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Film / The Return of the Living Dead

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"Send... more... paramedics."

The Return of the Living Dead is a 1985 comedy horror film written and directed by Dan O'Bannon, starring Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Beverly Randolph, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., and Linnea Quigley. It spawned the Return of the Living Dead zombie film series.

Return is based on the premise that Night of the Living Dead was based on actual events; it seems that in the '60s a chemical called 2-4-5 Trioxin, developed for use as an herbicide in destroying marijuana plants, was accidentally released into a basement morgue of a VA hospital in Pittsburgh, causing the cadavers stored there to reanimate. Unable to contain the undead threat, the military placed the lively corpses inside sealed barrels. Then, to guard against the story leaking out, the government permitted Night of the Living Dead to be made, thus covering up the real incident with a fictional one.

However, due to a clerical error, a few such Barrels of Doom were shipped to a Louisville, Kentucky medical supply warehouse currently employing our intrepid heroes, and stored there for years. As a 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 its side. The Trioxin gets into the cadaver freezer, animating the contents. The shambling, hungry dead escape, craving their favorite food: brains...

Not to be confused with the 1978 novel Return of the Living Dead, which was a direct sequel to Night of the Living Dead written by that film's co-writer John Russo (who, confusingly, also wrote a novelization of this film).

This film has the examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Russo's novelization adds a KGB subplot to flesh out the origin of Trioxin.
    • A few of the characters' backgrounds (particularly Freddy and Tina) are fleshed out a bit more. Their family names are Travis and Vitali respectively.note  Freddy got the job at Uneeda because of the death of a former member of their gang (never mentioned in the film) from a drug overdose and the former wanted to get his shit together for his own sake as well as his girlfriend's. That said, while it's slightly implied in the film, the book does indeed confirm that Freddy is not entirely comfortable with being around dead things due to seeing the gang member's body (along with Tina).
    • Tina, on the other hand, is revealed to not like the other members of their group of friends too much due to a strict Catholic upbringing and is mentioned to be uncomfortable during Trash's tombstone dance and debauchery in general.
    • A deceased ninth member of the punks, Sunshine, is mentioned with no such reference ever being in the film. As mentioned above, he died from an overdose (the exact drug is unspecified) and Freddy and Tina discovered his corpse in a public restroom. This spurred Freddy on to get a job at the Uneeda Warehouse where he meets Frank and Burt. Trash and Spider discuss Sunshine during their scene in the graveyard just before Trash starts stripping, the former saying that it was probably inevitable.
    • Frank's family name is Nello, his unseen wife is given the name Alice, and is also mentioned to have two children. Still, no mention of what Casey and Chuck's family names are, or what Suicide, Trash, Spider, and Scuz's real names are for that matter.
    • Suicide's mother is a Crazy Cat Lady who evidently takes in strays and keeps them for company. They live in a slum apartment and Suicide stays with her so she can take care of him. Suicide's car is mentioned to stink of cat feces and god knows what else. In an example of Adaptation Personality Change, while he brushes off Trash's advances in the film, he has a full-on sex scene with her in the book and was earlier encouraging her to take everything off during her dance. It's also mentioned he always had a thing for her.
    • In spite of the above with Suicide, Trash and Scuz are written to be in a relationship (something that was never alluded to filmwise) plus Spider and Casey are revealed to be friends with benefits.
    • The corpse that Ernie was working on before Burt and the others came to the morgue is named Morton Dowden, a banker that was killed in a car crash. While Morton up and vanishes after the yellow cadaver is burned in the film, the novel expands his role somewhat as his wife, Helen, is made to be the female half corpse that kills Scuz during the break-in. Helen herself even makes note of her husband who is still in the room in the book.
    • How Chuck came to know Casey in high school is established and also explains that Casey is an atheist, making her reactions to the undead a lot more understandable. A tender moment with Chuck follows and they ultimately do the deed unlike in the movie. On the religious note, Spider is heavily implied to have mostly lost his faith upon Sunshine's death.
  • The Alleged Car: Suicide's car is covered with graffiti, has no windows, and the roof leaks (which, of course, happens during painful acid rain and leaks right on to the naked Trash). What's more, once the dead start rising, it completely fails to start.
  • Ambiguous Ending: In the final scene, the nuclear explosion has destroyed the active zombies but a fresh fall of contaminated rain has created at least one more new ghoul. However the sequels confirm that the military were able to contain the new outbreak. It is also left unclear if any of the characters survived, especially those in the cellar who may have been shielded from the blast (some survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb were less than half a mile from Ground Zero).
  • Anachronism Stew: Frank tells Freddy that the Trioxin accident that inspired Night of the Living Dead happened in 1969, which is impossible since the film came out in 1968. It's probably done intentionally since in the original script Frank says the year it happened was 1966, so it was changed to show Frank's mistake.
