Night #29: Return Of The Living Dead

When I was younger I always put off seeing this film, not because I was scared or anything like that, but because I always thought there was a film just called Living Dead and that this was a sequel. Well the joke is on me of course because what I was missing out on was probably the best zombie film made to date.

I always had an affinity for Day Of The Dead with its big ideas and small budget, and I’m still fond of that film now (As I said previously it’s still the best of all Romero’s zombie films) but really it’s Dan O’Bannon’s brilliant film that takes the prize. It’s funny, it’s gruesome, it’s meta and it’s just having a lot of fun with the idea. It doesn’t get bogged down in Romero’s ‘Man is the real monster’ ideals and instead just tells a relatively straight forward tale of what would happen if the dead came back to life.

The film opens with the disclaimer that “The events portrayed in this film are all true. The names are real names of real people and real organizations.” so you already know what tone they’re going for. In it we’re in a medical supply warehouse as a new kid starts, his elder colleague looks to impress him so he shows him some barrels they got in storage from the same failed army experiment that inspired the movie Night Of The Living Dead(There’s a meta touch. It acknowledges that Romero’s film exists and that it was based on a real incident). There’s an accident and the barrell leaks, sending a toxic gas everywhere that’s bringing everything back to life, including half dissected dogs and the cadaver they got hanging from the ceiling.

Meanwhile, a group of punks hang out at ‘Resurrection Cemetery’ next door and if you were to guess that the two plots would entwine then you would be right. It’s also a bonus that they do so in a darkly funny way.

O’Bannon impressively sets out to dissuade convention. The group of ‘punks’ that hang out in the film are a multicultural bunch, and a fair way from what you’d assume they’d be in a film like this. His zombies run, some are even capable of speech even if that does mostly consist of groaning the word “Brains” (The idea that zombies, they even call them the Z word in this film, like Brains came from this here film – The more you know).

Horror-comedies are a difficult balance to achieve. I’d argue it’s only really this and An American Werewolf In London (Note: Not Paris) that get the balance right. You can either make it too scary or too funny. Not that this is ‘scary’ as such, but the scenes of horror play out the way they should and are never undercut with a joke. Likewise the comedic scenes are legitimately funny, particularly an aborted attempt to down a very angry cadaver that’s just been woken up. The scene escalates in ways both amusing and horrifying (You’d think a pick-axe to the brain would stop it wouldn’t you?) and really encapsulates the film in a nutshell.

 

We’re almost there faithful reader! I have another, slightly fun, article to post and then after two films it’ll all be over for another year. So let’s make the last two some good ones.

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