This Cult ’80s Horror Puts Brains On The Zombie Movie Menu
Frank (James Karen), the manager of a medical supply warehouse, tries to impress his new employee Freddy (Thom Matthews) with all the gruesome stuff they have in stock. There are skeletons, split dogs for vet schools, a corpse hanging in the meat locker, and a corpse locked in a military barrel of poison gas in the basement. When Frank accidentally breaks the drum, dozing them both with gas, the leak brings all dead things back to life.
After Frank and Freddy are attacked by the reanimated corpse, they discover that the usual methods of incapacitating a zombie don’t work. Their boss asks his friend at the local morgue to cremate the dismembered parts. This only releases particles into the air, which get caught in a rainstorm and contaminate the cemetery across the street, where Freddy’s punk friends party until he’s finished working.
The once restful dead rise from their graves as indestructible zombies with a fondness for human brains. As the situation escalates, the survivors barricade themselves inside a funeral home. Meanwhile, military bigwigs make a serious decision to contain the outbreak.
Any modern zombie film is inherently catastrophic, with the genre’s resurgence in the 21st century generally interpreted as existential anxiety following the events of 9/11. “Return of the Living Dead” is particularly hopeless, with an unkillable version of the living dead and a US military poised to bomb an entire city to stem the crisis, only to make it worse.
Yet until “Shaun of the Dead,” nearly 30 years later, zombie apocalypses were rarely this funny. “Return of the Living Dead” provides way more laughs than scares, and pitting a gang of nihilistic punk rebels against indestructible zombies was an inspired match. It’s a one-of-a-kind film, closer to “Repo Man” than any other zombie movie, highlighted by its incredible punk rock soundtrack. What better tune for the ubiquitous scene of zombies traversing barricades than the deliriously deadpan psychobilly track, “Surfin’ Dead?”