  • And I Must Scream: The zombies in the canisters are still "alive" and unable to move, trapped in a constant state of rot, unable to die, and unable to ease their suffering.
    • Good God, the zombies alone take screaming to a whole new level compared to the infected people in 28 Weeks Later and 28 Days Later. The paramedics literally haul ass to the van when they hear the zombies actually scream. Interestingly, the screaming the zombies do is what makes the film terrifying.
    • Anyone that's not gnawing on someone's brain is going to scream their lungs out sooner or later upon seeing those things running around and jumping on people and biting their freaking heads off. In fact, several characters minor and major actually scream (well yelling is common in the film, but there are some legitimate screams that don't come from zombies).
  • Armies Are Evil: They are when the solution they unleash without any hesitation to try to deal with the Trioxin zombie problem is to nuke an American city. Though in their defense, had Burt called them when they still only had Tarman, the dismembered yellow cadaver, a reanimated split dog, and two infected people to deal with instead of hundreds of zombies, the nuke would not have been needed.
  • Artistic Licence – Biology:
    • Zombies aside, rigor mortis is solely a phenomenon of muscle tissue, hence can't "start in the brain" as the film claims. Livor mortis, yes, rigor no.
    • Also, it's implied that brain-eating soothes the zombies' pain because of endorphins in brain tissue. But endorphin content in the spinal cord is usually a lot higher than it is in the brain, as that's where signals from most of the body's pain-receptors are normally blocked.
    • The reanimated split dog should not have been able to bark, as a trachea bisected along its midline cannot propel air into the larynx.
    • Several of the zombies are still able to pronounce B and P sounds despite clearly not having the necessary lips.
    • The skeletal corpse we see emerging from it's grave still has it's eyes and presumably enough left of a nervous system to reanimate, despite the fact that according to the tombstone directly behind it, whoever it was passed away and was also buried in 1891, 94 years before the events of the film and more than enough time for all organic tissue to have rotted from the bones. This is somewhat justified since Trioxin is capable of reanimating bones as well, though the zombie should have fell apart since there's no muscle left to keep it together.
    • Averted with Frank once Freddy turns. Despite being near-immobilized due to rigor mortis and the agony coming with it as the Trioxin virus enters it's final stage moments ago, when Freddy turns into a zombie and starts rabidly persuing Tina, Frank is suddenly able to get onto his feet and run from the room. This is likely due to a phenomenon known as the "final burst of energy"note  and Frank, being much older than Freddy, was likely hit with this at the same time Freddy turned, thus the sudden mobility and ability to end his suffering before turning himself.
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: The fictional "2,4,5-Trioxin" which reanimates the dead (an example of Chemistry Can Do Anything) is actually a Shout-Out to a VERY real chemical, 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Called 2,4,5-T by the US military, this chemical is a powerful herbicide/defoliant, that is best known for being one of the two chemicals to make up Agent Orange. Due to its toxicity, the chemical was banned in 1985 in both the US and Canada (the same year this film was released). The naming is where the similarity ends however...the real 2,4,5-T doesn't reanimate the dead, it just makes things dead, with less severe cases causing nervous system damage and cancer. It's possible that Trioxane was another inspiration for the chemical in the film, as it doesn't reanimate anything, but it does repair cells and maintain a corpse's contours after postmortem tissue constriction.
  • Artistic License – Geology: The situtation first spirals horribly out of control when trioxin-tainted rainwater rains down on the cemetery and manages to seep down deep enough underground to reanimated long-buried corpses who are effortlessly able to crawl above ground. First of all, the coffins are clearly at least six feet underground and rainwater never goes any deeper than a few inches, even during hurricane-force downpours. Secondly, even if a reanimated corpse had enough muscle tissue remaining to break through the top of a casket, six feet worth of dirt is going to come piling down on top of him and as MythBusters proved, a few feet of dirt is enough to comprise the structural integrity of a modern-built coffin so all the poor zombie would accomplish is now being pinned in place by a couple tons of dirt for all eternity.
  • Artistic License – Nuclear Physics:
    • Heavy artillery ammo, nuclear or not, is never like a one-piece, round-nosed, giant rifle cartridge, it comes in at least two parts (the projectile itself plus one or more propellant bags, depending on the range of the shot to be fired) before loading.
    • Once the nuke goes off, the resulting mushroom cloud immediately reaches miles into the sky in less than five seconds, whereas an actual mushroom cloud takes roughly 30 seconds to reach that size.
    • All the buildings in the city still have their lights on after the bomb goes off, though considering only a small portion of the city was destroyed, it is likely that this smaller nuke was not powerful enough to have an EMP blast.
    • Through recycled footage, the film implies that the nuke only spread the trioxin even further, even though atomic explosions sterilize the immediate area and eradicate all organisms down to the very cells which would include the trioxin gas.
  • Asshole Victim: Suicide, although with a dash of Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Attractive Zombie: The Ms. Fanservice punk chick Trash (played by Linnea Quigley) gets killed and zombified halfway in. Upon her resurrection, a homeless man winds up Distracted by the Sexy when he sees the naked zombie Trash walk out of the graveyard... at least, until she's close enough that the fog and darkness no longer obscure her Nightmare Face.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Freddy thinks so, apparently. Watch him stop Frank from beating on a reanimated split dog with a crutch. Later on, Ernie finds the act of Burt and the others burning the "rabid weasels" too cruel and yells at them to take the "weasels" to the pound. He's quick to change his tune after finding that the so-called weasels is actually a dismantled cadaver that nearly breaks his leg.
  • Bald of Evil: Tarman has no visible hair before or after his decay. His scalp is probably the least rotted part on his body, which still isn't saying much.
  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: While doing Trash's nude scenes, Linnea Quigley was wearing a prosthetic crotch cover, the result of meddling executives wishing to avoid an "X" Rating.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie:
    • The movie starts off by saying everything in the film actually happened and no names have been changed.
    • An in-universe example, as the military insisted that certain elements of "the original story" be changed.
  • Batter Up!: Burt decapitates the Tarman with a baseball bat.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished:
    • When Trash resurfaces as a naked zombie near the end of the film, despite being surrounded by a group zombified old can't help but notice that there is no head wound showing that they got her brain.
    • Downplayed with Tina, who falls down in the mud and gets soaked but otherwise makes it to the morgue all right.
  • Berserk Board Barricade: Several of these are thrown up, though they don't do much good.
    Spider: How many fucking windows you got here?
  • Berserk Button:
    • Tarman does not like having his meals interrupted.
    • Suicide doesn't like being called spooky.
    • Burt is probably the funniest example. Make so much as the slightest mistake and he'll ear rape you with his mouth. And whatever you do DO NOT GO NEAR OR OPEN A TRIOXIN CANISTER. If you do piss him off, expect to go deaf or be standing for an hour listening to him give you an ear full.
    • Casey has one moment. She sarcastically tells Chuck to stroke himself if you get the message. Pretty hilarious considering how unexpected it was. Don't flirt with her. Pretty simple.
    • Spider has several. Don't turn into a Trioxin zombie and if you do become a Trioxin zombie, don't try to eat someone's brain and don't leave his friends behind. Also don't crash a car while he's in it.
    • The police even have one moment. DO NOT MOVE WHEN THEY TELL YOU TO FREEZE! If you do, expect your brain to be marinated on the pavement.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Frank immolates himself in the retort so he won't become a zombie.
  • Big "NO!": When Freddy complains that his muscles are stiffening up, Ernie finds this is due to rigor mortis setting in, followed by Scuz less-than-subtly confirming this means Frank and Freddy are turning into zombies, this is Freddy's reaction.
    Scuz: Hey, man... you're dead! You're dead and you're gonna turn into of those things out there!!!
    Freddy: NOOOOOO!!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!
  • Black Comedy: Up the wazoo. The cadaver scene is a textbook example.
  • Body Horror: Tarman is a slimy, gooey, decaying mess that's barely holding together. One false move and it's a wrap.
  • Bomb Whistle: Despite being launched from a high-powered artillery cannon 234 miles away rather than dropped out of a plane, the warhead still whistles before it explodes.
  • Burn the Undead: Burt resorts to this when Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain fails to do the job. It doesn't end well.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: A spectacularly dark example: The general that appears on the opening scene and who says has been tasked to look for the missing barrels of Trioxin doesn't appear again until the very last scenes, when he is contacted about the call for help of the heroes and orders the nuking of the whole area from the comfort of his own home.
  • Cool Old Guy:
    • Burt kicks more ass than any of the seemingly tough punks.
    • Ernie has his moments as well.
    • Subverted hilariously with Frank, who seems this way at first with showing the young and naive Freddy the ropes of his new job and showing off the trioxin tanks to impress and/or possibly scare the boy. Once the corpses start reanimating, however, this facade crumbles almost instantly, showing a rather pathetic and somewhat neurotic individual.
  • Creepy Cemetery: Adjacent to the warehouse and morgue, where the punks hang out to wait for Freddy... and from where most of the zombies emerge.
  • Cute Monster Girl: Zombie Trash. (Just don't look too closely at her face.)
  • Damsel in Distress: Tina narrowly avoids getting eaten twice, first by Tarman and later by Freddy. She's rescued by her friends at the last minute, both instances. Sadly though, the second occurrence still ends in tragedy as the town gets nuked, killing her and all of the other survivors.
  • Dark Reprise: The song that Trash was dancing to during the graveyard party scene gets a spooky-echo remix when her zombified body hurts out of the ground that she was dragged into by the first wave of zombies.
  • 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.
    • Very early on after the Trioxin is unleashed (and the only zombies around are the cadaver on the medical warehouse's freezer and Tarman on the basement), Freddy says that they should call the emergency number on the barrels, only for Burt and Frank to shoot him down because they don't want to bring the Army (and government/police scrutiny that would ruin the warehouse's business) unto them. They were right about the Army, all right, but that is because their solution for dealing with Trioxin zombies is "kill everything in the general area and hope for minimal civilian collateral damage".
      • Even more ironic to the above is the fact that if they had called the number before trying to cook the yellow cadaver, the Army would have probably been able to contain it to two zombies (yellow cadaver and Tarman) and two infected humans Frank and Freddy). However, due to the fact that they didn't call the number sooner, the Army nuked the area because of the fact that there were more than 20 zombies with the numbers increasing.
  • 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.
  • Deconstructive Parody: Return was the deconstructive parody of the zombie movie. The main characters are a gang of punks who revel in nihilism and seem to be the kind of characters who would thrive in an apocalyptic scenario. That is until a zombie plague breaks out, and they are just as defenseless as everybody else. The movie also points out the reality of how unstoppable an undead menace would actually be. Burt and Ernie try to stop a zombie by removing its head, but the result is just a headless zombie chasing them. Even completely incinerating its body in a furnace causes the fumes to rain down on a graveyard and resurrect every corpse inside it. The logic of a zombie's very existence means that there shouldn't be an easy way to "kill them" anyway like in other zombie fiction.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Frank and Freddy have most of the spotlight in the beginning but after the opening prologue when the gas is released, the film focuses on Burt with Spider, Ernie, and Tina serving as supporting protagonists mainly because Frank and Freddy are slowly turning into zombies.
  • Deus ex Nukina: Instead of sterilizing the zombie outbreak, the nuclear blast only serves to distribute the Virus widely.
  • Devoured by the Horde:
    • Ms. Fanservice Trash gets gnawed by a bunch of zombies and becomes a zombie herself, but unlike all the other zombies she's still reasonably hot as a zombie. And still naked.
    • The paramedics and cops are immediately attacked by the large group of zombies as soon as they arrive at the barricade.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: As Freddy succumbs virus corrupting him, Tina keeps him company and wraps him around her arms sobbing over his painful transformation before he turns and tries to eat her brains.
  • 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.
    • The (surviving) heroes find a contact phone number stenciled on the Trioxin barrels and call it, hoping that the military can do something to save them from the zombies.
  • The Ditz: Freddy doesn’t seem to have all that much in the way of brain cells.
  • Downer Ending: Twofold. First, the military nukes the area, killing any main characters left by the end of the film; then, the nuke spreads the zombie gas further, shortly before the president is scheduled to visit the area.
  • Driven to Suicide: Frank commits self-immolation while he's still in control of his own mind after Freddy becomes a zombie.
  • Dwindling Party: The group of eight teens is slowly picked off throughout the film. Eventually, only Spider, Casey, and Chuck are left standing with Burt just before the nuke kills them all. Tina was still alive before the blast, but she was trapped with Ernie, who had a gun to her head, and Freddy just broke through the barricade into the attic, which meant that she was screwed either way.
  • Dying as Yourself: Towards the end of the film, Frank immolates himself in the retort, as he has become a zombie and has no other means of ending his agony that would be certain to work. A variation happens with Ernie and Tina in the movie's last few scenes, though nothing ultimately comes of it for better or worse.
  • The '80s: Almost a cross-section, too. You have punks, preppies, greasers, and so on all in the same group of kids - complete with '80s Hair, of course, highlighted by Spider's jeri curls.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: Tarman's grand entrance.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Despite his bad attitude, Suicide rejects a naked Trash's sexual advances in the graveyard, angrily telling her to have some respect for the dead.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The film starts at 5:30 pm on July 3rd and ends at 5:01 am the next day, July 4th so the entire events of the film take place in just under twelve hours.
  • Eye Scream: Ernie smashes a jar of acid into a zombified Freddy's face, blinding him.
  • Eye Take: Tarman's eyelids melted off when his tank was breached, so he spends his screentime unendingly glaring at potential prey. Brrr...!
  • Fanservice: Trash appears naked for most of the first film... and continues to be naked after she's zombified.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Inverted. The zombies are suffering an And I Must Scream because they're "dead".
    Ernie: Why do you eat people?
    Zombie: Not people. Brains.
    Ernie: Brains only?
    Zombie: Yes.
    Ernie: Why?
    Zombie: The PAIN!
    Ernie: What about the pain?
    Zombie: The pain of being DEAD!
    Ernie: It hurts... to be dead?
    Zombie: I can feel my body rot!
    Ernie: Eating brains... How does that make you feel?
    Zombie: It makes the pain go away!
  • Fiction As Coverup: It turns out that the original Night Of The Living Dead was created to cover up an accidental spill of Trioxin back in the Sixties. Unfortunately for the people within this series, one of the various things that the Government Conspiracy felt necessary to conceal was the fact that these zombies are a hell of a lot harder to kill than the Romero ones...
    Freddy: [watching a zombie survive a pickax to the head] You mean the movie lied?!
  • 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, take himself out of the equation before he can eat any brains.
    • Also at the beginning of the film when the Trioxin is released, Frank and Freddy wake up and notice that the body in the tank (who ultimately becomes Tarman) has vanished. They briefly question what happened to it before deducing that it melted. He certainly did melt, but is far from gone. In fact, he was hiding in a shadowy corner a few feet away, watching them the entire time. Though it’s assumed he didn’t eat them because they technically are already dead just like himself.
    • Frank, Freddy, and Burt release the yellow animated cadaver, you can clearly see that it charges directly at Burt despite Frank and Freddy being practically right next to it. Later on, it's revealed that Frank and Freddy, having been exposed to the Trioxin, were actually killed by the toxin and are gradually zombifying. Not to mention, if you listen to its screaming real good you hear it say "BRAINS!"
    • Trash's description of her ideal death is exactly how she winds up dying (albeit with undead old men rather than just the standard type). Turns out she doesn't enjoy it as much as she thought she would.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Downplayed somewhat with Trash. She is accidentally left behind by the others and gets mauled by the dead, and is later consistently shown as a nude ghoul eating others' brains. However, aside from Casey and Chuck noting her absence upon barring up the warehouse, she is never talked about by the others again, likely due to seeing Freddy in his sorry state of decay. Towards the end when Spider reunites with Casey and Chuck, he responds "I don't know" when the former asks about the others' fates. Given each of their fates, plus his own reaction to Freddy's zombification, he may just be trying to spare them the Awful Truth.
  • A Friend in Need: After escaping the chemical rain into the warehouse, the teenagers hear Tina screaming for help from the Tarman. They immediately rush to her aid which results in Suicide's death.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes:
    • With the punks, Suicide is this. According to him, the only times the others call him are to get a ride in his car, and otherwise, he's "too spooky" to be around. His venting-out monologue to Trash at the graveyard shows he's clearly not happy with this. Casey at one point refers to him as "your friend and mine", to which he politely tells her to fuck off.
    • Chuck is also implied to be this. Suicide and Casey regularly belittle him during their screentime together. Even his actor, John Philbin, feels that his character, while an okay guy, is basically a poser in a group of hardass punks. It's highly possible that he only stays with them in order to get closer to Casey.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Freddy. When he started out he was just a dumb, average morgue worker. When the Trioxin finally turns him, he becomes hell-bent on eating his girlfriend's brain.
  • Furnace Body Disposal: Ernie disposes of the remains of a zombie via the retort at the morgue he works at. This backfires, since the fumes spread the Trioxin into the clouds, resulting in a type of rain that causes more zombies to rise. Frank uses the same furnace to kill himself after realizing his infection is almost complete.
  • 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. Likewise, the Tarman's voice has been changed. In the original, it was a chillingly distorted, somewhat high-pitched, often excited-sounding voice. For unknown reasons, it was changed into a simple deep, flat voice. For some reason, however, the original Tarman voice is present (along with the zombie that asks for more cops) in the credits montage.
    • The original theatrical cut excluded the first scene with Colonel Glover after the opening act, but it has since been restored to all home releases.
  • Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: Spider starts babbling after Freddy succumbs to the trioxin and Ernie slaps him. It doesn't work when the half-corpse starts yelling for brains and Spider has to be restrained from attacking her. He only pulls himself together when the group hears Zombie!Freddy breaking out of the chapel.
  • Gosh Darn It to Heck!: Tina is the only one of the teens, and the only main character period, to never use profanity. Closest she gets is an "Oh fudge!" before going off to find Freddy by herself.
  • Gratuitous German: Courtesy of Ernie, while watching the rainfall:
    Ernie: Look at it... It's coming down like einen getrunken soldat.
  • Green Aesop: The Trioxin zombies are a metaphor for hazardous waste that is hard to destroy. The best the government can do is to contain the zombies in secure barrels and wait for the zombies to decay since burning or nuking the zombies just spreads the trioxin chemical instead of properly destroying it.
  • Gross-Up Close-Up: Tarman famously gets one of these when he first steps out of the shadows, greeting Tina with "Braaaains!". He has another from Tina's POV in the closet when he's setting up the winch, and one more when he catches Suicide.
  • Grotesque Cute: The first zombie in the film is a taxidermied mounted dog that has been split inhalf down the middle for use in veterinary classes. Curiously, it is the only flesh-and-blood creature resurrected by the trioxin gas that does not persue brains, instead behaving like a living breathing dog.
  • Heroic BSoD: Ernie, after encountering his first zombie. Spider, too, has a meltdown after seeing Freddy all zombified and tries to kill the half corpse when she starts screaming for brains, though Ernie's slap quickly snaps him out of it.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The first film begins on July 3rd, late afternoon and the zombie outbreak lasts well past midnight and into the early hours of July 4th, Independence Day, ultimately ending at the crack of dawn. And is it ever an appropriate day for the ultimate fireworks display, for all that it did.
  • If You Can Read This: There is an eye chart in the background in the first movie that reads, "Burt is a slave driver and a cheap son of a bitch who's got you and me here."
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: An interesting version happens when, after two of the main characters are exposed to Trioxin, they start feeling crappy and complain about the cold. Near the climax, they feel better as zombies.
  • Immune to Bullets: The zombies in this movie are completely bulletproof.
  • Incongruously-Dressed Zombie: Several, including a brain-eating priest. Trash becomes an Incongruously-Nude Zombie after her cemetery striptease and death.
  • Injured Limb Episode: The last act of the movie has Ernie's right leg broken due to the accumulation of stress that started when the yellow cadaver's arm grabbed it. He's forced to accept that he can't make it to the cars and has to remain with the traumatized Tina until Burt and Spider return with help (if they can). They don't.
  • It Can Think: The zombies are totally conscious (which, in fact, explains their constant screaming), just consumed by agonizing pain that can only be relieved by eating live brains. They're smart enough to use the police and paramedics' radios to call for reinforcements to lure more emergency responders into traps, one zombie manages to explain the undead's predicament to the protagonists, and a zombified Freddy even tries to emotionally manipulate Tina into letting him eat her brains.
  • It's the Only Way to Be Sure:
    • About ten blocks of Louisville are converted to radioactive slag.
    • Also, as Burt and Ernie destroy the yellow cadaver:
      Burt: [Ernie,] 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.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Suicide, arguably, as although he is abrasive and somewhat self-absorbed he tells Trash to "show respect to the dead" and is the first to rush into the basement in response to Tina's screams.
  • Kill It with Fire: This ends very, very badly.
  • Large Ham: Suicide and Frank.
  • Lost in Translation: The Italian dub translates the film's funniest line, "You mean the movie lied!?", as "Continua a muoversi!"English translation
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Tina insists on being locked in the chapel with Freddy despite knowing how dangerous it is.
  • Made of Iron: Freddy'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.
  • Made of Plasticine: The zombies have no problem breaking through people's skulls with nothing but their teeth. The zombies themselves are no more durable, but nothing short of complete incineration can kill them.
  • 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.
  • Ms. Fanservice: The '80s Scream Queen herself, Linnea Quigley.
  • Nepotism: Freddy is implied to have gotten his new job at the medical-supply warehouse because Frank is his uncle.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The whole zombie mess (and the subsequent nuking of the town) all traces back to Frank and his ego trying to show off and/or scare Freddy with the trioxin corpses in the basement.
    • Later still, Casey and Chuck spot Freddy heading to the mortuary with the chopped-up body, but Chuck blows it off and says it can't possibly be their friend. After all, why would Freddy be going there in the first place when it's not in his job description? Granted, that last part was mainly due to ignorance, but still. They refrain from telling Tina or anyone else until the former decides to go to Uneeda where she has her encounter with Tarman and Suicide gets killed when the others go to her rescue. The workprint in the aftermath scene actually has Tina call them out on it before Casey blames it entirely on Chuck, even when Casey herself didn't say anything.
  • Nightmare Face: Tarman, enough said. And another thing, Zombified Trash is NOT hot!
    • The ones that Freddy makes after he fully zombifies aren't very pleasant either.
  • 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. She finds it a lot less sexy when it actually happens.
  • No Ending: The zombie apocalypse does not get resolved in the end, the nuclear strike set off by the U.S. military only restarts the pandemic spreading to even more cemeteries as now there are more dead rising out of the ground. All it did was extinguish the film's heroes before they starve to death in that bunker.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • "No, we can't, the cops said they'd shoot us if we went back to the park."
    • "Let's get some light over here! Trash is taking off her clothes again!"
  • 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 Distracted by the Sexy: 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-grind against him. When he does notice, he shoves her away and says "Show some fucking respect for the dead!" This is probably due to the fact she has a habit of stripping in public (see "Noodle Incident".)
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: Though they are called zombies in this movie, Burt tells the police that people are infected with something that's like Rabies but faster because he doesn't think they'll believe him if he calls them zombies.
  • Nuke 'em: It only spreads the Trioxin.
  • 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.
  • Police Are Useless: More or less inverted. It's not that the police are incompetent, it's just that they're heavily outnumbered and outmatched... and that they have absolutely no idea what they're even dealing with. Out of the first two cops sent to go after the zombies, one of those cops turns and becomes one of them and he uses his uniform and a traffic baron to lure in a mobilizing fleet of 10 other policemen into a trap.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Literally, in this case. Casey and Chuck witness Freddy, along with Frank and Burt, heading into the morgue during the party, but don't tell the others on Chuck's insistence that it can't be their friend. This results in Tina heading off to the warehouse to find her boyfriend where she gets attacked by the Tarman. While she ultimately survives, Suicide isn't so fortunate. The workprint actually has Casey admitting to it after the fact, which Tina is understandably pissed about.
  • Powerful Pick: Bert, Frank and Freddy try to dispose of the yellow cadaver in the warehouse's refrigeration room by driving a pickaxe through its skull to destroy its brains. It doesn't work.
  • Raising the Steaks: Several preserved specimens are animated, including half a dog and a number of preserved butterflies.
  • Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain: Discussed and attempted with the yellow cadaver, but these zombies don't have that particular vulnerability; even beheaded or dismembered, their bodies keep moving around trying to attack the living.
  • Re-Release Soundtrack: The movie's theatrical and original VHS release featured "Dead Beat Dance" by The Damned in an early scene. Due to rights issues, however, the song has been removed from all subsequent home video releases and television broadcasts beginning with the Hemdale Video release in 1991. The song "Young Fast Iranians" by The F.U.'s is usually substituted in its place.
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Frank. It really stands out when compared to Freddy's shouts (and even more so to Burt).
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!:
    • When the zombies start breaking out their coffins and emerging from the ground the punk group bolts from the graveyard.
    • Burt and Spider make it to a police car and drive back to the mortuary exit they came from to pick up Tina and Ernie, but the car is quickly covered with zombies, forcing them to abort the rescue attempt and focus on escaping with their own lives, only to have to double back once they come upon an enormous crowd of zombies. While Tina is understandably upset by them fleeing, Ernie simply states, "They had to."
    • After Freddy becomes a zombie and starts attacking Tina, Frank quickly gets onto his feet and runs from the room, despite being barely able to move due to the Trioxin virus having advanced into it's final stage, and crawls into the crematorium oven and turns it on to incenerate himself, not wanting to become rabid brain-craving zombie like Freddy.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The corpses (and Trioxin) stored in the Army canisters.
  • Second Law of Metafictional Thermodynamics: The army has no idea how to get rid of the zombies. They bomb the whole town. This proves to be ill-advised because it creates another Trioxin chemical rain.
  • Shout-Out: Trash in zombie form having her skin turning completely white and her hair going red could be a nod to Ronald McDonald.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Suicide cannot go a sentence without saying the F-word.
  • Smug Snake: Non-Villainous example with Frank (to an extent). His initial cocky Cool Old Guy facade flies to pieces once the corpses start reanimating. It fades away even further once Burt enters the scene with him screaming his head off during the whole cadaver sequence.
  • Something We Forgot: In addition to Trash, nobody supposedly thought to keep their wits about Frank when he's on the verge of breaking after Freddy becomes a zombie. The workprint shows him bailing out during the chaos when the rest are fighting off Freddy without them ever noticing. Not that they'd have to worry about him, for better and worse.
  • Stealth Pun: The nukes go off on Independence Day. Not only is that one heck of a fireworks display, but it's independence for a whole bunch of dead people.
  • Straying Baby: Tina wanders from the group to look for Freddy, unwittingly putting herself in danger to be killed by a zombie. Thankfully, she survives...for now.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Inverted. Remember how the zombie infestation in Night of the Living Dead (1968) 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!?
  • Take a Third Option: Once the Trioxin is released by Frank, the zombie apocalypse begins and corpses are alive again. Frank and Freddie hurry over to the office and discuss what should they do. Freddie suggests the cops, Frank shoots that down cause then the cops would hold the company liable for the disaster, and litigations will pour in. Freddie then suggests the number stated on the barrels in case it happens, but Frank points out that's the ARMY. So Frank decides to call in their boss Bert. Bert however decides the cops need to get involved, but the zombies already ate them, so he desperately calls the military, not knowing that they don't pursue a search-and-rescue effort like the cops do but rather have nukes pointed at the town in case a Trioxin outbreak occurs.
  • Take This Job and Shove It: Freddy certainly has this attitude after things get intense.
    Frank: Watch it boy, if you like this job!
