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.
This movie series contains the following:
Ashes to Crashes: Burning the living dead is a very bad idea, as more zombies come to life that way.
Brain Food: Ur Example in regards to zombies. Here, the zombies eat brains because they give off endorphins that kill the pain of decomposition and rigor mortis.
Body Horror: The zombies in general, especially the page picture, Tarman, who is seen transforming from a relatively intact looking corpse into, well...Tarman.
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: A few characters manage to keep their wits about them after being bitten, finding ways to fight off their cravings well into their transformation, so as not to be a danger to their loved ones.
At least in the first movie getting bitten (as were Suicide, Scuz, and—at least in the workprint—Burt) doesn't make you an infectee. Only a direct exposure to the chemical does the trick. Too bad that it can spread with rain falling on your skin.
And even then, you have to die first. Unfortunately for Freddy and Frank, a face full of Trioxin is poisonous.
It's ambiguous whether a bite does it, actually. Trash is exposed to Trioxin-laced rain, but so are the other punks, none of whom develop the same symptoms as the first two who get exposed. Several other zombies (including the aforementioned "more paramedics" and "more cops") weren't present for the rain, but rise again all the same. In contrast, Suicide is the first known fatality of the new outbreak, his brains devoured by Tarman (who was drenched in Trioxin to the point that his body decayed into, well, Tarman), but he doesn't rise again despite both heavy exposure AND bites.
Apparently, it only works if it gets into your system (e.g. through the nose or mouth or zombie bites); Suicide and Scuz both died under a roof. Maybe their own skin shielded them from the effects of Trioxin despite being rained on before dying?
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.
Cool Old Guy: Burt kicks more ass than any of the seemingly tough punks.
If you look at her as a zombie, the only things to indicate that she's undead are her now bleach-white skin and the fact that she's gnawing your arms off. Of course she also looks vaguely like a rabid Ronald McDonald and has a gigantic monster jaw.
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!"
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."
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."
What Could Have Been: Ernie didn't intend Burt's favor to be to "watch [his] ass out there" after leaving the funeral parlor with Spider. The workprint reveals that he intended the favor to be more of a Meaningful Echo to the very first scene:
Ernie: Burt, that favor you still owe me... no matter what happens, don't name it after me.
Trash's original name was Legs
Dan O'Bannon wrote the role of Trash for Jewel Shepard, who plays Casey, because she was a stripper and Dan met her in a strip joint. Jewel had enough of being naked in public and she chose to play Casey instead.
Another actress was offered the role of Trash, but dropped out because she was pregnant.
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!
Can You Hear Me Now?: 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.
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.
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