Sunday, 1 October 2017

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD

45. “One question Frank, this guy screaming in here, you’re sure he’s a dead cadaver?”



01/10/2017




“Pick a horror film, any horror film,” is what it sometimes feels like when I look at the Horror section, whether it has been in a bookshop, joke shop, DVD shop or online. Horror is a genre where its tropes are very strongly held amongst its devotees, who expect to be scared in certain ways, in certain situations, with certain types of character. It is a genre that does not need stars – if you can make a horror film, you can guarantee an audience. It’s a bit like asking someone to pick their favourite rollercoaster – some of us just like all of them.

Then, you have the serious discussions, the assertions that there are certain ways to do things. “Night of the Living Dead,” released on 1st October 1968, was directed by George A. Romero, and co-written by Romero with John A. Russo, and despite having invented the modern zombie film, their ideas on how to develop what they had caused them to go their separate ways. As the director of the original film, and the “father” of the zombie genre, Romero’s series is usually regarded as the better films by default, and use titles ending “...of the Dead”. Russo’s films are more for the Friday night crowd, with less social commentary, and with tongue places firmly in cheek, are titled “...of the Living Dead.”


“The Return of the Living Dead” makes clear which vision is, apparently, the correct one. In this film, with a story by John Russo, and script and direction by “Alien” scriptwriter Dan O’Bannon, “Night of the Living Dead” is established from the outset as a fictional film, based on real events. When a canister containing a cadaver is disrupted, the characters in the healthcare facility use their memory of the film to work out how to destroy them. But, when they strike the zombie in the brain with a pickaxe, it becomes clear that it won’t die, even when you decapitate it, and then chop it up.

Instead, Russo’s zombies come from the “acid rain” resulting in the burning of the first zombie in a crematorium… of course the acid rain had to fall over a cemetery, a cemetery that had a group of punk and death metal poseurs hanging out in it (the soundtrack features many 80s punk and metal songs). The obligatory full-frontal female nude scene turns from a dance on a grave by character named “Trash,” played by Linnea Quigley, to her character becoming a zombie when preyed upon by those that came from beneath the graves.


Ultimately, it is revealed that the root cause of the zombie uprising, the chemical in which the original zombie was kept, was known to the US military, and preventative measures were in place – these appear to be nuking a scale model of a town.

John Russo would later add unnecessary scenes to the original “Night of the Living Dead” to create a “30th Anniversary Edition” that was rendered useless by the sequels already made by both Romero and himself. “The Return of the Living Dead” had four sequels of its own, but this film, while it is very stylish, and very of its time (1985), it just made me want to try and find “Dawn of the Dead” – one of Romero’s films.

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