RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD
The result emerges as a smart and snappy variant on George Romeros Dead films. Not to mention a fresh and original injection into the zombie genre, which had been relentlessly worked by numerous, particularly Italian, B-budget filmmakers in the few years since Dawn of the Dead became a midnight favourite. The differences between Dan OBannon and George Romeros approaches are immediately evident OBannons zombies talk, move at normal speeds instead of a somnolent stumbling gait and take considerably more than being hit in the brain to be destroyed. Nowhere are the differences more clearly evident than the approaches the two take George Romero uses zombies to make sweeping social metaphors; Dan OBannon takes his approach with a sense of caustic humour that only becomes more hilarious the darker he makes it everything anybody in the film tries to do about the situation only ends up making it worse. There are some blackly hilarious images of the zombified Thom Matthews chasing his girlfriend: I can smell you brains, Tina. I love you Tina. I want to eat your brains. OBannon, who was sick of faceless teen victims in the contemporary slasher movie copycats of the day, deliberately casts his victims as punks and, with songs from The Damned, The Cramps, The Flesh Eaters and Jet Black Berries thrashing it out on the soundtrack, puts it all up front and goes for it with crude and rude abandon.
Dan OBannon is plainly interested in having some conceptual fun with the zombies in one fascinating scene that becomes a tour-de-force of makeup effects, the half-rotted torso of a woman dragging her spinal column behind her is tied to a bench and tells how the zombies need to eat brains to stop the pain of dying. The turning of Thom Matthews and James Karen into zombies while still alive is an intriguing idea, although one that never fully comes off, with OBannon never explaining how the two continue to think with no blood pressure or heartbeat, although the image of James Karen lowering himself into a furnace is a poignant one.
Return of the Living Dead is also less of a gore film than George Romeros Dead sequels, although the image, early in the film, of the longitudinally bifurcated half of a mounted anatomical dog come to life, lying whining on the floor, this author counts as one of the most stomach-churning moments from this era.
Two sequels were made, where the only connection was the use of the resurrection gas Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988), which was an incredibly lame and unfunny comedy, although this did bring James Karen and Thom Matthews back playing different named but identical characters; and Brian Yuznas interestingly worthwhile Return of the Living Dead III (1993). With the revival of interest in George Romeros zombie films in the 00s, two further sequels were made with the cheap Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis (2005) and Return of the Living Dead: Rave to the Grave (2005), both shot back-to-back by director Ellory Elkayem.
Dan OBannons other scripts are: John Carpenters Dark Star (1974), a parody of a space mission where OBannon also plays one of the lead characters; Alien (1979); another zombie film Dead & Buried (1981); episodes of the adult animation anthology Heavy Metal (1981); the hi-tech helicopter action film Blue Thunder (1983); Tobe Hoopers soul-sucking alien vampires film Lifeforce (1985); Hoopers remake of Invaders from Mars (1986); the original script for Total Recall (1990); the Philip K. Dick adaptation Screamers (1995); and the horror film Hemoglobin/Bleeders (1997). The one other film that OBannon directed was the unsuccessful but worthwhile H.P. Lovecraft adaptation The Resurrected (1992). Also of note is the documentary Jodorowskys Dune (2013), which details OBannons work as special effects director on Alejandro Jodorowskys failed adaptation of Dune (1965) in the 1970s.
Return of the Living Dead also made the name of actress Linnea Quigley who plays one of the punkettes and has a memorable scene where she dances nude on a tombstone. Linnea Quigley quickly became the most famous of the so-called Scream Queens whose talent existed more in their ability to disrobe than act. Quigley appeared in films such as Creepozoids (1987), Night of the Demons (1987), Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-o-Rama (1987), Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers (1988), Sexbomb (1989) and Beach Babes from Beyond (1993), among numerous others.