Saturday, October 22, 2011

Rock, Rock, Rock, Rock 'n Roll Zombies

1985 was a banner year for zombie movies and Dan O'Bannon's The Return of the Living Dead was exceptional for several reasons, the least of which was the introduction of zombies' hankering for braaaaiiiiinnss!

The late O'Bannon (the cousin of a college friend of Uncle P's) is probably best known as the screenwriter of the original Alien. His first zombie movie was a delightfully weird little movie called Dead and Buried, which I'll be talking about later. For his directorial debut, he teamed up with Night of the Living Dead's producer John A. Russo to update and elaborate on the mythos created by Romero ad Russo in 1968.

In a military warehouse in Kentucky, Frank (Poltergeist villain James Karen), the foreman shows a new employee, Freddy (Thom Mathews) a barrel which contains a corpse and a gas that the foreman claims inspired the events in Night... When Freddy accidentally opens the barrel, reanimating the corpse inside. With the help of their boss Burt, (Clu Gulager) they subdue the zombie and take its remains to a local cemetery for cremation. Unfortunately, the soot and smoke from the crematory creates a toxic rain which settles in the graveyard, creating hundreds of brain-hungry zombies. Also in the cemetery are a group of punks (Freddy's girlfriend among them) looking for a cool place to party. The rain forces them to flee, pursued by the zombies. of course, Freddy and Frank begin to get sick from exposure to the gas and soon realize that they are dead and also hungry for brains. All the mayhem results in a small military strike, taking out 20 blocks of Louisville with nukes. Of course, the resulting rain leads to the obligatory sequel, also starring Karen and Matthews as different characters who suffer similar fates. Return of the Living Dead also stars 80's 'Scream Queen' Linnea Quigley as Trash and features a soundtrack with songs from The Cramps; The Flesh Eaters; The Damned; Jet Black Berries and SSQ

It also introduced the infamous "Tarman" zombie (on your left) and gave an explanation for why the zombies craved brains - being dead hurts and eating brains relieved the pain.

Director/Screenwriter O'Bannon went on to write the screenplays for director Tobe Hooper's  film Lifeforce (about vampires from outer space) and his remake of Invaders from Mars; Total Recall and Screamers.

The Return of the Living Dead was both a critical (89% on RottenTomatoes) and modest box office success, earning over $14M domestically on a budget of of $4M. It spawned four sequels, including 2005's Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis and Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave. None of the sequels had nearly the success of the original, each growing sillier and sillier. If you've never seen it, The Return of the Living Dead is probably best viewed with friends at 4:20 (wink-wink, nudge, nudge).

I have no idea what the hell Peter Coyote is doing in these movies...

More, anon.

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