The Return of the Living Dead is a film by Dan O’Bannon, about the revolution of the dead, putrefied beings who can no longer be killed by a bullet to the head, who rush, ruthlessly, without mercy behind what they want and what they claim as rightfully theirs, by sticking their teeth into the brain of the first living beings who appears ahead. A revolution to turn everyone into putrefied creatures like them.
But before going deeper into his film, let’s get to know Dan O’Bannon better, a character found on the grounds of modern horror and science fiction films. His first work was Dark Star in 1970, a film about space trashmen exploding with atomic bombs planets that prevent the development of other planets. His script, directed by John Carpenter, the same that would later give birth to the films of modern serial killers with Halloween. After that he would be part of the computer science team of Star Wars. At the same time, he would also publish with the French artist Moebius, the comic book The Long Tomorrow, which was the basis for the futuristic style seen in Blade Runner. In the 1980s, in addition to directing The Return of the Living Dead, he made his mark on several other productions, including the film Alien by Ridley Scott, it was his screenplay. In the 90s, he was also responsible for the script for another great hit, Total Recall by Paul Verhoeven. In addition to directing his second and final film, The Resurrected, based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Strange Case of Dexter Ward.
What follows is a commented analysis of the beginning of the film, about the true nature of the clash between the dead and the living presented. There are no spoilers about the outcome of the plot.
The story begins with Freddy, a young hick boy, being introduced to his new job as a helper, in a warehouse for medical schools, by Frank, the manager of the place. Frank wanting to scare Freddy, reveals the truth about the movie The Night of the Living Dead by George A. Romero. That it was based on real facts covered by the government. Everything happened in a military hospital and the dead that were raised were contained and placed in containers. Containers, which in part, accidentally ended up being sent to that same warehouse in which they are. In his arrogance as a merchant who knows his products, Frank shows the containers to Freddy, kicking them to show how resistant they are, which ends up releasing a poisonous gas that knocks out the two, and stars the chain of events that will trigger the revolution of the dead. In short, we have here a government mess that ends up in the hands of a merchant, who in his arrogance, opens the doors of change. But what change is that?
We are taken, however, to another place, to meet the other protagonists of this story, a strange amalgam of tribes from the metropolis of the 80s: Tina, the rich naive girl, that is the girlfriend of the hick Freddy; Chuck and Casey, a couple of scraps from the film Grease; Spider, the revolutionary; Trash and Suicide, the revolted punk couple; and Spuz, an extra punk to serve as food in some scene. All of them, huddled together in an old car, are going to meet Freddy. Arriving near the warehouse, however, the group has to wait for the end of his shift. So, with nothing to do, they invade the local cemetery and start a party.
Back at the warehouse, Freddy and Frank wake up. Disoriented and in poor shape, they leave the basement where the containers were stored, and find out that all the dead material samples from the warehouse are now alive, spinning inside their packaging. Among them, in a freezer, a whole body, the first dead to revive, a sample that should serve only to entertain medical students, now screaming desperate in his prison. Being just a hick and a merchant, they do not know what to do, so they soon call Burt, the businessman, owner of the place, the money hand that must know how to solve everything. Burt arrives and decides: they have to get rid of that creature. They just can’t call any of the government institutions that could better handle that situation, since this might undermine the warehouse business. They open the freezer and after a run and a disoriented clutter with the corpse, they stick a sickle in his head. But these are not the dead of Romero, instead of dying, the corpse only starts screaming with more pain. There is only one solution, to dismember the corpse and burn all the parts in the crematorium from the funeral house of the cemetery. They go there, passing far away from the unsuspicious money’s amalgam tribe, which continues its party in the cemetery. Trash, the bored punk girl, makes the obvious decision to take off her clothes and dance on top of a tomb.
They arrive at the funeral home, and so enters the last protagonist of this story, Ernie, the undertaker, embalming bodies and always accompanied by his loaded pistol. Ernie, the professional, negotiates with Burt an exchange of favors to burn the dismembered body. They take the body to the oven, and thus the hick, the merchant, the businessman, and the professional get rid of their problem, or not. The body burns, and as if only one first spark is needed to propel a storm of change, the smoke goes out into the atmosphere, mingles with the clouds, and initiates an acid rain.
