Review: The Return of the Living Dead, 1985

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the return of the living dead featured image

Director: Dan O’Bannon
Writers: Rudy Ricci, John A. Russo
Stars: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa

I oddly have very little to say about The Return of the Living Dead, despite the fact that it’s right up my alley. It’s just pure fun and weirdness that I liked every bit of. This film is a  bizarre time capsule and a fascinating look into Dan O’Bannon’s brain. It’s a funny bit of commentary on Hollywood, the consumption of media, and the cycle the two exist in.

All the performances are huge, but played pitch perfect to the tone of the whole project (I actually found that remarkable—that everyone was on the same page and “got” this). The effects range from cheap and silly to really effective and really silly. The military zombie that is locked in the basement through most of the movie is awesome—I want to see someone completely rip that design off and make a full on monster-army movie with them, all done practically; it would be incredible.

The soundtrack is wonderfully of the era and evokes the fat-ass wink The Return of the Living Dead is giving the audience the whole time. It’s really just a delightful horror movie that sits nicely in the pantheon of horror-for-fun movies like Re-Animator and The Evil Dead. I actually think that this probably serves as a bit of the template for Shaun of the Dead—a spin on the genre but also of the genre.


Full disclosure, I missed about a half hour of my re-watch of ‘The Return of the Living Dead’ getting more beer and listening to a friend tell me film festival stories. It was worth it, plus I’ve seen this before. AND IT’S GREAT.

Why didn’t O’Bannon make more movies? He’s a good director—this has some great, long tracking shots, a bunch of good visual jokes thanks to the way he uses the camera, and is clearly made by a fan of the genre. I really love his work here, especially the pacing. The Return of the Living Dead opens strong and never lets up. It just keeps ratcheting up the tension and stakes until they quite literally can’t get any bigger (or be stopped). It’s one of the best meta-horror-comedies (of which there are a surprising amount) and maybe the quintessential Halloween party movie?


Initial Score: ★★★☆☆ (10/29/2015)

Today’s Score: ★★★★☆

This review originally appeared on Garrett’s Letterboxd. Follow him there for more ratings, reviews, and lists.

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