Way back in 1985, Dan O'Bannon delivered a new take on the zombie film. Well, perhaps not new new, but definitely a different spin that is a lot of fun and has stood the test of time. This is no small feat for a genre that had long been defined by the 1968 George Romero classic Night of the Living Dead. Prior to that, zombie films were primarily of the voodoo variety, beginning with the Bela Lugosi film White Zombie. As entertaining as the voodoo zombies can be, the Romero style zombie film is my preferred take on the zombie sub-genre. Now, what Dan O'Bannon did was take the lore built by Romero and the related films and turned it on its ear, crafting a sneaky blend of horror and comedy set to a pulsing punk-rock soundtrack.
Return of the Living Dead begins in a warehouse where a young man, Freddy, is getting an orientation as a new worker for a medical supply company. This leads directly to a Night of the Living Dead reference where we learn it was not just a movie, it was real and the victim of a widespread cover up. Of course the reality comes home to this warehouse as canisters containing the reanimating chemical, as well as some of the leftover dead bodies are in the basement. It is when the canisters make their appearance that everything really gets the fun started. A leak and the resulting expulsion of gas begins the reanimation process, .
Meanwhile, Freddy's punk friends are cruising around looking for a place to party and for Freddy to get out of work. A cemetery proves to be the perfect place to start the party, with the centerpiece of the party is Trash (Linnea Quigley) stripping naked and spending much of the rest of the film that way. It is unforgettable.
Back to the the zombie plot, Freddy and his boss take a dismembered reanimated corpse (from the accident in the warehouse) to the mortuary next door where a friend works embalming and burning the dead. They proceed to burn the body, sending ash into the sky just as a rainstorm hits. Obviously, this is going to wind up being a bad idea. The last thing that you would want to do is risk spreading a chemical that reanimates the dead over a cemetery! Right? Surely this decision is going to haunt them.