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The Return of the Living Dead (1985) Special Edition

The Return of the Living Dead cover imageDirector: Dan O’Bannon
Writers: Dan O’Bannon (screenplay), Rudy Ricci (story), Russell Streiner (story), John A. Russo (book)
Starring: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Beverley Randolph
Certificate: 15
Running time: 90 minutes
Release date: 4 June 2012

John Russo, producer and co-writer of Night of the Living Dead, was very keen to cash in on the success of his smash hit midnight movie. So keen in fact that it only took him 17 years to get his sequel to the screen (a mere eight years longer than it took Romero to release his). It was worth the wait however.

Return of the Living Dead purports to give us the real story of what happened in Night of the Living Dead. According to this secret history, the whole thing was a big military experiment which was subsequently covered up. Unfortunately the military have lost track of the zombies they caught and then put in storage – until now that is…

In case you haven’t seen the film yet, here’s a recap:

Most of the action takes place in a medical supply warehouse and the graveyard which is situated conveniently right next door. The fun starts when Frank, the warehouse manager, tries to impress new recruit Freddy by showing him one of the zombies the military lost track of, which is now down in the warehouse’s basement. The zombie is kept in a large canister filled with a strange toxic gas which Frank and Freddy accidentally unleash. The zombie escapes, and all the cadavers and fresh body parts in the warehouse are reanimated by the miasma. Freddy’s friends, a gang of punks and new age freakazoids, turn up looking to party and the cloud spreads to the neighbouring graveyard. Then, quicker than you can say “why has Linnea Quigley got no pubic hair?”, Frank, Freddy and his friends find themselves facing an army of living corpses, all desperate for the taste of fresh human brainzzzz …

Unlike a lot of cult 80s horror, Return of the Living Dead has aged rather well, in spite of the director’s attempts to be up to the minute with the contemporary soundtrack and street fashions (probably because they were at least 8 years out of date by the time the film was released). More than anything, it is director and screenwriter Dan O’Bannon’s witty and innovative script that lifts it above the B-movie standard of most of its acting and special effects.

O’Bannon’s innovative and witty re-imagining of the zombie holocaust has proven to be more influential to the zombie genre than even Dawn of the Dead or Night of the Living Dead have been. Long before the likes of Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead were leavening the bleakness of Romero or Robert Kirkman’s vision of the zombiepocalypse with humour, Return of the Living Dead was mixing belly laughs with full-on fear and a good helping of gore. It also provides one of the best explanations for the existence of the walking dead with their lust for brains of any film, book or graphic novel in the genre.

This special 2-disc edition is packed with extra features which together run to three times the length of the actual movie. Of particular note are the interviews with producer John Russo on how Return of the Living Dead finally got to the screen after so many rewrites and false starts, plus the last ever interview with Dan O’Bannon, recorded shortly before his death from Crohn’s disease. The two hour documentary on the making of the film is also a must for any fan of the film or the genre. Comprising a series of straight-to-camera interviews with the surviving cast and crew, it covers every stage in the development and shooting of the film.

It’s doubtful whether a better edition of the movie will be released and this is a must for any fan of the Living Dead.

JASPER BARK

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1 comment

  1. Joe Mynhardt

    Loved this movie. I think it’s time I get hold of it again. Thanks Jasper.

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