Punx At The Movies: Return Of The Living Dead
Posted on October 27, 2014
October 27, 2014
by Ryan Kendall Barnes
A bit of a preamble: since its inception, punk rock has been showcased on the silver screen in myriad (often questionable or hilarious) ways. Being that it’s SHOCKTOBER (cue thunderclap), I thought we’d start this beast off with a horror movie.
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS FOUL LANGUAGE, VIOLENCE AND BRYNE YANCEY’S FACE.
Growing up in the 90s, my Saturday nights were frequently spent sneakily watching Monstervision on the TNT network. For the uninitiated, Monstervision was a weekly creature feature-style show hosted by the kooky Joe Bob Briggs. Joe Bob was a real good ol’ boy, and the interstitial segments that aired before commercial breaks usually consisted of the Texan host sporting a bolo tie and telling you that you were a sissy for screaming when somebody’s eyes were gouged out.
Because of my naïve dedication to Monstervision, I’ve seen a lot of absolute fucking garbage over the years. I’m talking Basketcase, The Stuff, and all of the sequels to Friday The 13th. But from time to time, my starry eyed fanboyism would be rewarded with a gem. I vividly remember watching Return Of The Living Dead at a sleepover with my childhood best friend, a frequent horror movie binge-watching buddy who also introduced me to pro wrestling (Coincidentally, we discovered Extreme Championship Wrestling later that night as well, another violent form of entertainment that warped my then-impressionable mind.) Return blew me away. It was aggressively violent and gross, it was funny, the soundtrack was abrasive, and it felt like if my parents caught me watching it I would never be allowed to have a television in my room ever again.
Here’s what I forgot about this movie: Return Of The Living Dead is fucking insane. Nothing about this movie is subtle. The performances are big and scenery-chewing. The characters are cartoonish caricatures – especially the gang of punks who act as cannon fodder later in the movie.
The film opens at a medical supply warehouse where Freddy, one of the young punks, is being trained by his boss Frank. Frank shows him a barrel of medical waste that he claims contains a chemical from an army experiment that was the basis behind the movie Night Of The Living Dead. Now, Return starts with a disclaimer that it’s a true story, so let’s try to dissect this ouroboros of lies: Return is a not-sequel to Night Of The Living Dead claiming to be a true story about the aftermath of the experiment that inspired NOTLD that is also supposedly a true story. Got it? Me either. The winking meta garbage isn’t really important, though; I want to see cops get eaten by zombies.
Frank and Freddy accidentally break the barrel of medical waste and release the chemical because we need a movie to happen. Uh oh.
Let’s jump back a minute to the B-story: the punks and their pursuit of a place to party. Our motley crew is walking along a graffiti covered block having a standard punk rocker conversation. “I like death.” “I like sex.” “I like sex with death!” You know, punk things. Tina, the nice girl of the punks, is dating Freddy (awwww.) She tells the crew that they need to meet Freddy at the medical supply warehouse because Freddy got a job. “Oh man Freddy got a job, what a dick!” Punk things.
There’s something about an Army General, he’s a total frigid dick. He’s looking for the zombie juice. Here we meet Ethel, his long suffering wife who is the true hero of this movie. Look at her flawless interior design skills.
LOOK AT IT. YAS GIRL.
The punks have recruited Suicide to drive them to pick up Freddy from work. Suicide is secretly the son of Ethel and The General. This isn’t canon anymore, since Disney bought the franchise and wiped the extended universe (follow the money, wake up sheeple.)
Suicide is a dickhead.
He wrote his name on the hood of his car, in case somebody tries to steal it. My mom used to write my last name on the tags of my t-shirts. Her and Suicide have a lot in common.
Freddy is at work for two more hours, so the Scooby gang has decided to kick it at the graveyard adjacent to the medical supply warehouse, which is ominously named Resurrection Cemetery. Somebody has spraypainted NO FUTURE on the cemetery gates. Punk things. Trash (played by scream queen Linnea Quigley) exits Suicide’s convertible by climbing over the windshield and scooting her butt along the hood of the car like a cat who just took a shit. Punk things.
I tend to laugh at the ridiculous names of the characters in this movie, being that they go by Trash, Suicide, and Scuz. But then I remember that I grew up with kids who were called Sketchy Joe, Pretty Chris, and Grindcore Sal. One of those three gents is now an accomplished poet.
Freddy and Frank are tripping balls on zombie juice. The cadavers are coming back to life and screaming. They call Frank’s boss, Burt. Trash asks Rick James if he ever fantasizes about being killed. She says some weird shit about old men eating her alive.
Trash takes off her clothes and dances on top of a gravestone. She’s a very kinky girl, the kind you don’t bring home to mother. A superfreak, or Ms. Freak if you nasty.
