THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD!!!FACT!!!
Written by Creepythinman
Dan O'Bannon's The Return of the Living Dead is my number one favorite movie and the one I’ve watched more than any other in my lifetime and that’s because the film is a masterpiece of the zombie genre. I used to watch it a few times a week during my childhood and would have it playing in the background, when not studying or banging beaver where I would devour textbooks and pussy like a putrescent corpse eats BRAINS! But I always wondered why this movie above all others fascinated me ever so?
It could be because I love zombies and have watched, read and played almost everything to do with them in every form of media. It pleases me that the living dead have rightfully taken their place as the great cinematic monster of our time when they used to be regarded as a mongrel sub-genre before George A. Romero’s seminal masterpiece Night of the Living Dead (1968) became the defining Horror movie of the last century.
As I’ve said many times before, there are only two eras in Horror cinema: Pre-NOTLD and Post-NOTLD. Before NOTLD, Horror was derided as something for the kiddies which is why, according to an infamous article by Roger Ebert, he sat in a theater filled with children whose parents dropped them off at what they thought was an innocuous monster movie that would entertain their kids while they went shopping. What those children experienced was an unrelenting nihilistic nightmare, not in some spooky 19th century European landscape filled with castles but set firmly in present day America 1968 that completely destroyed any semblance of safety where the universe didn’t correct itself through a triumph of good defeating Evil and instead watched with cold indifference as a cross section of modern day USA was utterly obliterated with extreme prejudice.
The reason why zombies have such a hold on the public’s imagination is due to a few factors. As the modern industrial age developed, the generation that grew up post-WWII settled into suburban Americana which is why classic monsters such as Dracula and Frankenstein were no longer taken seriously. The reason for this is because Dracula represented the old-world oligarchy/aristocratic ruling class who lived a life of luxury, aided by indentured servitude, and had the belief that it was their right to drain the life of those around them for their own benefit. When Dracula tries to impose himself on modern London, of the 1890’s, he’s resisted by educated men who push back against the Counts antiquated notions of a ruling class hierarchy as they refuse to bow to his will while the women are easily seduced by the swarthy foreigner with untold riches who dangles his wealth/affluence before them in the hope of obtaining their virtue i.e. the big D wants to bust their cherries!
Most of these original monsters have some sort of symbolism behind their façade. Frankenstein is an allegorical warning to men who might bring ruin upon themselves by playing God with science which is applicable to both the creature in Mary Shelly’s book and the development of the atomic bomb. Even the Wolfman, who doesn’t have a definitive tome to draw upon (apart from maybe An American Werewolf In London, but that was a movie) was mostly based upon superstition/legend, is meant to represent the inner struggle of men to deny their animalistic tendencies which explodes into violence when they lose control of these impulses.
The idea of dead bodies returning to life was nothing new in literature, but the modern definition of Zombies grew from the legends of the Caribbean and the fears of plantation workers who worried that they would never escape bondage and be forced to toil for eternity, even after death. The genius of Romero’s film was that he stripped away the slavery subtext, transplanting them into 1968 America and turned them (technically) into cannibals, who don’t need sustenance for nourishment, suggesting the idea of one being absorbed into a passive emotionless collective of conformity whose only goal is to consume everyone in its path Until All Are One similarly to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Romero took this idea further into another masterpiece, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, which was set in a shopping mall, a temple of consumerism where the living dead desperately try to break in as the protagonists themselves become listless and bored with the trappings of their possessions which end up owning them. This subdues their instinctual drive to survive which is at the core of all living beings on this planet and without that we become dead both inside and out.
I mention all of this because ROTLD has its roots in Romero’s universe and is an indirect spinoff from his oeuvre. John Russo (who co-wrote NOTLD with Romero) Russell Streiner (who co-Produced the movie and played Johnny, Barbara’s brother) and Ruddy Ricci (also involved with NOTLD) are credited with providing the story for ROTLD which was bought by an independent Producer named Tom Fox who initially hired O’Bannon to write the final screenplay for Tobe (Texas Chainsaw) Hooper to Direct. But Hooper bailed and Fox offered O’Bannon the chance to make his Directorial debut.
I feel a sort of kinship with Dan O’Bannon although I never met the man, but his work speaks to me in a way that can’t be described because it’s beyond my comprehension and possibly lies beneath the sunlit world of what we believe to be reality. O’Bannon started out at the University of Southern California (USC) where he met fellow alumni John Carpenter and collaborated on a student film called Dark Star. That movie was eventually finished with financing provided by Jack H. Harris, most famous for Producing The Blob in 1958, who secured distribution through the Bryanston Distributing Company who also released Deep Throat, Return of the Dragon, Andy Warhol’s Flesh for Frankenstein, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Devil’s Rain and Ralph Bakshi’s Coonskin.
