I think the main reason I hadn’t written a review or a piece about this movie is because I’ve written so many entries and done so many other little pieces like artwork that reference it, I thought I’d already done the entire series but apparently not. So, long overdue though it is, lets talk about what just might be the second most influential zombie movie of all time …
This image is super familiar to any zombie fan, punk zombies, ready to rock. Ok so the zombies in the poster aren’t actually in the movie, and they don’t actually resemble most of the zombies we encounter, they aren’t actually green ghouls made up of mostly bone but they do a good job at hinting at the characters we encounter and are just as memorable as them.
There’s a lot to love here. The busty woman on the left hints at Linnea Quigley‘s character Trash. And the guy on the right hints at the punk kid, Suicide, who drives everyone around at the start of the movie. I also love the faces just visible in the background hinting at a horde to come.
They describe the story themselves in the movie really beautifully during a conversation between a new employee and his boss at a medical supply company.
Remember that movie Night of the Living Dead? Well that was based on a true story . . . .
We learn that the military was experimenting with a chemical that leaked and caused a bunch of bodies to start moving around. The cadavers were dumped in some barrels and shipped off to be destroyed. So if that’s how it happened why does this guy, a warehouse manager, know that?
Typical army screw up.
Some of the barrels were accidentally sent to his warehouse with the wrong address and he’s had them in the basement ever since.
You can guess where this is going right? The gas and the chemicals get out, as does one of the corpses, the shit hits the fan and people get eaten. And the zombie who gets out of the barrel? One of the most terrifying zombies of all time; Tarman!
It’s pretty easy to make the argument that this is one of the greatest and most influential zombie movies of all time, second only to Night of the Living Dead.
SO much of modern zombie culture comes from this one film. It broke ground and changed the way zombie movies were told and made and they’ve never been the same since.
– Fast zombies: This is where fast zombies originated for some. A lot of people tend to credit 28 Days Later with introducing fast zombies but that seems to be simply because it’s a newer movie and one they are more familiar with. I personally credit Romero with making fast zombies. The fresh dead in his films are fast, and the more they rot, the slower they get. But this movie really accentuated the speed the dead could move at. The creatures in this film are just as fast as any human. They run, they chase, they form mobs and they DO NOT STOP for anything.
– Unstoppable: How do you kill a zombie? Shoot them in the head right? Ok, well maybe stab them or something but basically, destroy the brain and the zombie stops. Not in this movie. In this movie there is no way to stop them. If you cut off a zombies hand, the hand will come after you. Cut of it’s fingers and the fingers will still wiggle around. The only way of stopping them is total incineration, but as you’ll see in this film, even that seems to have some pretty bad consequences as well. The sequel introduced the idea that electricity could be used to stop zombies but let’s focus on one movie at a time.
– Brains: Although it seems to be a mainstay of modern zombie films, zombies never ate brains until this movie. The zombies in every preceding flick were flesh eaters. And make no mistake, they still are! Even in this movie series, zombies eat people. But it was this film that brought out the idea that zombies were specifically after our brains and the idea stuck. Zombie brain eaters have been the standard of our culture ever since.
– The talking dead: And who told us that zombies eat brains? Why they did of course, because the zombies in this movie can talk. There is a particularly memorable scene where a zombie is attacking a building and is half way in through a window when she gets chopped in half. The survivors manage to capture her, tie her down and interview her. This was a shocking scene and really amazing because it gave the answers most of the audience wanted at that point in the story. In fact, I would go so far as to say that she gave the answers the pop culture wanted at the time from this sort of movie. Like, “Yeah, zombies are cool. But why the hell are they always limping around biting on people right? What’s that all about?”
– The Turning: This movie isn’t the first to show us the deterioration from a regular healthy human down to a corpse that eats everyone around it but it did so beautifully. The whole process of inhaling a poisonous gas, through death, rigor mortis and eventual madness for brains is seen through the eyes of the two characters who unleashed the trioxin gas and let Tarman out of his barrel. It’s pretty clear they are sick right from the get go but they try to tough it out. One of the most amazing scenes in the movie has a pair of paramedics arriving to help and checking, then rechecking the guys who have no heartbeat, not blood pressure and tell them, “Basically, you’re dead.” Amazing.
– The Cast and Characters: Let’s face it, they are pretty memorable even the cheesy ones. From best friends Burt and Ernie to Linnea Quigley’s Trash. These people stuck in our heads long after the movie was over.
– The FX: Here again, the special affects were incredible. It’s hard to find only one that stands out above the others but since I already mentioned the incredible half lady corpse and Tarman above I’ll just say that the makeup and gore FX throughout the movie were incredible. From split dogs, to a yellowed cadaver that gets up and MOVES even after having it’s head sawed off!
– Dan O’Bannon: The creator of Alien directed this movie, helping bring a chaotic but much needed level of professional movie making to the project.
All of the sequels. They ALL suck. As good as this one movie was, nothing after it really lives up to this standard. It’s so disappointing.
Interestingly enough I did find this odd entry on Wikipedia though it was total news to me, it sounds like a much better sequel than anything that ever got made:
Alternate Sequel and Graphic Novel
“After the success of Return of the Living Dead, actor Don Calfa penned an outline for a proposed sequel which later became entitled “The Revenge of the Living Dead” and had nothing to do with Ken Weiderhorn/Tom Fox’s Return of the Living Dead Part II. The story revolves around the survivors of the Louisville incident where Ernie, Casey, Chuck, Tina and Spider survive. Since the nuke only hit close to optimal placement, the problem had not gone away due to another “typical Army **** up”. Burt was killed by a falling beam inside the Uneeda warehouse. When the survivors think all is safe to emerge from the disaster but things are far worse outside. The numbers of the brain hungry dead have increased and spreading across the state. Finding a way to control the dead via the use of Ernie’s embalming techniques – they take the embalmed Frank and Freddy with them as they battle their way out of the danger zone and to freedom.
The story was later adapted as a promotional graphic novel by Calfa and artist Gary Smart in 3 variations and the third being the finalized revision. Printed in extremely low numbers only to be sent to publishers – things did not map out. Sadly the graphic novel was never picked up by publication houses, copies never returned and has since disappeared. Only a handful managed to find their way into collectors hands and beyond impossible to find.”
I’ve also just discovered and am about to watch a documentary all about Return of the Living Dead! Huzzah! Can’t wait!
–Tarman: [Spotting the other survivors] More BRAINS!
– Chuck: Hey, somebody get some light over here, Trash is taking off her clothes again!