Monday, April 21, 2008

Return of the Living Dead (1985)

This was purely a curiosity DVR and I was fully prepared to delete and go back to watching Baseball Tonight if it didn't yield immediate results. It passed that test at least; I watched the whole movie without even hitting the "LIVE" button to check for an update on the Angels game (A lot of my fantasy season rests on the unhealthy ankles of K-Rod).

But back to the flesh eaters, this 1985 classic comes from John Russo, the co-writer of the original Night of the Living Dead. He and Romero had a disagreement over how sequels to the original should go, so the two basically parted creative ways and from then on Russo's work had the Living Dead monicker and Romero went with just plain Dead. Return is also the directorial debut of Dan O'Bannon the co-screenwriter of, among other things Alien, Dark Star, and later Total Recall. RotLD is one of only two film O'Bannon's directed. Too bad; the guy's got a fine visual eye, particularly for sight gags, and working as his own screenwriter, he does a nice job blending a bunch of incongruous tones, from really silly to intensely scary to surprisingly touching. How many movies will make you laugh AND scare you AND get you a bit misty-eyed? Not too many that I know of. The list's basically just Gymkata and Return of the Living Dead. (Hey I find Kurt Thomas' crotch scary. Maybe that's just me...)

The whole rejuvenation of the zombie genre with movies like 28 Days Later and the remake of Romero's Day of the Dead (as well as the massive comic success Marvel Zombies), where the creatures are fast and merciless and crazy, owe a great deal to RotLD, where the zombies speak and can't even be dispatched by the standard (yet totally arbitrary) rule that says all zombies can be killed by a gunshot or blow to the head. It's spooky, but also kind of hilarious, to watch the zombies use a radio to call for police backup, and then to have car after car roll up one at a time and just rush in and devour the drivers. No suspense, no slow build with tense percussive music, just gruesome, brutal death.

One question: What's O'Bannon up to these days? He hasn't written a produced screenplay since 1997 (Bleeders), or directed a film since 1992 (The Resurrected). Is he just living off the residuals from the endless march of Alien sequels? Someone dust this guy off and put him to work. The horror genre desperately needs his talents and his brains.


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