Saturday, October 18, 2008

Overlooked Movie: Return of the Living Dead



"I noticed recently, I was watching TV and there’s some young director who has done a zombie movie very recently...but I know that he was congratulating himself on inventing the idea of swiftly-moving zombies. And I thought, hmmm, I guess he’s never seen Return Of The Living Dead. Apparently we both invented it." ~Return of the Living Dead director Dan O'Bannon on running zombies

When a bumbling pair of employees at a medical supply warehouse accidentally release a deadly gas into the air, the vapors cause the dead to re-animate as they go on a rampage through Louisville, Kentucky seeking their favorite food, brains.

Tagline:
They're Back From The Grave and Ready To Party!

Fun Trivia:
John Russo (who co-wrote Night of the Living Dead with George Romero) wrote a script called The Return of the Living Dead at the same time that George Romero was doing Dawn of the Dead. An independent producer, Tom Fox, bought Russo's script. He set up production and gave the script to Dan O'Bannon. O'Bannon refused to direct it as it was written. He felt that it was too much of a serious attempt at making a sequel to Night of the Living Dead, and did not want to "...intrude so directly on Romero's turf." And he helped to re write it with more humor.


Originally Tobe Hooper was slated to direct this film in 3-D but that fell through and O'Bannon took the helm.

The two heroes of the movie are names Burt and Ernie, seemingly referencing the popular Sesame Street characters, but writer/ director Dan O'Bannon claims he wasn't aware of the characters at the time and says it was all a big coincidence.

Dan O'Bannon was originally supposed to play Frank and he wrote the part with himself in mind, but when James Karen came in to read for another part, O'Bannon was simply blown away and hired him on the spot.

The zombies in this movie differ from those in Night of the Living Dead. Return's interpretation of zombies have influenced cultural interpretations of zombies, particularly with regard to their hunger for brains and their constant vocalization of this hunger.


The zombies in this movie are fast and can run (this is the movie that gave birth to running zombies). They are as strong and intelligent as they were in their previous life, and they can also speak sometimes. They can form words despite their physical degradation. Instead of hunting humans for their flesh, they hunt for the humans' brains, stating that only their consumption eases the pain of being dead. It appears that injuries to their brains do not have any effect and the only way to fully destroy them is to cremate their bodies, although the ensuing smoke spreads the contagious gas.

Some of the zombie extras were paid more to eat real calf brains in the film. Dan O'Bannon didn't want the actors to do anything he wasn't willing to do and ate some raw calf brains first in front of them.

After the "Rabid Weasles" are brought into the Resurrection Funeral Home and the tarp is removed, what is actually in the bags are those motorized toy monkeys that have the cymbals. The cymbals were removed for obvious reasons.

The eye-test poster (seen most clearly after Frank and Freddy run into Burt's office after hearing the first re-animated cadaver) in Burt's office actually reads "Burt is a slave driver and a cheap son of a bitch who's got you and me here" if you put the letters together.


On the back of Freddy's Jacket, in the theatrical version, the words "Fuck You" are displayed. After realizing that the shot could not be used in case it was ever shown on TV, a second jacket was made that says "Television Version" and can be seen in the TV Version of the movie.

The character Ernie (Don Calfa) is thought to be a Nazi due to him sharing his name with Ernst Kaltenbrunner among other indications in the film (such as the character listening to the German Afrika Corps march song "Panzer rollen in Afrika vor" on his Walkman while he embalms bodies, carrying a German Walther P38 and having a picture of Eva Braun in his morgue). Dan O'Bannon, in the DVD commentary, mentions that Ernie was intended to be an escaped Nazi in hiding.

The nuclear cannon at the end of the film was actually a WWII German Howitzer.

On the DVD commentary, Dan O'Bannon claims he was surprised at how many women were in the initial audiences and said if he'd known he'd have such a large female following he would have shown Suicide naked as well.

The film's German title is 'Verdammt, die Zombies kommen', which is roughly Oh Crap, the Zombies Are Coming and the Danish title is 'Ligene er ligeglade' which is roughly Corpses Doesn't Care -- playing up the comical aspect of the film.


Fun Quotes:
Frank: Did you see that movie, "Night of the Living Dead"?
Freddy: Yeah, that's where the corpses started eating the people, right?
Frank: Yeah - did you know that movie was based on a true case?

Casey: Chuck, I never did like you. Oh, but God, hold me tight.

Burt Wilson: I thought you said if we destroyed the brain, it'd die?
Frank: It worked in the movie!
Burt Wilson: Well, it ain't workin' now, Frank!
Freddy: You mean the movie lied?

Frank: International treaty, all skeletons come from India.
Freddy: No kidding, how come?
Frank: How the hell do I know how come? The important question is, where do they get all the skeletons with perfect teeth?

Freddy: See? 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!

Freddy: It was wrong of you to lock me up. I had to hurt myself to get out. And I know you're in here, because I can smell your brains.

Zombie: Send... more... paramedics.

9 comments:

Randal Graves said...

Oh man, here's a blast from the past. I think I still have the VHS in the basement.

I remember the old dude having the most bizarre laughing cry or whatever he blurted out after they popped open the zombie barrel.

Bubs said...

I love, LOVE this movie. Thanks for the reminder.

Neil Sarver said...

Always been a favorite of mine. In fact, once upon a time, I pondered out loud about trying to write a musical based on it. I lost interest in pondering it even at one point, before doing more than considering the notion that rights exist and such, but I'd still pay good money to go see a production if someone else made the effort... There's a hit to be had in the "Braaaaaiiiiins" number.

Arkonbey said...

This movie is SO damned hard to find! I've been telling Sweet Enemy about it for years and we can never seem to find it!

Grrrr...

(avoid the sequels at all costs, though)

Keith said...

What a great write-up. I love this movie! It's one of my favorite zombie movies. So many people leave it off their lists. This is one that I've been a big fan of since it first came out. I never tire of it.

On Smash said...

Saw this movie when it came out & still love it. Also this is the movie where the zombies aren't just cannibals they go only for the brains.

Becca said...

Randal-
It is a hella hard movie to find! It had a DVD release but is long out of print now...had to wait for it to show up on IFC to finally see it.

Bubs-
Yes this was SUCH a great movie!

Neil-
OH MAN! This would make a great musical! There has to be a zombie ballad though and the Braaaaaaiiiiins number would have to be a serious dance number!

Arkonbey-
NO KIDDING! Like I told Randal above I had to wait for it to show up on IFC to finally see it.

I'm curious about the second movie though I'm sure as you say it is sucky...I do however adore the third movie...silly as it is...Melinda Clarke was soooo beautiful!

Keith-
It really is a GREAT zombie movie! And you are right it really should be mentioned on more horror movie lists! What a sharp movie.

On Smash-
I love how they can talk, you never ever see that in zombie flicks!

Dash MacBastard said...

The Tar Man- GREATEST ZOMBIE OF ALL TIME.

Anonymous said...

I still have nightmares, though have become more accepting of the brain consuming dependent