satisfy him. And God, realizing that he had made a horrible, horrible mistake, lifted him up into Heaven, where he resides to this day, locked in a basement and thrown table scraps to keep him from screaming too loudly. Verily, He is risen. So, to honor this day, I watched one of the funniest zombie movies I could scrounge up, Return of The Living Dead. It’s a fitting tribute for a truly insane holiday.

It all revolves around one night in Louisville, Kentucky. At a medical supply warehouse, manager Frank is showing his new hire, Freddy, the ropes around the joint. To impress Freddy, Frank tells him about something really special they have in the basement. It’s a failed government experiment; a hermetically sealed barrel containing a body seeped in a disgusting black fluid and gas. Frank tells him that it was a cadaver, but once it was touched by that mysterious gas, it began to jerk around like it was alive. The military sealed the gas and the body away to contain the situation, and through a clerical mix-up, a barrel wound up being shipped to Frank’s warehouse. So, of course, Frank gets clumsy and accidentally busts a hole in the barrel while trying to show off to Freddy and the whole warehouse is with the mysterious gas and the body in the barrel is surprisingly animated. The gas spreads, slowly but surely (with no help from the two morons who started all this), and soon the nearby cemetery becomes the most happening place in town. Can anybody stop an undead onslaught the likes of which Louisville has never seen before?

This is really one of my favorite zombie movies because it has a sense of humor. Everyone in town is pretty eccentric, and they play it up for some pretty good laughs. Frank and Freddy are so pathetic. They might be the two dumbest, most cowardly people I’ve seen in a movie in quite a while. Think Scooby and Shaggy with blood-spattered clothing. Freddy’s friends, who are waiting outside the warehouse for him, are a collection of all the typical 80s teenager stereotypes; there’s the punk, the goth chick (“Do you ever wonder about all the different ways of dying?”), the new-wave loser, the prep, and the token black friend, and they’re all on high-cliche alert. Everyone has some bizarre idiosyncrasy that makes them memorable, and they will make you laugh in spite of yourself.

The zombies even scare up a few laughs (HA!) sometimes. My favorite funny zombie moment is in the video above, where Frank and Freddy realize that no conventional means will destroy the creatures. They are flipping out, and so is the zombie once they chop his head off!!! Director Dan O’ Bannon knows that the genre is ripe for parody, so while pulling off what is at times a genuinely frightening zombie flick, he also lightens almost every scene with a good one-liner, an over-the-top cry for “BRAINS!”, or some other nonsensical moment to keep the good times going

In every zombie movie, there are certain choices about the zombies themselves made by the filmmakers that make them stand out from other movies of the same genre. I like to call these Zombie Preferences. Do you prefer your zombies fast or slow? Smart or dumb? Defeated by a shot to the head or the heart or not? Now, a number of movies will give the zombies a trade-off attribute for their weaknesses. If they’re really slow and lumbering, they’ll be strong as hell, or if they’re dumb as rocks and of normal strength, they’ll usually be able to run. This movie is unique in the sense that the zombies here really have no weaknesses. The Zombie Preferences are all turned up to max!!! They are fast, strong, smart, and unable to be killed by any other way besides complete cremation. It makes for a really interesting battle against the humans because nobody in 1985 Louisville is fast, strong, or very smart at all!

It is a cheekily acted piece of zombie horror trash, but it is done with enough self-awareness that it ends up being fairly intelligent. In more recent years, filmmakers have done a lot to make zombie threats not only scarier, but a lot more realistic (however realistic that scenario can become). Not a lot of movies, though, with the exception of maybe Shaun of the Dead, can say that they have made the genre funnier. That title is for the unique few, and Return of the Living Dead is certainly one of them. I give it 7 1/2 undead Kentuckians out of 10. Amen, and may God Bless.

Come back tomorrow for my take on Soldier!




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