Carpenter refuses to talk about the movie and doesn’t acknowledge it amongst his filmographies. This is probably because Dark Star feels unlike anything else on his resume and that was due to O’Bannon’s influence because, although Carpenter has made some solid movies (including his masterpiece remake of The Thing back in 1982), NOTHING he ever did came up to the idiosyncratic eccentricity of Dark Star. The movie is a gem and a minor masterpiece of low budget 1970’s Science Fiction, filled with wonderful concepts and ideas filtered through the low-key storytelling and acting, and one of the last of its kind before Star Wars steamrolled the genre into Fantasy under the veneer of Science Fiction. Ironically, O’Bannon worked on Star Wars and claims that the only time he ever saw George Lucas flustered was when he said to him “It was just a beachball!?!” when discussing Dark Stars alien mascot. Dan also acted in DS, giving its best performance as Pinback who provides the films comedic highlights and makes me wish that he had continued acting.
But despite my appreciation of O’Bannon’s talents, to be honest, he was a bit of a thieving magpie as a Screenwriter. Dark Star took off from Kubrick’s 2001 while the ending (two astronauts drifting away from each other in outer space) was a lift from Ray Bradbury’s short story Kaleidoscope. Even ALIEN, which O’Bannon scripted (sharing story credit with Ronald Shusett) was pilfered from Mario Bava’s Planet of the Vampires and It! The Terror from Beyond Space. So, what’s the difference between what O’Bannon did verses someone like JJ Abrams? Well, there’s a difference between being influenced by something and outright ripping shit off with no semblance of originality to tie things together which is what Cocknose did with Star Wars The Force Awakens.
What O’Bannon did was similar to how Quentin Tarantino operates; take various elements and use them to make something that feels like a fresh and reasonably organic whole. Kinda like how George Lucas was influenced by Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress and Flash Gordon when he made Star Wars. That’s to say nothing of the obvious H.P. Lovecraft touches that permeates ALIEN with its tale of nebulous cosmic Horrors while the third act revelation of Ash being an android feels like something out of a Phillip K. Dick story (O’Bannon was a fan of PKD and co-scripted Screamers  not to mention Total Recall ) or H.R. Giger’s biomechanical nightmares which is why he was hired to work on the movie by Director Ridley Scott after O’Bannon showed him Giger’s book. No one works in a vacuum and in the end I’ll take the side of the guy who worked on Dark Star, Alien, Return of the Living Dead, Total Recall and Heavy Metal over the little fucking bitch who made Mission: Impossible 3, Dawson’s Trek 90210 1&2, Super 8 or Social Justice Wars – No Fucking Hope.
Speaking of Heavy Metal (1981), Dan O’ Bannon scripted the B-17 segment where the crew of the titular airplane are massacred during a WWII bombing run and brought back to life by a glowing green orb of evil which turns them into zombies. This short illustrated the overall feeling of O’Bannons work which exemplified the meaning of the word MACABRE and in my most beloved video of all time, Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors, O’Bannon talks about how “fear is the only universal emotion” as he understood the genre like few others which is why Return of the Living Dead, although considered to be a comedy, has some absolutely chilling moments that freezes the blood.
But, AGAIN, why does this movie capture my imagination more so than any other on Earth? I think it’s because I’m an information junkie who was BORN for the internet. I crave intellectual stimulation, after pussy and money, and now that I’m older I realize that one of the oldest sayings is true “If I knew then what I know now”. When I encounter young people I try to explain how important education is and that I regret not applying myself harder towards my schooling which is why I’m sitting here writing stupid shit on my blog when I should be working as a Doctor gynecologist or Engineer building an android sex slave that looks like Laura Gemser instead of being a working class wage slave doomed to take my life by autoerotic asphyxiation while beating off to Hentai tentacle porn on my 50th birthday instead of working up the courage to give myself the dignified death of blowing my brains out.
I blame society.
This is why it occurred to me that what ROTLD is really about isn’t brain eating zombies but is in fact a parable about education and economic/political ideologies fighting within the United States of America.
Freddy is on his first day at a new job at the Uneeda Medical Supply warehouse. He runs with a rough crowd of punks but, through the transformative power of love he feels for his girlfriend Tina, he decides to get a job and better himself.
Burt is the boss man, owner of Uneeda, while Frank, Freddy’s supervisor, is a part of the same baby boomer generation as Burt but is a clock punching mook content to sit in a subservient position until either retirement or death like many his age, a benefit of growing up during America’s greatest economic expansion after WWII where one could support a family with a single income. Frank, being the affable fool that he is, leads he and Freddy into the basement where some Army canisters are located, due to an alleged paperwork screw up, and inadvertently ruptures one of them due to his misplaced faith in Military Engineering standards.
