The Return of the Living Dead

The Return of the Living Dead (1985) is an anarchistic horror-comedy, one that is both a continuation & a transformation of the zombie sub-genre. The religious overtones of the European zombie & the social commentary of the American zombie have been done away with in favour of an apocalypse, which is just a dumb warehouse clerk away. It is aware of its place as a sequel (of sorts), acknowledging the significance of George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968), while displacing it as ‘only a movie’ with little to teach the protagonists as they fight the zombie hordes. After all, that film was only ‘inspired by true events’ whereas Return is supposedly the real deal; the adopted brother comes home to make good.

The zombies of Return have not only crawled out from the grave, but out of the repressed nightmares of a generation raised on E.C. Comics & the paranoid sci-fi of the 1950s. The government response to the ‘real’ 1968 outbreak is to seal the corpses in barrels & hide them around America. Of course, the paperwork isn’t always done correctly, so some of the barrels end up at Uneeda Medical Supply warehouse. After an accidental opening, with deadly Trioxin gas spraying everywhere, we find out that the rules of Night don’t apply here. All bets are off. The use of a classic punk soundtrack & the inclusion of punk characters is no mere attempt at attracting a sub-culture. It demonstrates the savage nihilism of punk culture, which is fully embraced by writer/director Dan O’Bannon. This is an all out fun ride into hell. Return of the Living Dead is the cinematic equivalent of a deranged punk concert, which should of course end with the roof being pulled down on our heads.

It is easy to forget that zombies didn’t always crave human flesh, let alone the ‘BRAAAAINS’ of paramedics. The flesh-eating zombie is a fascinating and particularly modern creation, one that has continued to develop in multiple directions in a brief period of time. Once upon a time the zombie genre was like a country town, a place where everybody knew everyone else & tracing lineage was as easy as pie. The modern, flesh-eating zombie made its cinematic debut in Night of the Living Dead, a shockingly violent film for a generation raised on giant ants. It embraced the subversive possibilities of horror as social commentary, raising spectral images of Vietnam & prefiguring the horrors of the Kent State shootings. Inspired by the vampiric creatures of Richard Matheson’s novel, I Am Legend, to a greater degree than the bug-eyed victims of voodoo as seen in White Zombie (1932) & I Walked With A Zombie (1943), Romero’s living dead, referred to as ghouls in the film, are roused by radioactive fallout from a crashed space probe. Later films in Romero’s series would move away from a direct explanation, simply suggesting that ‘when there is no more room in hell the dead will walk the earth’. Since then there have been viruses, religious conspiracies, & most importantly, to The Return of the Living Dead, simple scientific/military incompetence.

Night of the Living Dead would itself inspire sequels, imitations/thematic continuations, remakes, re-edits (including colourisation, a dodgy 30th anniversary re-edit by John Russo, a Romero-approved remake by special effects artist Tom Savini, & a 3D knock-off), all thanks to its public domain legal status. The European success of Romero’s first sequel, Dawn of the Dead (1978)[1], produced & re-edited for its continental release by Dario Argento & re-titled Zombi, led to an explosion of European gore-fests through the early 1980s. The genre quickly turns from Dawn’s biting satirising of consumerism to embrace the Grand Guignol horrors of decay & dismemberment. Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979), originally titled Zombi 2, in order to cash-in, embraces a semi-surrealist tone in which graphic nightmare images overpower narrative & meaning. If you want to see a zombie fight a real shark, this is the place to go. It was a golden age of gore & mind-numbing images, with zombie fans clamouring for the few films available on censored VHS copies. Now, with Bill Murray appearing in a zombie film[2], well, you know things have changed. It has become a sprawling genre, dominated by no-budget, straight-to-DVD features & occasional mainstream forays. However, before all this, when it was still a strange little hybrid-genre, there was The Return of the Living Dead.

While praise is heaped upon George Romero for his ground breaking work on Night of the Living Dead, it is often forgotten that he had a co-writer on Night: John A. Russo. In the 1970s, Romero & Russo were involved in a court case in which Romero agreed to a ‘quit claim’ in which Romero retained the rights to the word ‘Dead’ while Russo retained the rights to use ‘Living Dead’, & all connection between the two would thenceforth be severed. The rights to ‘Living Dead’ were then purchased by producer Tom Fox, who first attached Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974) to direct, only for him to drop out when rewrites delayed proceedings. This gave screenwriter Dan O’Bannon the opportunity to step in & make his directorial debut. O’Bannon had made a name for himself writing such classics as John Carpenter’s Dark Star (1974), Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) & later Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990). However, while Alien had the greater cultural impact, many genre fans consider The Return of the Living Dead to be his greatest achievement.

The Return of the Living Dead screens first in a double bill at the Astor Theatre this coming Monday 30th May, 7.30pm. Following a twenty minute interval will be Night of the Comet (1984).

Written by Ben Buckingham, a regular contributor to our E-news.

Ben is also taking his sweet time completing a degree at Melbourne University while lurking and working around the cinema going haunts of Melbourne. He is addicted to Italian cannibal cinema and enjoys traumatising friends and loved ones with atrocious cinema.

[1]   Followed by Day of the Dead (1985), Land of the Dead (2005), Diary of the Dead (2007), Survival of the Dead (2009)

[2]   Zombieland (2009)

Gone With the Wind (1939)

Nothing screams cinema classic, or movie magic more than Gone With The Wind (1939). Directed by Victor Fleming (who also directed The Wizard of Oz in the same year), and produced by powerhouse Hollywood producer, David O. Selznick, this is one film against which so many film classics are judged. Arguably, no other movie has been bigger than Gone With The Wind, the film that raked in a record (not beat for 20 years) 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, Screenplay, Best Actress in a Leading Role, and two honorary awards and it was nominated for 13 (not including the two honorary awards). The film has topped or has come close to topping nearly every ‘Best Movies of All Time’ list in the last 50 or so years, and is the highest-grossing film of all time if you take dollar inflation and weighting into account. Now, you can once again see it the way it was supposed to be seen – on the big screen and on a 1999, 60th anniversary, Restored 35mm digital stereo sound print.

Based on Margaret Mitchell’s best selling 1936 novel, Gone With The Wind is a truly epic film that spans many years over and around the duration of the American Civil War and tells the story of Scarlett O’Hara, a spoilt, rich, selfish woman, whose love for a man by the name of Ashley Wilkes, who marries her cousin, stands in the way of her many marriages and relationships. The film is the story of the trials and tribulations of Scarlett during this time period, which leads to a four-hour film of epic proportions.
The film showcases many brilliant and iconic performances from a stellar cast including Vivien Leigh (A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951) in an Oscar winning performance as Scarlett O’Hara, Olivia de Havilland (The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1938) as her beautiful cousin Melanie, who wins over the heart of Ashley Wilkes, played by Leslie Howard (The Petrified Forest, 1936), Hattie McDaniel as the servant Mammy – which won her an Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and made her the first African-American to win an Academy Award-, and of course there’s Clark Gable (It Happened One Night, 1934), as Rhett Butler, the no-nonsense drifter from Charleston who falls head-over-heels for Scarlett, in, arguably, his greatest performance; one that earned him an Oscar nomination, and which delivered the infamous line – what the American Film Institute voted as the greatest film quote of all time – “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn!”

After a disastrous film production that saw the replacement and use of multiple directors, many re-shoots, the filming of half a million feet of film (cut down to only 20,000 for the final cut), and the use of 5 film units shooting different scenes simultaneously, the film was all shot and released in about a year and still managed to become one of the most recognizable and most classic films of all time. Gone With The Wind is definitely a seminal cinema classic, and if you love the classics, or love this film, there would be no reason not to check out its screening at the Astor, the only place you will be able to see it screened the way it was intended to be seen.

Reviewed by Dave Lee, one of our awesome and regular E-news contributors.

Gone With the Wind screens at the Astor Theatre Saturday 4th June, 7.30pm.