Friday, January 12, 2007

RETURN OF THE BRAIN-EATING ZOMBIES

After four months of mining deep into the veins of cheese, camp, absurdity & rank silliness that lie within the mantle & moho of 1970's earth, the moment I've long feared has arrived. We've run out of films.

How can this be? Well, since I'm sworn only to address movies I've actually seen, and because the very title of this running series mandates a certain level of "silliness," even allowing for variations in the common understanding of the word, the scope of choices is limited. How many movies could I have seen during that time? Afterall, I'd just turned 12 when the decade of bell-bottoms, disco balls, and men wearing shaggy hair over their ears ended. And why on earth would I go back as an adult to see The Shaggy D.A., The Apple Dumpling Gang, The Bad News Bears Go To Japan, or any other movie I was unfortunate enough to miss when it first came out? Right? RIGHT???

Therefore, we finally hit the 80s. And what better place to start than right in the middle of the decade, with a film that bears the straight-to-cable mentality that took hold during that decade when America got wired (televisionally-speaking of course). So, with no further ado, folderol, fuss or muss, this week's Friday Silly Movie Of My Youth Of The Day . . .

The Return Of The Living Dead

Came out in 1985. But let's backtrack just a bit. In 1982, the Mike family got cable. "Jenny - 867-5309" on MTV, 24-7. Along with "Bringin' On The Heartbreak" (Def Leppard two-armed drummer alert!), "Shadows Of The Night," "Down Under," & "Crimson & Clover" (in which Joan bit the head off a rose, which was weirdly hot, wasn't it?). Later in the year, the Mike family got its first VHS player, although we never called it a VHS player, we called it a VCR. Video rental places began popping up all over, every one owned & operated by some miscreant on his 4th business venture in 9 years, after failing with all-denim clothing stores, disco dancing schools, plastic furniture outlets, and AMC dealerships. But this time, he was on the wave of the future, this time he couldn't fail.

Oh well.

But between cable & VHS, my movie fandom exploded: Apocalypse Now, M*A*S*H, Animal House, Sleeper, Rocky. And The Godfather films presented in their correct format, not as that Godfather Experience, or whatever they called that network TV version, the one with the flashback scenes from Part II interspersed with the original scenes. Through modern electronics, I could see Luca Brazzi bless the Don with his hopes for a masculine child in the beginning of the flick, or realize that the Don was dead before we learned of his flight from the town of Corleone. Now I could see Apolonia, Michael's beautiful Sicilian bride, in all her glory . . . before she was blown to smithereens.

Cable & VHS in the 80s. As we all know, it wasn't just good movies. We had that first, teenaged introduction to the late-night glories of Skinamax. Oh yes. Did anyone else ever check out the cable guide (those little pamplet-sized booklets), and notice that some . . . shall we say, interesting movie was on at 3:30 am on a Tuesday night, set their alarm for 3:25, and wake up to watch juuuuust enough of the movie to . . . hmmm, do the job, before returning to bed in time to wake up fresh & re-charged for school the next morning?

Uhhhhh, you didn't? Well . . . I didn't either.

(that's because I woke up at 3:35, knowing there'd always be some 5 minute stretch of "plot" before the movie really got started. And you know that too, you liars.)

Anyhoo, beyond quality movies & titty flicks, there was a third category: Instant Camp Classics. Often borrowing elements from the other categories, or at least one of the categories (read: lots o' naked boobies), these "horror movies" or "comedy movies" were a world of their own, a first time phenomenon. They were made for the late-night cable audience. Made for teenagers, but not with popcorn & theater tickets in mind. We all have our candidates, I'm sure: Hardbodies, Nightmare on Elm Street and all its sequels, and in my mind, the king of the mid-80s horror-comedy movies, Return of the Living Dead.