Burt is PISSED. The medical supply boys are not good at killing zombies. They decide to take the cadaver across the street to the crematorium.
Suicide and Trash hang out in the graveyard. Actual things that come out of Suicide’s mouth: “Nobody understands me……Do you think this is a fuckin’ costume? THIS IS A WAY OF LIFE.” Just ~*~punk~*~ things.
Burt, Frank and Freddy bring the chopped up cadaver into Ernie the Mortician’s crematorium. Burt tells Ernie it’s a bag full of rabid weasels. They go back and forth until they show Ernie that it’s actually a reanimated corpse. Ernie needs a smoke.
They burn the corpse, releasing the gas into the atmosphere and causing a pseudo acid rain storm. Uh oh.
Frank and Freddy are feeling a bit under the weather. Ernie calls 911.
Tina meets a boy who likes her for her brains.
Tina’s new boyfriend gives Suicide a lobotomy.
Sidenote: this is the zombie that started the whole saying “Braaaaaains” thing. It’s the best. I love this stupid movie.
The paramedics show up. Frank and Freddy don’t have a pulse and their temperature is uh, room temperature. Sorry guys yr dead.
The punks are running around trying to figure out what to do. They run back into the graveyard because movies. The dead are getting restless and start coming out of the ground. Here’s a picture of a skeleton who still has eyeballs for some reason.
When that skeleton opens its eyes, “Party Time” by 45 Grave starts playing. Whoever edited this film deserves a god damn Academy Award and a billion dollars and a Nobel Prize and a puppy party. A puppy party is that thing where you lay on the ground and somebody releases 500 corgis and they cuddle you until you’re dead.
Trash gets eaten by a bunch of zombies because Return Of The Living Dead knows about dramatic irony and foreshadowing. There’s this really powerful moment before she’s devoured where a zombie pulls her close and says “I know it was you Trash, you broke my heart” and then kisses her on the cheek.
The punks split up. Tina, Rick James, and Heroin Bob end up at the mortuary while punky Molly Ringwald and her gangly mod friend go to the medical warehouse. The paramedics go to the ambulance for stretchers. They get eaten. Some of the zombies are literally just extras with a lot of mud on their clothes. Pretty cheap, you guys.
Burt and Ernie and the punks barricade themselves in the funeral home. A zombie uses the ambulance radio and tells the dispatcher to “Send more paramedicsssss.”
Freddy channels Dawson’s crying face.
Dispatch sends more paramedics. They get eaten immediately. It’s hilarious.
Some zombies break through the barricade. One of them eats Heroin Bob. Only posers die, Bob. Ernie chops the zombie who killed Bob in half and captures her. He straps her to an examining table in the embalming room. Ernie asks her, “Why do you eat people?” “Not people…brrrrrainssssss.” Apparently it hurts to be dead and eating brains makes it stop hurting. So zombies are just junkies looking for a fix or something. I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter, but this scene is dark and weird and fantastic. The zombie’s spinal cord keeps flopping around suggestively and I have conflicted sexual feelings about it.
Frank and Freddy are pretty dead. Burt and Ernie and Rick James put them in the chapel of the funeral home. Tina won’t leave Freddy because wahhhhhhhhh.
The zombies eat some cops. ACAB. For the unaware that means, “Every good boy does fine.” Send more cops.
Freddy eats some bad Alka Seltzer and tries to eat Tina. Ernie throws acid in his face.
Burt and Rick James make a run for a cop car. They drive out of the graveyard to look for a phone to call the cops. The horde is blocking the street so they make for the medical warehouse, reuniting with punky Molly Ringwald and her gangly buddy. The car explodes offscreen because blowing up a car is clearly outside of this movie’s budget. Meanwhile, Frank jumps in the incinerator. Bye buddy.
Burt slaps the shit out of Tarman like a got damn boss.
Burt calls the phone number on the side of the chemical barrel. He talks to the General. The General is wearing monogrammed pajamas like a big boy do.
Ethel, you saint.
The General calls some kid working at a missile silo who is wayyyyyy too excited to be launching a missile. They stone cold nuke Louisville, KY. There’s another acid rain storm, and we freeze frame on this guy again as “Party Time” kicks in.
Return has this weird spot in the pantheon of punk rock culture, which is sort of funny considering how absolutely dubiously drawn the punks in this movie are. That’s a large part of the appeal of the movie, but it’s hard to tell if it’s meant to be a tongue-in-cheek ribbing or if screenwriter Dan O’Bannon had an axe to grind. I’d like to think it was the former, as O’Bannon was responsible for other iconic cult films like Alien and Heavy Metal.
But whatever! Send more zombies, right you guys?
Next time: Grandpa Cranky yells about another movie!
Ryan Kendall Barnes would wear a bolo tie if someone gifted him one. Tweet him pictures of your favorites at @BigBodyBarnes.