Comedy Oddities: The Return Of The Living Dead

return dead indexWritten and directed by Dan O’Bannon, the writer of Alien and Dark Star, given those two films you might expect this to be a zombie classic, right up there with the very best of the genre. It has its moments as well but it’s only vaguely amusing, there’s some brutal scenes and a few funny ones but it takes a good while to get going and surprisingly for the man who invented Ellen Ripley the characters are largely forgettable.

Given that many of our protagonists are party loving punks you would think they’d be more interesting too, but while they sneer and shout and one woman strips off and has a bit of a dance for no good reason at all they’re not individuals you’ll find yourself caring about. Some are sympathetic but only a couple, and the rest just stumble through the film until it’s their turn to be eaten.

The set up is at least quite an intriguing one one as it considers itself a direct sequel to Night Of The Living Dead, but with the movie existing in this universe too, yet in this reality the undead are impossible to kill and so the army gathered them up and sealed them in barrels, where they could no longer harm anyone. Unfortunately they lost one consignment and all these years later they’re accidentally freed by two idiots working at a medical supply warehouse.

Chaos ensues, albeit in a very slow manner, and the first forty five minutes is largely lead characters Freddy (Thom Mathews), Frank (James Karen) and Burt (Clu Gulager) trying to dispose of one body which doesn’t have the decency to die, roping in local mortician Ernie (Don Calfa) to help them burn the bastard. But when they do this the smoke mingles with the rain and wakes up everyone in the local cemetery, and soon our punk friends and everyone else nearby is in trouble.

There’s a few scenes which are really quite unsettling, the zombies are a chatty bunch with one explaining how she can feel her body rotting and eating brains is the only relief she gets, and the make up on some of the zombies is enjoyably grotesque. But because this largely plays it for laughs and contains such bland characters that it’s impossible to care when people do die, and so the horror element is left wanting.

At least it has a fair few amusing moments, the punks bickering and bantering contains the odd funny line, and a scene featuring a dog who is back from the dead but missing half of its body is strangely bizarre, though the effect is so unrealistic it’s amusing rather than horrifying. The manner in which the zombies ambush a number of police officers is grimly funny as well, and once again the blood splatter is so unrealistic that the only reaction to it can be laughter.

It takes far too long to properly get going though, and with so many lead characters who are fairly tiresome and nothing-y. The ending is pleasingly dark and it sets up the inevitable sequel, but I’m reluctant to check it out given that this is supposedly the best in the series, and if the others suffer from the same issues as this does but with an even duller set of characters than it’s something I’ve no interest in at all.

★★1/2

Alex Finch.
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