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Rated R
Copyright 1985 Hemdale Film
Reviewed by Andrew Borntreger on 7 March 2010 (updated)

The Characters:  

  • Freddy - All of you ladies out there who consistently attract boyfriends who turn into crazy ex-boyfriends that won't go away should consider dating this young man turned zombie. He is perfect for you.
  • Frank - Mommy, it's the Pathmark Man! Why is he screaming like little sister? Mommy, what is he doing now? Why is he putting himself in the fire? Won't being in the fire hurt? Mommy, I'm scared! I don't want to go to the grocery store anymore!
  • Burt - Owner of the medical supply company. Nuked.
  • Ernie - Does anyone else find it strange that a mortician would carry a pearl-handled Luger and enjoy listening to German military marches? Zumthing is very peculiar about zat...
  • Tina - She spends half of the movie freaking out over the fact that her boyfriend is turning into a zombie, and what that means for their relationship. Kissing Freddy when he has brains in his teeth is like totally gross. And being nuked? Totally not her thing. Totally!
  • Spider - His view of the world is pretty reasonable. Working for fat cat bankers is bulls**t, wearing a suit and tie to look like a fat cat banker is bulls**t, and being chased by brain-eating zombies is serious mondo bulls**t. Being nuked is also serious bulls**t.
  • Suicide - This chap is really dedicated to the Punk lifestyle. Zombie chow.
  • Trash - Linnea Quigley! Freaky punk girl who wears leg warmers for most of the film (and that's about it). Killed by zombies, only to return as a zombie (still clad in naught but leg warmers).
  • Casey and Chuck - She has weird hair. He's a dweeb. They die.
  • Scuz - Zombie chow.
  • The Tarman - The gooey reanimated corpse that starts out sealed in the old drum. He is my favorite zombie, because he's so mushy.
  • The Zombies - Any corpse which comes into contact with a strange chemical turns into a brain-eating zombie that is nearly impossible to destroy.

Buy It!

The Plot: 

As the story gets rolling we are introduced to Freddy during his first day on the job at the Uneeda Medical Supply Company. Uneeda Medical Supply - that reminds me of Uneeda Biscuits, which weren't very good, but I couldn't resist the urge to buy them. It's a fiendish thing that they did, naming them like that. Anyway, Freddy soon discovers that working for a medical supply company is almost guaranteed to give someone a case of the heebie-jeebies. There are split dogs on the shelves, whole cadavers hanging in the freezer, and a couple of Army barrels in the basement that contain jellied corpses. Frank tells his young coworker the story about the misplaced Army drums, and even takes Freddy downstairs to meet the bizarre occupants. Years ago, an accident exposed a handful of cadavers to an exotic chemical that made the corpses appear alive. The Army sealed them in drums for safekeeping, but then accidentally shipped the dangerous Easter eggs to Uneeda. They have been in the basement ever since.

Messing around with containers filled with twenty-year-old zombie balut turns out to be a bad idea. One of the drums ruptures, releasing a noxious cloud that causes Burt and Freddy to collapse. When they wake up hours later, the first thing they notice is that the hideous smell is everywhere in the warehouse. The second thing that they notice is that everything that was dead is now...not as dead. That includes the corpse in the walk-in freezer, which quickly becomes a major source of anxiety for the men, and entertainment for the audience.

What do you do with a moaning corpse that is locked in a freezer? Burt (summoned from his house by a frantic phone call) decides to try destroying the brain. The plan is for Freddy to open the door and for Frank to nail the shambling zombie in the head with a pickaxe. It's a good plan, if the zombies in this film were slow shamblers. They're not; zombies created by exposure to the mystery chemical are hyper! Instead of getting brained with the pickaxe, the naked screaming corpse tackles Burt. Nailing its head to the floor with the pickaxe doesn't stop it either, and neither does cutting off the bedeviled cadaver's head. All that results is a headless body stumbling around, causing all sorts of mischief!

I should mention that the actors playing Freddy and Frank might have been chosen for their talents in emitting anguished screams. They do it often throughout the film, and it never gets old. "Ahhhhhhrrggh! Half a dog!" "Aiiieeee, naked zombie!" Not exactly the sort of people you want as companions when the world is going to Hell in a rotting hand basket, but funny to watch.

Destroying the zombie's brain and cutting off the head didn't work, so the three representatives of the Uneeda Medical Supply Company still have a serious dilemma on their hands. Brainstorming a solution brings the trio to the idea that incinerating the body should do the trick. To do that they need a crematorium, and fortunately there is a mortuary across the street at Resurrection Cemetery. The only problem is convincing Ernie to help with disposing of the reanimated parts (the zombie gets cut up into manageable pieces). Fortunately, the mortician is rightfully mortified by the reanimated arm that gets out of a bag and grabs his leg; Ernie agrees to toss the zombie bits in the crematorium. Smoke billows from the chimney to contaminate the ominous rainclouds hanging low over the cemetery. When those rainclouds burst, the deluge quickly soaks the porous ground of Resurrection Cemetery.

Oy, that is not a good thing. It's a really bad thing for the group of bored twenty-somethings who are partying in the neglected cemetery. The rain causes a burning sensation to exposed skin, which is a really, really bad thing for Trash, because she stripped naked to dance among the graves. What is worse is that the rain also causes all of the corpses buried in the old graveyard to come back to life. There are a lot of them, in varying degrees of decay, and they are all hungry for brains. The "kids" (I hesitate to use that word for twenty-somethings) dash for safety, some joining Burt and the others at the mortuary, while the rest end up in the Uneeda warehouse.

At the mortuary, just before the "kids" arrive, the film's ghoulish humor is being exhibited with fervor. Ernie calls an ambulance for Frank and Freddy. Both of the men are feeling terrible following their earlier exposure to the zombie chemical. The paramedics that arrive are completely unsettled by what they find: no heartbeat, no pulse, room temperature. The two men are obviously dead, but still able to answer questions about their medical history. Without a clue about what could be going on, the emergency responders go to their ambulance to grab some equipment and contact the station. The zombies get them. When the radio crackles with a message from the dispatcher, a zombie grabs the hand mic and simply responds, "Send more paramedics."

Oh, that is so wrong. Even worse, Burt and Ernie can only watch from inside the mortuary as the zombies continue eating people. First another pair of paramedics is eaten, then the cops sent to look for the missing paramedics, and then more cops. The zombies only add to the confusion by making more radio calls to dispatch, "Send more cops."

As the film's lively soundtrack continues (I love the music - it's fun), the situation goes from bad to worse. The group holed up inside the mortuary is under siege by a mob of the living dead. Making a run for it is dicey at best, because the zombies are just as quick as a living person and tend to overwhelm their victims by sheer numbers. Being on the bottom of a zombie dog pile is unpleasant, like dead people gnawing through your skull unpleasant.

Yes, an understatement. I revel in it.

Burt, continuing his string of understandable but flawed decisions, manages to get back to the Uneeda warehouse and calls a phone number listed on the side of the Army drums. Alerted to the location of the missing barrels and that the undead cat is out of the bag, the military jumps into action to stop the reanimated brain munchers from devouring Louisville. They fire a nuclear artillery round into the graveyard.

**BOOM** Problem solved - well, not quite.

"Return of the Living Dead" is one of the movies that my teenage self considered awesome that has withstood the test of time. If anything, my appreciation for its plot and grim wit have grown as I have gotten older. The story is frightening because more is going on than a plague of nearly impossible-to-kill zombies. There is the isolation of the characters, a violation of the innate truths that anchor most of us to reality, and enough impetus and brief snatches of respite for thoughts to consider our own mortality. It is a steady and inexorable application of horror. Nothing in the movie is geared toward scaring us out of our seats; instead it's a chilling fear that makes your spine tingle and hair stand on end.

Counter to the movie's oppressive feeling of dread is a ghoulish sense of humor that allows us to laugh, but also adds to the film's nihilistic atmosphere. "Send more paramedics" is a perfect example. We just watched one of the paramedics bail out of the ambulance when a rotting corpse jumped into the front seat with him (and I completely understand the man's panicked flight), only to be brought down within a few steps by a group of brain-munching horrors. Now the zombies are preying upon the living by asking for more help. We, the audience, know what is going to happen to the next ambulance that arrives at the graveyard. It is ghastly, but we laugh because it is also clever and diabolically unfair. Thank goodness that it's only a movie.

Things I Learned From This Movie: 

  • The good only die young if they visit the dentist on a regular basis.
  • The real reason that the U.S. military stopped using Agent Orange is that it turns people into zombies.
  • Be glad that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers never designed a portable propane tank.
  • Lysol destroys 99% of the germs that cause the smell of death.
  • Acid rain is the reason that so many nudist camps went out of business during the 1980s.
  • The eyes are the last part of the human body to rot.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is a form of rigor mortis.
  • Zombies pioneered the mosh pit.
  • Novocaine rhymes with brain for a disturbing reason.
  • Never use nitric acid as an after-shave.

Stuff To Watch For: 

  • 4 mins - It's the '80s!
  • 8 mins - I wonder who is on the other end of that 1-800 number these days?
  • 23 mins - Yul Brynner, no!
  • 47 mins - This looks like an acute case of Tang poisoning.
  • 61 mins - Just your luck, that cemetery is the official resting place of every Wildcats linebacker who didn't survive the NFL draft.
  • 86 mins - They just nuked Kentucky. My God, what about the inbreds? Won't somebody...wait, that's West Virginia. My God, what about the bourbon? Won't somebody think of the bourbon?


  • Frank: "All skeletons come from India."
    Freddy: "No kidding, how come?"
    Frank: "How the hell do I know 'how come?' the important question is, where do they get all the skeletons with perfect teeth?"
  • Zombie: "Send more paramedics!"
  • Zombie: "Send more cops!"

 Audio clips in wav formatSOUNDSStarving actors speak out 

Green Music Note returndead1.wav Trash: "Do you ever fantasize about being killed?"
Spider: "Never."
Trash: "Do you ever wonder about all the different ways of dying? You know, violently. I wonder like, what would be the most horrible way to die."
Spider: "I try not to think about dying too much."
Green Music Note returndead2.wav Burt: "One question Frank: this guy screaming in here, you're sure he's a dead cadaver?"
Frank: "Why don't you open the door and find out!"
Burt: "No that's all right, Frank. I'll take your word for that. If it is a reanimated body, we're gonna have to...we'll have to kill it."
Freddy: "How do you kill something that's already dead?"
Burt: "Well, how do I know Fred? I don't know! Let me think!"
Frank: "It's not a bad question, Burt."
Green Music Note returndead3.wav Ernie: "What the hell is in those bags?"
Burt: "Rabid weasels."
Ernie: "What? What the hell are you doing with a bunch of rabid weasels?"
Burt: "That's what I was trying to explain to you, Ernie. They came in as part of a shipment. Course they weren't supposed to be rabid. You know, but you know how these things happen."
Ernie: "No, I don't. How do they happen?"
Green Music Note returndead4.wav Ernie: "What is it?"
Spider: "It's dead people screaming!"
Ernie: "What is this, 'dead people?'"
Tina: "Yes, they came from out of the ground, and they're after us!"
Ernie: "Out of the ground?"
Tina: "And our friends took off the other way, and they're out there, now!
Zombies: "Brains! It's brains! Brains!"
Green Music NoteTheme Song Listen to a clip from the soundtrack.

 Click for a larger imageIMAGESScenes from the movie 


 Watch a sceneVIDEOMPEG video files 

Video Clipreturndead1.mpg - 10.6m
Burt, Frank, and Freddy are having a hard time dealing with the reanimated cadaver in the warehouse freezer.

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