Sunday, October 28, 2018

Your Daily Scare: Return of the Living Dead

"Send more cops." 

There are a lot of jokes in Return of the Living Dead, but the funniest one may be the title. Moviegoers in 1988 may have been baited into expecting a sequel to George Romero's claustrophobic thriller; instead Dan O'Bannon served up a dramatically different flavor of classic, a funny, tongue-in-cheek shocker with more laughs than scares.

The plot involves a group of "characters" -- to call most of them paper-thin would be an insult to the structural integrity of paper -- who are caught up in the midst of a growing horde of zombies. Unlike the ghouls in Romero's film, these ones very explicitly crave brains, and every time someone gasps "brainnnnns" in reference to a zombie, they're quoting Return of the Living Dead.

The ghouls are appropriately gruesome and the kills are impressively gory -- one zombie's spinal cord seems to flap on its own, like the thoughtless wag of a dog's tail. But O'Bannon seems far more interested in studding the film with little jokes and sight gags that hit you about 30 seconds after they've passed. One of my favorites comes soon after an unelaborated-on "chemical" is released, causing the undead to rise. If you look carefully, you can see the wings of pinned butterflies flap to life.

The characters aren't especially memorable, but it's hard not to come to the conclusion that's by design. Most of the characters are so broad as to be comic, a game that's given away almost immediately when Linnea Quigley's red-haired punk has to leave her clothes behind during a rainstorm and spends the second half of the film mostly in the nude. (As a side note, this is the second film in this series where Quigley's performance is perfectly in tune with the movie she's in.) Dan Calfa is also a standout as a mortuary owner who turns out to be handy in a crisis.

No comments: