The Return of the Living Dead (1985) is a horror-comedy film written by Dan O'Bannon, starring Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Beverly Randolph and Linnea Quigley. Return is based on the premise that Night of the Living Dead was based on actual events, caused when a gas called 2-4-5 Trioxin was released into the morgue in the basement of a VA hospital in Pittsburgh, causing the bodies to jerk around as if they were alive. Unable to contain the undead threat, the military stored the lively corpses in sealed barrels. When the story leaked out, the government allowed Night of the Living Dead to be made, but they ordered the filmmakers to alter the story and claim it was fictional.However, due to a clerical error, a few such Barrels of Doom were shipped to a warehouse currently employing our intrepid heroes, and stored there for years. As testament to the strength and quality of the barrels, one of them springs a leak as soon as the foreman reassures his new employee of the solid military construction by slapping the side of one of them. The Trioxin gets into the cadaver freezer, animating the contents. The shambling, hungry dead escape, craving their favorite food: Brains...The Return of the Living Dead was followed by four sequels, one of which featured a tragic romance between a boy and his zombified girlfriend.
It Can Think: The Return zombies show clear signs of intelligence, like puzzle-solving (Tarman rigs a chain winch to tear open the doors of a closet a potential meal is hiding in), speech (they know more words than just "Brains", but this one seems to be their favorite), and awareness of their condition (leading to a couple Tear Jerker moments with infected heroes), traits not found in their shambling, mindless cousins from other zombie franchises.
Zombie Infectee: Several people keep their wits about them once infected. They even find ways to stave off the desire to eat flesh well into the transformation phase, so as to not be a danger to friends and loved ones. This, unfortunately, makes them rather attractive to the government.
Zombify The Living: Trioxin can slowly transform someone into a zombie while they're still alive.
Based on a Great Big Lie: An in-universe example, as the military insisted that certain elements of "the original story" be changed.
Batter Up: Burt decapitates Tarman (The zombie in the page picture) with a baseball bat.
Beauty Is Never Tarnished: When Trash resurfaces as a naked zombie near the end of the first film, having been (theoretically) eaten by a bunch of zombified old men... one can't help but notice a distinct lack of bite marks.
Remember that the zombies here are only interested in her brain, and so she should only have head wounds..
Berserk Button: Tarman does not like having his meals interrupted, nor does Suicide like being called spooky.
Black Dude Dies First: Averted. Spider, the only black member of the crew, is among the last to die at the end of the film.
Bottomless Magazines: Averted. Ernie's Walther P38 holds 8 rounds in the magazine and 1 round in the chamber. He fires three shots at the zombie by the ambulance, then four more at the horde trying to break through the front of the mortuary. Later he's seen trying to reload it once all the windows have been boarded up.
Death by Irony: Earlier in the film, Trash says the worst way to die to be eaten by a bunch of old men. The zombies that eat her are such.
Death by Pragmatism: The characters decide that they can't handle the zombies by themselves, so they call the military. Helpfully, the military nuke the town. But see Deus Ex Nukina.
Deus Ex Nukina: Instead of sterilizing the zombie outbreak, the nuclear blast only serves to distribute the Virus widely.
heavy artillery ammo, nuclear or not, is never like a one-piece, round-nosed, giant rifle cartridge, it comes in either two parts or more before loading.
Distracted by the Sexy: Inverted with Suicide. He's too self-absorbed into his Breaking the Fourth Wall monologue about his self-image to notice a naked Trash doing a bump-and-gind against him. When he does notice, he shoves her away and says "Show some fucking respect for the dead!"
Distress Call: Two of the brain-hungry zombies use a fake distress call to request more food: "Send more paramedics", followed by "send more cops" a little later.
Foreshadowing: As Burt and Ernie burn the evidence of the Trioxin leaking, Frank sneers, "Some big favor. I can operate that goddamn thing." In one version, Freddy asks in reply, "But who'd want to?" Frank would, later in the film, to take himself out of the equation before he can eat any brains.
Also at the beginning of the film, once Frank, Freddy, and Burt release the yellow animated cadaver you can clearly see that it charges directly at Burt since Burt was apparently the only living person in the room while Frank and Freddy after being exposed to Trioxin were either dying otherwise already dead.
Genre Savvy: Good news: Some of the men are aware that Night of the Living Dead was based on true events. Bad news: The movie was loosely based on actual events, and the "real" zombies are completely different.
