You made me hurt myself again! I broke my hand off completely at the wrist this time, Tina! But that’s okay, Darlin’, because I love you, and that’s why you have to let me EAT YOUR BRAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIINS!
Back in the day a classic film known as Night of the Living Dead was unveiled into the world. Night provides the foundation for pretty much every zombie movie in existence. Return of the Living Dead is a tongue-in-cheek parody that selflessly takes the ideas behind Night and twists them into a tangled mess of laughably bad acting, somewhat weak comedy, and plot confusion.
The premise is pretty simple being a zombie movie and all. Two medical warehouse employees end up accidentally opening some secret military canister that unleashes an evil mutant zombie. In the ensuing attempt to get rid of it through incineration, the chemicals the zombie carried result in an allergic reaction with the atmosphere, bringing forth a rainstorm that causes the dead to awaken from the conveniently located next-door cemetery.
There are two defining groups of characters operating in this movie. On one side, you have the employees of the medical building and the poor mortician that gets dragged into the mess. On the other side, you have a group of teenage hooligans that as one of my friends expertly pointed out represent all of the most disturbing trends of the 80’s in one convenient package. While I appreciate the film’s fine attempts to instill personality into the characters before the inevitable zombie apocalypse, alternating between idiot employees and 80’s drugges made for a mess that was so bad you couldn’t help but laugh, if not for all the wrong reasons.
In most zombie movies there are generally a few people you can sympathize with, a few people that you really don’t want to die because they are awesome in some way shape or form. This movie contains no such characters. Truth be told, you kind of want to root for the zombies after a point. While I give minor credit for the poor old mortician, you’ll probably find yourself applauding after awhile when one of the zombies scores a brain-eating victory.
Okay, so I’m being a little bit harsh here. To the character’s credit they do come up with some good ideas at various points throughout the movie. When the first zombie comes up the medical employees attempt to replicate the head bashing trick that they note worked in Night of the Living Dead, for example. Several characters are also quite good at reacting under pressure, especially when it comes to barricading doors after zombies unexpectedly clamber onto the scene.
Unfortunately these are not your average zombies. No sir Return of the Living Dead employs zombies that defy all zombie logic. They will still move with their heads cut off. They will run and perform amazing feats that you would not expect a slow mindless zombie to be capable of. Yet perhaps the most interesting feature of these zombies involves their intelligence. These are some of the smartest zombies I’ve ever seen. Not only are they capable of almost clear speech, they are adept at setting up ambushes. That last part provides some of the finest moments in the movie, as police reinforcements end up getting ambushed and eaten in increasingly amusing ways throughout the movie.
Taken for what it is, Return of the Living Dead isn’t a completely worthless movie. It has its moments, but they are few and far between compared to the build-up it takes to get to them. Yet at the same time I can’t honestly recommend it as highly as most do. If you want a good zombie movie, catch a Romero film. If you want something laughably awful, then you’ve come to the right place with this movie.