“Doooo ya wanna paaaarty!? IT’S PARTY-TIME!”
Yes, yes I do. There are some zombie movies which are “essential viewing” for any fan of the genre. Romero’s Dead Trilogy, The Beyond, Creepshow, Dead/Alive, and you guessed it, the original Return of the Living Dead.
This movie is both a brilliant parody of the zombie genre and a genuine, heart-pounding installment at the same time. The movie is chalk-full of some of the funniest, sharpest dark comedy you’ll ever see, but never let’s itself get TOO absurd. Likewise, it’s chalk-full of some of the most memorable, gruesome and standard-setting scenes in any zombie film, but never takes itself TOO seriously. It hits that balance dead-on and never loses its footing even once.
And when I said standard-setting, I meant it. This is the movie that began the whole “Braaaaaiiiiiinsss”-thing you’ll see in pretty much any zombie-parody and is a recognizable trademark of the genre, even if it is on the silly-side. But the movie even provides an explanation as to why zombies are obsessed with eating human brains in one of the film’s darker moments.
So what’s the plot? Not much. Missing canisters of 245 Trioxcide wind-up in the basement of a medical supply warehouse for a few decades. What the employees of the warehouse don’t know is that inside those canisters are the preserved bodies of zombies rounded-up by the Government back in the 60’s. Well, you can guess what happens next. Some moron accidentally bursts open one of the cans and a zombie escapes (the classic Tarman, the mascot of the franchise, makes his debut!). The gas from the canisters causes all the corpses in a nearby cemetery to rise from their graves and the cast of teenagers suddenly find themselves on the menu.
As mentioned before, the Tarman is not only one of the most memorable parts of the movie, but one of the finest examples of zombie design you’ll ever come across. This movie also pioneered the idea of “running zombies”, decades before the Dawn of the Dead remake came under severe criticism for it. And whether you like the concept of running zombies or not, you can’t help but enjoy the sequences featuring them.
There aren’t too many dark comedy zombie movies out there that manage to find the perfect balance that Return of the Living Dead does (Shaun of the Dead coming closest in recent memory). The story, characters, effects and music will keep you locked in your seat all the way until the hilarious-yet-depressing ending.
This movie earns itself an A. It’s not “the Perfect Zombie Movie”, but it comes mighty close.