George Lucas Altered Version: The voice of the "Send more paramedics!" zombie has been altered and is no longer as funny as the original version.
Also, as Burt and Ernie destroy the yellow cadaver:
Burt: You're absolutely certain that this is gonna get rid of everything and do the trick—I mean, nothing left? Ernie: Nothing but a little-bitty pile of ashes. Burt: We don't even want the ashes, Ernie! Ernie: Then I'll turn it up higher, and we'll burn up the ashes, too. [slides the yellow cadaver into the retort] Dust to dust.
Lost in Translation: The Italian dub translates the film's funniest line, "You mean the movie lied!?", as "Continua a muoversi!"English translation "It's continuing to move!"
Made of Iron: Freddie's skull withstands several blows from a hunk of pipe, an 8-pound sledgehammer and a jar of nitric acid, experiencing only minor skin abrasions.
Mercy Kill: It's implied that Ernie is getting ready to do this to Tina when Freddy has them both cornered in the attic and is about to break in. He has his pistol pointed at her head, ready to kill her and spare her the pain of Freddy eating her brains. Of course, the Deus Ex Nukina arrives before he has to do it.
Not to mention that Clu Gulager and Don Calfa sort of look like that other Burt and Ernie.
Nightmare Fetishist: Quite literally in the first movie. When Trash is describing the worst way she can think of to die (namely, being eaten by a bunch of old men), she is clearly getting turned on, to the point that she tears off all her clothes and does a naked dance in the middle of a cemetery.
Noodle Incident: "No, we can't, the cops said they'd shoot us if we went back to the park."
Not a Zombie: Averted. The first group to encounter a zombie knew about the chemical, and the first animated corpse they encountered was one they already knew to be dead. The second group encounters a zombie so horrifically rotted, and screaming for brains, that there isn't much question.
Not Using the Z Word: Averted. At one point Spider says, "There's zombies all over the cars outside."
Phlegmings: In the first movie, when Freddy finally succumbs to the zombie hunger he starts foaming at the mouth like he's chewing on Alka-Seltzer.
Pipe Pain: Burt uses a pipe as a weapon when the zombies try and break into the mortuary.
Raising the Steaks: Several preserved specimens are animated, including half a dog and a number of preserved butterflies.
Reality Ensues: Inverted. Remember how the zombie infestation in Night of the Living Dead worked the way it would've in real life, with the ending that reveals that the infestation was stopped as easily as it had started? Well, in this movie, it doesn't work that way. "You mean the movie lied!?"
Frank: Leak? Hell, no! This was built by the Army Corps of Engineers!
(slaps tank, which instantly leaks)
Trash's fantasy of being eaten by old men wouldn't have been expressed by someone more Genre Savvy.
Those Wacky Nazis: Ernie, in the first film, is strongly implied to be one. He listens to a German march on his headphones, uses a pearl-handled Walther P38 handgun, and has an Eva Braun pinup on the wall in one scene.
Freddy: [to Tina] See? And now you made me hurt myself again! You made me break my hand completely off this time, Tina! But I don't care, Darlin', because I love you, and you've got to let me EAT YOUR BRAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIINS!
The workprint footage makes this even creepier as he plays on Tina's love for him.
Freddy: [to Tina] Tina...Tina, listen to me. We always meant so much to each other. So please open the hatch, it's wrong that you should keep me locked up like this!
Understatement: After driving through a throng of brain-hungry zombies: "I think that something is not right outside!
Up to Eleven: "Then I'll turn [the retort] up higher, and we'll burn up the ashes, too."
Actor Allusion: Ed and Joey get a few to the first film; for example, in one scene, Ed expresses his wish for his body to be burned after he dies (a reference to Frank's self-immolation in the first film), and then, after Joey speculates about Ed's reason for wanting to be burned:
Ed: Watch your tongue, boy, if you like this job. Joey: Like this job? Like this job?
The Alleged Car/The Precious, Precious Car: A minor character has a vintage Cadillac which he states is "cherry" as a reason not to let the heroes use it as a getaway car. Too bad it has a few problems starting up all the damn time...
Blatant Lies: The opening narration of the second movie states that after observing the effects of Trioxin, the military decides not to use it and, "as far as anyone knows, all trioxin has been destroyed"... as the camera pans over a truck loaded with many barrels of same.
Bond One-Liner: This gem after Jesse gets Billy off his tail for the time being during the climax:
Jesse: That's why you're dead, asswipe: no brains and a big mouth!
