Way back in 1985, Dan O'Bannon delivered a new take on the zombie film. It was 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.
Ever since the Romero film, the zombie sub-genre of the ever popular horror genre has been tainted by the flesh-eating undead version of the zombie movie monster. What Dan O'Bannon did was take the lore built up by Romero and the related films and turn 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 the lay of the land as a new employee. This tour leads to the revelation that Night of the Living Dead was not just a movie; the events actually happened and the government was covering it up. Taking that bit of knowledge a little further, it is revealed that canisters containing the chemical that caused the uprising, as well as some of the dead bodies, are in the basement. It is when the canisters make their appearance that everything really gets underway. There is 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 waiting for Freddy to get out of work. They settle on a cemetery, where the party starts. The centerpiece of the party is Trash (Linnea Quigley) stripping naked and spending the rest of the film in such a state. It is unforgettable.
Well, the zombie plot moves forward as Freddy and his boss take a dismembered reanimated corpse (from the accident in the warehouse) to the mortuary adjacent to the cemetery. 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!
At this point, it turns from a movie wondering when it is going to hit the fan and into a more recognizable survival horror film. The quickly diminishing numbers of punks end up in the mortuary, reunited with Freddy and the few other survivors.