When Frank and Freddy, two bumbling medical supply warehouse employees, accidentally break the seal on an old military canister in the basement they release a deadly gas that brings the dead back to life. With the help of a local nursing home owner they try to dispose of the reanimated bodies, only to make the zombie outbreak worse. Trapped with Freddy’s friends (including scream queen Linnea Quigley) they find themselves in the fight of their lives.
In a single film, O’Bannon gave us Burt, Frank, Ernie, Freddy, Tina, Chuck, Casey, Spider, Scuz, Trash, Suicide, and – most memorably – a lumbering, giant carnivore known only as the Tarman. It’s not the nickname-to-character ratio that counts, however, but the way O’Bannon manages to take rough sketches in a script and turn them into vivid, unique characters on screen. Fans of the film will easily recall, years or decades after seeing it, luscious scream queen Linnea Quigley spontaneously stripping in the middle of a cemetery, the witless medical-supply warehouse employees battling a bifurcated dog and an orange, nude corpse, the decomposed halfwoman who explains the dead’s hunger for brains (“It huuurts to be dead!”), as well as many other moments.
O’Bannon’s first movie memory was Hawks’s The Thing From Another World, and it’s easy to point out the Thing-like aspects of The Return of the Living Dead, from the James Arness-like Tarman to the ‘get ready to open that door’ sequence, but there’s an even more pronounced influence by Bringing Up Baby; no other horror film has made the scramble for survival into as unlimited an opportunity for slapstick and manic commentary on an unwinnable battle. (Slant)
BBFC Cert 18.
Dan O’Bannon’s hilarious zombie comedy is presented in partnership with the Hyde Park Picture House’s Creatures of the Night.