Return of the Living Dead

Year: 1985
Production Co: Hemdale Film
Director: Dan O'Bannon
Writer: Dan O'Bannon
Cast: James Karen, Clu Gulager, Linnea Quigley
George Romero was a documentarian. His seminal 1968 genre-launcher was based on true facts the US government hushed him up about. What a cool conceit for a movie. Long before our nudge-wink age of YouTube and mash-up moviemaking, here was a movie that mixed genres, did a great job of it, and did it all through normal movie-making channels, and it all came from the mind of Alien co-writer O'Bannon.

That's the story Frank (Karen) tells to his young protégé Freddy at the medical supply lab. The pair work just down the road from a cemetery, and not far away a canister has fallen off the back of an army truck into a nearby ravine. It contains the body of a corpse, long dead but only in statis and waiting to be released.

An abandoned weapons project, the body is part of military research that's produced a toxic gas, one released into the air of the medical supply lab right after Frank assures Freddy it's as tough as nails, slapping the side of it and causing it to split, spraying the pair of them with the deadly green smoke.

They call the boss, Bert (Gulager), who comes to find the situation worsening by the minute - everything from the split dogs and butterflies pinned to the wall to a fresh cadaver in the freezer are coming to life, enraged with hunger for flesh.

Bert, Frank and Freddy chop the corpse up, the pieces still moving, and take them to Bert's old friend Ernie (in the pre-movie in-joke age, I wonder if anyone got the Sesame Street nod - or even if it was intentional?), the local undertaker who agrees to put the dismembered but still living body in the stove against his better judgement.

The guys' problems seem over, but it's just starting. As Freddy's friends approach to meet him after work - a collection of misfits and low-lives including 80s horror queen Linnea Quiqley - the strange gas from the morgue seeds an nasty acid rain that pours down on the cemetery, the reanimating agent bringing the dead shuffling out of their graves, hungry for flesh.

The entire gang converges on the morgue and warehouse, the threat from outside bad enough, but tension and the effects of the poisoning starting to take their toll inside too.

Full of quotable lines ('obviously I didn't mean you're really dead... dead people don't move around and talk'), great humour and a horror movie attitude to scares and blood, it's a deserved cult classic.

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