The Return of the Living Dead
Like George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, whose central premise it loosely reworks, this seemingly standard-issue gore-fest offers more than meets the eye. It's not a genre-defining masterpiece like the source of its inspiration, but it is a relatively clever popcorn flick with more gruesome imagery and self-aware humor than most such films that glutted the mid-'80s marketplace. The punk rock trappings of its young cast were years out of date by the time of release just like in the John Hughes movies that ruled the multiplexes at the time. And in many ways, Return of the Living Dead comes off like The Breakfast Club, dressed up, or down, in dingy horror movie threads. Played with a knowing wink and a splash of special effects, juvenile-delinquent stereotypes provide a convenient framework for the inevitable escalation of cannibalism and thrills. By positing that the original Night of the Living Dead was based on a real incident involving a chemical that turns human corpses into brain-thirsty monsters, director/co-screenwriter Dan O'Bannon gets to thread in a slyly humorous subplot about a vigilant army officer. Even better is the campy dialogue of the titular zombies and the queasily funny set pieces. One sequence involving a warehouse full of medical specimens suddenly come to life gives rise to the indelible image of a "half-dog" and an angry butterfly collection surely worthy twists on a concept Romero himself revisited again and again.