Ostensibly based on George Romero's late-60s "classic," Night of the Living Dead, Return shares one thing with the original: brain-eating zombies. That's it. I saw the original about a year before Return came out, and it didn't do it for me. It was already too far into the cable movie era. So, a black-and-white film, with a lack of graphic violence, a dearth of wild action, the complete absense of naked women, it wasn't happening. I'd already been weaned for a few years on Halloween and Friday the 13th. A low-key, psychologically-gripping slow-burner from 1968 was a Lost Cause.

But Return? Ohhhhhh yeah. If you haven't seen it, first of all, you're insane. How you could've missed this landmark movie in the first place is beyond my comprehension. But, if that's the case, I'll try briefly to explain the plot: a bunch of "wild" teenagers decide to party in a cemetary, as they wait for their friend to finish the evening shift at his job. Which happens to be next door to the cemetary, in a science lab with cadavers and that sort of thing. While the teenagers party in the graveyard, the middle-aged night manager and the friend decide to play around with the containers housing dead bodies conveniently "left there" by the army in 1968. Being a movie & all, they somehow break the containers and chaos ensues.

And what chaos it is. In addition to oodles of gratuitous violence, we have a character -- the token black guy -- who's entire vocabulary seems to be "fuck you," "what the fuck," "motherfucker," and "fucking honkie." We have a female character who spends the entire movie . . . no. We'll get to her later. We have men committing suicide by cremating themselves, sawed-in-half dogs that bark, zombies requesting additional paramedics, brain-eating galore, and of course, instant camp dialogue. A few examples:
Ernie Kaltenbrunner: What the hell are in those bags?
Burt Wilson: ...Rabid weasels.
Ernie Kaltenbrunner: What? What the hell are you doing with a bunch of rabid weasels?
Burt Wilson: That's what I was trying to explain to you here, Ernie; they came in as part of a shipment. Of course, they weren't supposed to be rabid.

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?

Burt Wilson: I thought you said that if we destroyed the brain, it would die.
Frank: Well, it worked in the movie.
Burt Wilson: Well, it ain't working now.
Freddy: You mean the movie lied?
And my personal favorite:
Freddy: [to his still-human girlfriend, after he's turned into a zombie] 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!!!
With dialogue like that, who needs angry guys knocking the heads off zombies with a baseball bat? Who needs reels & reels of gratuitous nudity? Who needs armies of rioting zombies, and missiles, and overturned, burning cars. No one needs such things, but Return of the Living Dead delivers them, nonetheless. This is a film that cares about its audience. You will not reach the end of this movie saying, "Gee, I wish the producers had decided to . . ." It doesn't matter what you say to end that sentence. They did it.

In an effort to keep today's post under 1.7 million words, let's end with a brief spin through some members of The Cast:

Jewel Shepard, a charter member of the Skinamax All-Stars. Born in 1958, Shepard was perfectly positioned for the peak of her "acting" career as the cable era boomed. And she did not disappoint: after an uncredited appearence in 1982's Zapped! -- starring FSMOMYOTD alum (and title character), Scott Baio -- she quickly moved to roles as "Drunk Sexpot," "Present Girl," and "Body Flash Dancer" in, respectively, Raw Force, The Junkman, and The Sex & Violence Family Hour. By 1984, with such an established reputation, it seems inevitable that she'd appear in the seminal cable-classic, Hollywood Hot Tubs.

(Get it, seminal? Because . . . no, I'm not even going near that one. Let's move along.)

Brian Peck: Speaking of cable classics, how's this for the first two movies of his career -- The Last American Virgin and Return of the Living Dead. A moment of silence if we may.

{Pause}

And now, a moment of mocking laughter, as we observe a few of the gems he later appeared in: Return of the Living Dead Part II, Return of the Living Dead III, Children of the Corn III, and Good Burger, in which he played "Upset Customer." Imagine all the ticket purchasers seeing a character named after themselves.