Cell Phones Are Useless: A rare non-cellular version occurs in the second movie. A boy who found a couple errant drums of Trioxin attempts to call the number stencilled on the side, but the panicking driver of a van takes out a utility box on the corner through which the phone lines for the entire neighborhood are routed.
Disappeared Dad: Burt Wilson from the first film is hinted very strongly to be either this or a Disappeared Uncle to Jesse and Lucy.
Genre Savvy: When it looks like the heroes have found another human being and request their location with the radio, Dr. Mandel is quick to ask who the current president is. Which in turn saves the gang from the zombie who was trying to trick them.
Groin Attack: While the heroes are juggling around a severed zombie hand inside a moving car, at one point it latches onto the family jewels of the car's owner.
Large Ham: Ed and Joey spend most of the second film howling about how much zombification hurts.
Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer of the movie made it look like it was gonna be just as (if not more) darker than the first movie, when in comparison, it's actually pretty light-hearted.
Reality Ensues: Both inverted and played straight; the zombies play by the same rules as the first film, but they just can't stand electricity. High voltage can kill the living dead as easily as it can kill the living, and thanks to the efforts of the protagonists the infestation is stopped as quickly as it was in Night of the Living Dead.
Shock and Awe: Revealed to be the most efficient way to kill zombies in-series thus far.
Species Loyalty: Zombie Billy shows this when he jumps over the fence and uses the control panel to open it, which allows the other zombies another chance at eating the heroes brains.
Torches and Pitchforks: We're treated to a rare inversion where the monsters, in this case the horde of zombies, are wielding all manner of hand tools and trying to gain access to two protagonists trapped in the back of a meat truck.
Undead Child: A twelve-year-old neighborhood bully gets a faceful of Trioxin vapor in the second movie.
You Look Familiar: Thom Mathews, who played Freddy in the first movie, returns as an unrelated character named Joey in the second. Both directly witness the beginning of the Zombie Apocalypse, and both get a dose of Trioxin in the beginning of their respective movies. Likewise, James Karen played Frank in the first film and Ed in the second. Joey even lampshades this in the second as he laments that he feels like he's been through this whole thing once before, and Ed was there too.
Joey: I just feel so…I got this feeling.
Ed: Yeah…me, too.
Joey: No, it’s like we’ve been here before. It’s like a dream, this whole thing! You, me, them...
Driven to Suicide / Downer Ending: Julie can't bear existence as a zombie, and Curt can't bear existence without her, so they both allow themselves to die in a fire at the end.
It goes beyond that. Curt gets bitten by one of the reanimated and thus has no future with or without Julie. Rather than become reanimated or made into a super soldier if the base is ever retaken he opts to burn with her so they can be together in relative peace.
Fingore: The third movie has two obvious examples: once in the beginning, where a lab tech's fingers are torn off by a zombie, and once about 2/3 of the way through where Julie rams a glass shard through her hand. She also ends up driving several metal spikes (where is she GETTING all this sharp metal?) through her fingertips in order to have really awkward claws. This troper is pretty sure the spikes would rip her fingers apart before anything else, with pressure applied.
Horror Hunger: In Return of the Living Dead 3, the hero's (undead) girlfriend develops painful hunger pangs, but none of the snacks that he procures for her will sate her appetite. Her zombie cravings cause her to mutilate herself in order to drown out the hunger... but she feels much better after she munches on a couple of street toughs.
Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: The fourth film had zombies with miniguns and circular saws for arms. Unfortunately, they were also the main character's parents who died about a year before.
One of Us: Perhaps the filmmakers took a cue from Lucio Fulci's Zombi 3D (which was inspired in part by the first film, mind you) when writing the zombies of this film; in both films, it takes just a few hits to off a walking corpse.
Villain Decay: The zombies in this movie and the sequel are nowhere near the invincible juggernauts of films previous; whereas those zombies could only be killed by burning or by electrocution (preferably by electrocution), here it takes just a few hits to kill them.
Return of the Living Dead: Rave from the Grave
Beware of Hitchhiking Ghosts: Played with at the very end; a second Tarman is seen hitchhiking to the rave on a highway. A couple actually stops and screams when they see he's a zombie.
alternative title(s): The Return Of The Living Dead; Return Of The Living Dead; Return Of The Living Dead Part II; Return Of The Living Dead III; Return Of The Living Dead Necropolis; Return Of The Living Dead Rave To The Grave