RETURN OF THE BRAIN-EATING ZOMBIES
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
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.
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?And my personal favorite:
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?
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.
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.