Linnea Quigley. What can one say about Linnea that hasn't been said? As all who've seen Return of the Living Dead know, Ms. Quigley played "Trash," who spends most of the movie -- half as human, half as a brain-devouring zombie -- completely nude. If you've not witnessed Linnea dancing naked on a gravestone to the song, "Tonight (We'll Make Love Until We Die)," by the band SSQ, well then, my friends, you are less fortunate than you'd be otherwise. Not that the scene's a turn-on either (though it's certainly not a turn-off). It's just jaw-droppingly bizarre, and borderline shocking in the, "Holy shit, this is the weirdest shit I've seen in a movie in my life" sense.

And I was about 17 when I witnessed it for the first time (starts to make sense, huh?).

Anyhow, Quigley went on to appear in an astounding number of B-horror films in which she screamed & stripped, plus a couple issues of Playboy for good measure. Yet, according to her Wiki page, Return of the Living Dead remains her signature role.

I'm sure the producers are very proud.

And finally, James Karen: A FSMOMYOTD alum, Karen plays the implausibly bumbling manager of the facility that houses the pods from which the zombies escape. The sheer spectacle of this relatively serious actor that we've all seen dozens of times in relatively serious movies spouting proposterous dialogue, screaming in terror, and making at least 97.4% of the mistakes that bring the horror down upon the film's other characters is priceless.

You'll never view Lynch in Wall Street the same way again.

26 Comments:

Anonymous John Royal said...

Okay, I know this post is about the Zombies, but, I've got to respond to the "Godfather" comments, especially the "Godfather" as broadcast on TV.

True, that "Godfather" is different from Parts 1 and and Part 2, as shown in the theater, but, the TV version was assembled by one Francis Ford Coppola, the writer, director, producer of the movies, thus, it reflects his vision of how he wants the movies viewed as a total experience.

Now, on with the Zombie discussion.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

the TV version was assembled by one Francis Ford Coppola, the writer, director, producer of the movies

So was The Godfather III, so there goes that argument.

11:03 AM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

Look, if Winona Ryder doesn't go nuts and back out of "Godfather III" at the last moment, to be replaced by Sofia Coppola, I think the memories of that movie would be way different.

Now, different topic...

Didn't the first "Evil Dead" come out at about this time? Talk about killing zombies.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Ed in Westchester said...

The Godfather III? What is this you speak of?

Listen, if the fools had read the damn book, they would never have made #3. Sonny and Lucy Mancini did NOT have a child (Andy Garcia's character). After Sonny failed to pay the toll, Lucy moved to Vegas, where she met the Dr. who wound up fixing Mike's face after he came back from Italy. He also found a Dr. to fix a plumbing problem Lucy had.
Did they think no one had read the book? I read it more times than I could count.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Ed, you tell him. I'll leave you to handle this GF III angle.

John, nice transition; I was assuming someone would make the Evil Dead argument. While I acknowledge that the late-80's Evil Dead II is far superior to Return of the Living Dead in all respects, I'm not a huge fan of the original.

11:21 AM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

I had to make the transition. I never saw "Return of the Living Dead."

Question, didn't Dan O'Bannion write this movie, or have something to do with it? He was one of the "Alien" writers?

And I don't want to cheat and go to IMDB, so, question, did Ms. Quigley ever do a movie in which she was naked? Not that I'm complaining, she's quite an attractive woman, but just wondering.

12:06 PM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

Correction, that should be did Ms. Quigley ever do a movie in which she was NOT naked?

I forgot the "not" part from the original question.

That's what I get for doing this at work.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

I never saw "Return of the Living Dead."

This is not John Royal! Who's the imposter? Is that you, Townshend? You Troll.

did Ms. Quigley ever do a movie in which she was naked?

I assume this is a typo, because I'm unaware of a movie where Linnea kept her clothes on.

12:09 PM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

No, it's not a troll. I've never seen the movie. Now, if my best friend was around, he would write a treatise on the zombie movie. I can't think of one that he hasn't seen.

Hey, was Ms. Quigley the blonde in "Re-Animator," or was that some other blonde who spent her film career in the nude?

12:23 PM  
Blogger George said...