The rainwater falls on the graveyard, penetrates the earth and begins to drip on the dead. Only a spark of a different ideology is needed to unleash a horde of dead to rise. There in that graveyard are the rejects of society, those who no longer are necessary because their dead nature, with their bodies falling apart, deformed, rotting, filled with pain, now rising once more. A horde making itself for the first time be heard, finally united for a single reason, finally with a single goal, to end the pain of being dead. In life they accepted everything that society conditioned them to, obeyed with heads lowered, being separated, individualized. They worked for society, followed whatever was dictated to them, let their bodies shape themselves as tools for money, ate all the crap offer to them, and now they are once again standing. But for the first time they are wide-eyed at their condition, and feel in the flesh all that they have subjected themselves to be in life, they are dead, they are the living dead.
The money’s tribes are left to try to survive the hordes of the dead that star pouring out from the graveyard. They run, shelter behind concrete walls, behind wood-reinforced windows, closing in on their false safety. The horde of the dead, on the other hand, different from these money’s tribes with their different fake titles and fantasies, does not need to differentiate them to feel special. Each one is good to be devoured, no matter what it was before, if a marketer, if a punk, if a professional, if a political, all will end the same way, another one to be added in the horde of the dead. Dead, who in their own words only want one thing: “Brains !!! Brains !!! Brains to end the pain of being dead! “. For they know the truth, all their lives they lived in ignorance, accepting the interpretation for reality from the father and mother capital, now they know that there is only one way out of their alienation: brain, intelligence. Only intelligence can save you from a corrosive society. However, let’s face it, what eating brains can advance now that the damage has been done? Little, very little. It is already too late, perhaps by eating the brains of the still living, they can also eat some of their alienation to appease the pain. But no brain can now return their bodies to what they were before, no brain can give them back all the opportunities robbed them of a society that only wanted them like working ants, only like ignorant beasts to produce their uselessness, that atrophyed their bodies to everything but the mechanical movements needed for their tasks, to let them be deceived by entertainments that only served to stagnate their minds, and to fill their bellys with substances that did nothing more than give them cheap and temporary energy’s rushes, while disorienting their minds, poisoning their blood and denigrating their flesh.
In this revolution of the dead, there is no way to freedom, there is no salvation, there is only the substitution of the previous homogenization of capital through alienation, by the homogenization of seeing and feeling the truth too late. What’s the difference between working in an office, coming home to watch TV and eating bullshit, from running off down the street with your body falling apart, attacking people and eating their brains? Hardly any, although the second option sounds more fun. The truth is that in this condition it is too late for a real revolution. It’s too late to change when you’re dead.
Dan O’Bannon’s film sets itself up as a horror classic. A horror, also known for its comedy blasts. Since humor springs into the realistic depiction of human behavior in a desperate situation. In addition we have a great show of filmmaking and special effects, which creates a good balance of moments, be it revealing, mysterious, claustrophobic, all being necessary to the plot.
A curious detail about the film is that although the production was initially sued by George Romero for the use of the living dead name. The film itself may also be considered a direct continuation of The Night of the Living Dead, because the film is based on a book by John Russo, the screenwriter of Romero’s film, who after disagreeing with Romero about the direction of the franchise, decided to make his own version. The lawsuit was dropped as soon as Romero got a chance to watch the movie. This movie was followed by 2 so-so sequels and another 2 awful ones. The second is virtually a remake of the original, even with the return of the same actors who did the duo Freddy and Frank. A comedy version with a family vibe, having a child as the protagonist. Basically, a horror, in the material sense of the word, with some interesting moments, but unsatisfying to those who wanted a continuation in the levels of the original. The third is a romance with the presence of some living dead, rather than a living dead movie. If the viewer does not expect anything more besides that, it’s a good movie, directed by Brian Yuzna, the same as Re-Animator. The fourth and fifth, which were only recently released by a different producer, are a crime against humanity, which do not deserve the attention necessary to even be collected and burned.