The Canisters: They represent KNOWLEDGE which is why they were contained by the military and hidden by Burt, who claims they’re there because of a paperwork mix up but, why didn’t he just call the Army and tell them they made a mistake? No, the truth is that Burt hides the canisters because his type wants an undereducated population who will work for low wages. But education is a slow process that takes time and is painful to those who find it difficult to learn. Later when it’s revealed that Frank and Freddy are “dead” from exposure to the gas/knowledge it’s not their muscles that are cracking due to rigor mortis and making them scream, it’s actually their minds breaking free of their shackles until the moment of realization that they want to learn/eat brains. But Frank is too old and set in his ways which is why he refuses to endure the hardships that he would have to face, so he immolates himself/goes into retirement.
You see, Burt represents CAPITALISM and the 1% whose sole interest is too enrich themselves at the expense of others and he knows the best way to do that is to keep people ignorant. Frank is a good servant because he does what he’s told, content to subjugate his will for an easy paycheck and is no threat to Burt. But Freddy shows a keen interest in his new job and thumbs through a medical textbook, displaying intellectual curiosity. He’s young, hungry for knowledge and why the canisters are hidden away from those who seek understanding while Frank appears to have no interest in bettering himself and thus leaves them alone. As events unfold and it appears that his workers are violently ill, Burt’s only concern is how these events will affect his livelihood when the subtext is that as Frank and Freddy begin to learn, Burt can’t rely on them to work for low wages any further which is why he later feels the need to "contain" them.
Ernie Kaltenbrunner – Besides being named after Ernst Kaltenbrunner (a high ranking Nazi tried, convicted and executed during the Nuremberg Trials) he listens the German Afrika Korps marching song, has a picture of Eva Braun on his board and operates a crematorium which alludes to the Holocaust. Ernie represents FASCISM and it’s no coincidence that Burt and Ernie are good friends as Capitalism sometimes works hand in hand with Fascism to achieve their goals of keeping the proletariat down by limiting education available to the public, indeed, the Nazi’s and American Southern Conservatives (the latter of which Burt appears to be a member of) both share a hatred for knowledge and science because an educated mind is a free mind, which is why both groups are fond of burning books.
Freddy - He seems to be a nice kid that has fallen in with the wrong crowd who have led him astray from his schooling. But his love for Tina has motivated him to improve his station in life. A job, which his “friends” openly mock him for taking, is his first step towards responsibility/maturity which will help him gain upward mobility. Once exposed to the gas/true understanding of how the world works he’s blinded by Ernie who wants to stop his ability to learn because he’s now a threat to Fascism.
THE CORPSES: O’Bannon complained about the lack of quality make-up effects for his low budget production but, in the end, I think this worked to his advantage as it helped bring the three primary zombies (Yellow Cadaver, Tarman, Half-Corpse) to the forefront while the rest of them appear as an anonymous mass of Horrors because Dan didn’t have any fancy make-up effects to focus on. Due to this bit of fortuitous fate these zombies truly look like stinking, rotting corpses that have crawled out of the muddy ground and are reminiscent of those from Lucio Fulci’s masterpiece ZOMBIE (1979) whose own walking dead achieved their distinctive look from a similar lack of budget in a serendipitous form of coincidental happenstance.
But each of the three primary corpses embodies a sub-section of the American population being kept down through a lack of Education, indeed, when the gas/education is released upon the graveyard/working classes being kept down, the zombies begin to claw their way through the ground education system until free while screaming out for brains/knowledge in a form of vox populi.
Yellow Cadaver – When the yellow cadaver (yellow being regarded as the color of cowardice, which was probably chosen as his pigment because he’s a man who never tried to educate himself, forever frozen because of his fear that he might fail which petrifies all of us at one time or another in life when we want to make change for ourselves but can’t decide on the right course of action) is exposed to the gas/education he breaks through the metaphorical door meant to represent the 1%’s attempt to keep him ignorant, and attacks Burt who denies him his birthright! And what does Burt do? He formulates a plan (luring Frank and Freddy into it because they have yet to understand the implications of Burt’s actions) to destroy the man’s brain by driving a pick axe through his skull in an attempt to curtail his civil liberties by denying him the capability to educate himself. But that’s not good enough for Burt who dismembers the body in a symbolic act of destroying one’s ability to be self-reliant, by separating his body into pieces unable to work together as a whole, just as God created different languages to thwart the people who were building the Tower of Babel, meant to reach Heaven, who could no longer understand each other and work together towards their common goal of kicking God in the balls for being a cunt.
Half-Female Corpse - It’s significant that this corpse is a female and one that has been cut in half. She screams for brains/education and for her efforts is tied up by THREE MEN, breasts in full view in a grotesque display of male chauvinism, turning her into a sexual object at the mercy of patriarchy while being denied control of her lower half, symbolic of how Religious and Political leaders try to control women's reproductive rights and access to abrotions! Without the means to better herself through learning, she’ll always be kept down and make less than her male colleges because she’s regarded as LITERALLY half as valuable as a man.