John, it was, indeed, written and directed by Dan O'Bannon, screenwriter for Alien. He also went on to write the incredibly terrible Lifeforce, in which Steve Railsback saves the world by having sex with the ever-naked space vampire Mathilda May. That's a film well worth a Friday entry, Mike.

Oh, and I saw The Return of the Living Dead in the theater. Loved those half-dogs.

1:04 PM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

Now "Lifeforce," that movie I have seen. And, yes, I agree, it is well worthy of inclusion as a Friday silly movie.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Otto Man said...

I've never seen any of the Dead films, Living or Evil. I did catch the recent Dawn, but that's about it.

But I will say that James Karen seems to be the face, if not the voice, of anchor Doyle Redland on the hilarious Onion Radio News.

I am unsure whether or not he is a zombie.

1:11 PM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

A few questions/things:

(1) How does Dawn of Dead fit in to the Living Dead series? I saw that and liked it, but I haven't seen Return;

(2) The Godfather TV mini-series. No doubt I enjoyed I and II as presented in the theaters more than I did the TV mini-series, which was presented in chronological order. HOWEVER, I think what Copolla did was worthwhile, since it was an interesting spin and, perhaps more importantly, it included scenes that had been cut for the theater versions. Having scene the deleted scenes, I think Copolla was wise to delete them, but I'm glad that I saw them nonetheless, if only for the reason that it gives me some insite -- however slight -- into the dramatic effect adding a scene or deleting ican have on a movie.

For instance, in the original Godfather I, we see a meeting take place between Duvall and Brando that occurs just after we see the horse-in-the-bed scene. It works perfectly because we see Brando's philosophical expression just after we see the horrible horse head. However, in the TV series, we see the original sequence -- that the meeting takes place BEFORE the the evil deed is done. We also see WHY Brando feels comfortable with the decision -- Duvall informs him that the Producer or Director sleeps with underage girls (evidence of which is cut from the original movie, but remains in the TV miniseries). To me, that was interesting at a variety of levels, most important of which is that it works much better the way it was done for the thetrical release.

Applesaucer

p.s., please forgive spelling, grammatical, writing errors -- I don't feel like editing this afternoon.

1:37 PM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

OH, and one more thing regarding ed in westchester's "Listen, if the fools had read the damn book, they would never have made #3.":

Gofather II is a radical departure from the book. In the book, Michael goes legitimate and pretty much rejects his own ethnicity in favor of becoming a "white bread" American. In Godfather II, Michael gets deeper into all the Mafia stuff, capped off with his ordered-murder of Fredo.

Moreover, in the book, Mike's wife stays with him, becomes a devout Catholic and routinely prays for Michael's soul. In the movie, she leaves.

Needless to say, all the shenanigans in Cuba and with Hyman Roth never happened in the book. Godfather II's screenplay was slapped together by Puzon, Copolla and whomever else off Godfather I's success.

But the whole idea of the book insofar as it relates to Michael is that his goal is to assimilate into American culture and go legitimate, which he does to the best of his ability given past misdeeds. The whole idea of Godfather II is to show his transformation into a monster.

Applesaucer

1:50 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I saw The Return of the Living Dead in the theater.

Well, that blows the premise of my entire journey into the 80s' out of the water, now doesn't it?

George, John - No can do on Lifeforce, for two reasons: silly or otherwise, I had to have LIKED the movies when I first saw them. I never made it through Lifeforce. Knowing me, I allowed it to "do it's part," then changed the channel.

I've never seen any of the Dead films, Living or Evil. I did catch the recent Dawn, but that's about it.

How does Dawn of Dead fit in to the Living Dead series? I saw that and liked it, but I haven't seen Return


Without going to IMDB and researching it (if I asked Applesaucer the same questions, a sarcastic, "Ever heard of Google?" would surely follow), my sense is as follows:

in 1968, we get Night, a "straight" horror movie. In 1979, Dawn, meant as horror, but veering into irony and/or intentional camp. Then, in 1985, the intentionally joky/campy treatment of today's flick, Return.