Tarman - He represents African Americans and minorities in general. Trapped in the canister, he’s unable to make use of all the knowledge that surrounds him because of people like Burt who keep him down and out of sight, forced into the basement like a proverbial Rosa Parks.
Most people who know ROTLD always mention Linnea’s Quigley’s character Trash dancing naked upon the tomb; her little hard body with snare drum tight tits and ass that you could bounce quarters off never mind her succulent shaved labia. But what they don’t notice is that her most defining feature, her flaming red hair, is meant to represent COMMUNISM i.e. the Red October Russian Revolution of 1917, which is attractive to the uneducated punks, who are drawn to her seductive dance and the allusion that she’s offering everyone an equal piece of her pie. Suicide is the only one who resists because he rejects empty ideology and shuns her mouthwatering orifices. This is why he’s the first to die from AIDS related faggotry.
Trash/Communism is eventually overwhelmed by the zombies newly educated, however, her character “comes back from the dead” (because you can’t kill an ideology) to insinuate herself into the new collective zombie horde in the hope that she can infect it with communism because the North American Communist movement was spearheaded mostly by educated liberals zombies who foolishly bought into the idea that communism would create a utopia where everyone would be equal. But the truth is that these simpletons probably haven’t lived in a Communist country where the population lives in poverty while the country’s leaders live in the lap of luxury.
Suicide – The only character in the movie that is a true non-conformist. He rejects all political/financial philosophy which is exactly the reason why he’s the first person to die, mistakenly killed by the Tarman (African American male) who reacts out of anger towards the first white man that he sees, taking from him that which he yearns for, brains/knowledge. You’ll notice that the Tarman doesn’t kill Tina because he wants to fuck that white bitch.
In the end Burt calls the US Army because, being part of the 1%, he believes that they’ll protect him and his wealth. But the military is an organization that demands conformity, stomps out individualism, reduces its members to mindless automatons trained to pull a trigger, no better than the zombies pounding on the walls, and to them the banking, corporate, political classes are just a puppet show to keep the public cowed in the belief that they actually control their country. The Army destroys the city in an attempt to obliterate knowledge, which backfires as it has before, causing the end of civilization and bringing about new age of reason because they don’t understand that you can’t simply destroy zombies/ideology/knowledge with conventional weapons which is why they lost the Vietnam War. When Colonel Glover is speaking to an anonymous superior, he talks of how the President will visit Louisville and humorously says “no, no, we wouldn’t want that to happen” which refers to Ronald Reagan who was President in 1985, an ignorant old fool who only wanted to be the most important man in America. No, the army wouldn’t want that senile old bastard to be educated that he was nothing more than a hood ornament that spouted platitudes, controlled by his cunt wife and the military industrial complex.
The one unifying thing about capitalism, fascism and communism, besides being “isms”, is the blind allegiance to an ideology that promises power but they’re fucking amateurs compared to the NUMBER ONE philosophy which enslaves people with nothing more than empty promises…RELIGION!
Growing up, I went to Catholic school, which I’m sure was obvious to anyone reading this review, and it was easy to see through that bullshit. A bunch of fairy tales used by demagogues for their own nefarious purposes and employed by extremists to justify whatever stupid shit they get up to. But all the “isms", not to mention the military, clearly take a page out of religions playbook and it’s no coincidence because the Bible is literally an instruction manual on how to control people. Look specifically at the Book of Genesis. God creates Adam and Eve and lets them live in The Garden of Eden, a paradise where they are free from want or desire while his only decree is that they not eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Things go tits up when Eve is tempted by a serpent into eating an apple from the tree and lures Adam into doing the same. This angers God who banishes Adam and Eve to Earth, having committed the original sin.
The lesson taken by those who crave power is this; ignorant people are easier to control, the metaphor being that life in the Garden of Eden, without knowledge, is bliss. This is the reason why knowledge and education are the greatest enemies to the people in this world who want to dominate humanity. Sexuality is also frowned upon and it’s no accident that Eve was tempted by a serpent, a phallic symbol of DICK! This is to suggest that sexual urges should be suppressed/oppressed because they promote intimacy between human beings through physical contact and provides simple pleasures not reliant on material wealth or power. This is why you see the same sort of sexually repressive behavior in either Islam or Christianity, both of which are cut from the same cloth, luckily my wife is a Buddhist and enjoys it when we fuck like nasty pigs!
And let’s not forget that in the bible Jesus H. Christ himself, who preached peace and love without the need for material wealth, was crucified by the ruling political/corporate/military classes of that era. But once his message was out, it was unstoppable, just like the 2-4-5- Trioxin gas contained in those military canisters in ROTLD, because knowledge is true power and even death couldn’t stop Jesus from being resurrected to spread his message while technically becoming one of the living dead!!!FACT!!!