All three deal with reanimated zombies, ala Romero's '68 effort.

In 1986, with a sequal in '88, we get an entirely different series, The Evil Dead which deals, also, with reanimiated corpses, but these come to life via spells and voodoo & all that sort of shit. Then, in about '93 you get Armies of Darkness, which brings back Bruce Campbell, and lots of stoned moviegoers, but lacks thye charm of the first two, which were fall-down funny.

Meanwhile, Return spawns two sequels which I never saw, but are apparently awful.

Finally, a few years ago (2003?) was the re-make of Dawn, the one where they're stuck in the shopping mall.

And that's my no-IMDB rundown. I'm sure I messed it up horribly.

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I don't feel like editing this afternoon.

Apparently not. Look at this friggin trainwreck: Having scene the deleted scenes, I think Copolla was wise to delete them, but I'm glad that I saw them nonetheless, if only for the reason that it gives me some insite -- however slight -- into the dramatic effect adding a scene or deleting ican have on a movie.

That might may be the most error-filled sentence I've ever seen (or should I say "scene"?).

As to the Godfather debate, I leave it to you & Ed to sort it out.

You know I'm a GoodFellas man anyway.

2:57 PM  
Anonymous Applesaucer said...

"That might may be the most error-filled sentence I've ever seen (or should I say "scene"?)."

lol. Sorry. I worked late every night this week and I'm dragging this afternoon (still gotta go for a run, though -- ugh). And I know what you're thinking, but I am NOT hungover.

Applesaucer

3:34 PM  
Blogger Ed in Westchester said...

I never saw this movie either.
And I have seen some CRAPTASTIC movies in my time.

I see the point on how II was as messed up as III in terms of changing things. I just remember sitting in the theatre when Andy G shows up and is intro'd as the fruit of Sonny's loins. I annoyed the wife by bitching about it.

5:01 PM  
Anonymous John Royal said...

I saw "Lifeforce" in the theater -- so, there was no draining of any of my life force while watching.

I LIKED "Army of Darkness." Then again, I think Bruce Campbell should've been a huge star.

But the "Evil Deads" also brought to us one Sam Raimi. This is where Mr. Spider Man got his start -- writing, producing, and directing zombie movies.

And I also want to thank Sam for bringing to us "Xena: Warrior Princess." (And speaking of "Xena," does anyone watch Battlestar Galactica? Man, Xena's really hot as a blonde.)

To finish up, I've also got to note that Sam Raimi was the director of one of those worst baseball movies ever made, "For Love of the Game."

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I annoyed the wife by bitching about it.

You've been married since 1990, Ed? Wow.

I LIKED "Army of Darkness."

I did too. Just thought it fell well short of the second movie, which I consider a classic. That's no criticism, and I don't like the first nearly as much as its sequel either.

6:46 PM  
Blogger Mort said...

That scares me. I want my mummy.

4:06 PM  
Blogger Cheesemeister said...

The first two Returns of the Living Dead were great fun, total camp. I think it was the third one that blew total chunks and the series mercifully died after that.

2:45 AM  
Anonymous Mike said...

I know I never saw the 3rd installment. Not sure if I saw the 2nd. If I did, it failed to make much of an impression either way.

7:49 AM  
Blogger Ed in Westchester said...

Mike - I've been married since 96. Dating since 1991. Anyhow, we saw G3 on video, not in the theatre.

John Royal - I am a big BSG fan. "Six" is in Playboy this month.

2:20 PM  
Anonymous Mike said...

Dating since 1991

Wow. 15 years in total.

{And the man who's going on 9 years himself ponders 15}

Wow.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Ed in Westchester said...

Yea, 15, nearly 16.

Met May 16, 1991. Night of my last final at SUNYA.

Engaged May 10, 1994. Night of wife's last final in Law School.

Married May 19, 1996.

Note the placement of all the events. This way, Ed can remember all the dates easily. Put them in different months, and I'd be confused.

2:48 PM  

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