    Freddy: (incredulous) LIKE THIS JOB?!
  • Tempting Fate:
    Freddy: These things don't leak, do they?
    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 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.
    • His full name even is Ernie Kaltenbrunner.
    • On the DVD commentary track, Don Calfa claims that he didn't personally see Ernie as a Nazi, but rather someone just "really proud of his heritage".
  • Token Minority: Subverted with Spider as he is the only non-caucasian in the group of punks, and yet he has a prominent role throughout the film, becoming a second lead of sorts to Burt. He manages to survive until the very end of the movie when the whole town is nuked, effectively killing all the survivors.
  • Transhuman Treachery:
    • The zombies are conscious and intelligent, but they're consumed by pain that only goes away when they eat the brains of the living, so none of them (Frank being the only visible exception) show any hesitation at the idea of eating people alive to stave off their own suffering.
    • Freddy has an epiphany:
      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!
  • Too Dumb to Live:
    • Frank sealed his own fate (as well as Freddy's) when he burst the tank holding Tarman open. His reason for showing them off just to scare/impress the kid becomes this once you hear Burt yell at him for even acknowledging the tanks' existence let alone going to see them even after the army specifically told him not to. This ultimately spiraled into a catastrophe so big that the army ended up nuking the town and killing off any possible survivors along with the zombies, which were heavily implied to have spread out anyway. Thanks a lot, Frank.
    • Barely subverted, with Tina. Had she simply left the warehouse after seeing that no one was present or answering her calls, she would've never encountered Tarman. She did get an answer but not the one she was hoping for. The second time, she purposely locks herself in the chapel with Freddy as he was turning into a zombie. Had it not been for Ernie, Burt, and Spider coming in the nick of time she would've been killed.
  • A True Story in My Universe: Here, Night of the Living Dead was based on an actual zombie outbreak that the army managed to stop which then became Fiction As Coverup.
  • Understatement: After driving through a throng of brain-hungry zombies: "I think that something is not right outside!
  • Unexplained Recovery: The graveyard gate despite being broken by the punk group and is later shown to be wide open when a zombified Trash exits and attacks a presumed homeless man, is shown to be closed up forcing Burt to run through it with the police car.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: The EMS dispatch lady who sends the police to the mortuary to investigate the two "missing" ambulances. The ambulances and one of the now-deceased paramedics are found in short order, but the cops meet the same fate as the EMTs, complete with a zombie getting on the radio and asking for backup. This leads to more cops being lead into an ambush which causes the zombies to start spreading out and completely overrun the roadblock, forcing the army to nuke the city from afar.
  • We Could Have Avoided All This: Had Burt called the Army earlier, it might not have been necessary to Nuke 'em.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Once Tarman escapes the tank, he remains hidden until about forty-four minutes into the movie when he comes after Tina. Even after Chuck and Casey are forced to go back to Uneeda, he still isn't seen or heard. Given his state of decay, however, it was probably in his best interest to wait it out until more prey came to him; he still had Suicide to keep him stuffed plus Casey and Chuck were also sensible enough to not even think about unblocking the door after what happened earlier. Also, we never see what Ernie did with the corpse he was working on when Burt and company first showed up at the mortuary. See Adaptation Expansion above for more info.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Burt gives Frank an earful for breaking the trioxin tanks open, even when he specifically told him not to even go near them. Later in the aftermath of Suicide's death (in the workprint only), Tina chews out Casey for her and Chuck not saying they saw Freddy enter the cemetery morgue, which they could've gone to, and avoided Tarman altogether.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Because Night of the Living Dead (1968) was based on true events In-Universe, Frank and Freddy initially believe that Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain will be good enough to destroy a zombie and panic when it doesn't work.
    Burt: I thought you said that if we destroyed the brain, it'd die!
    Frank: It worked in the movie!
    Burt: Well, it ain't working now, Frank!
    Freddy: You mean the movie lied!?
  • You Can't Kill What's Already Dead: Played for laughs when Burt and Frank think that destroying the head will take care of the zombie they accidentally resurrected since that's the way it worked in Night of the Living Dead. This just results in a headless zombie chasing after them.
    Freddy: You mean the movie lied?
  • Zerg Rush: How the zombies kill.
  • Zombie Infectee: Frank and Freddy. At first they appear just fine despite having been engulfed in a cloud of trioxin, but once the yellow corpse has been dealt with they notice they haven't warmed up and quickly grow colder and pale. Two paramedics later find they have no pulse, no blood pressure, and their eyes do not respond to light so they are essentially already dead, but somehow are still conscious. Once it becomes apparent that they will turn into zombies, they are locked away from the other survivors sans Freddy's girlfriend. Freddy turns into a zombie, though Frank chooses to incinerate himself in the crematorium oven before he can fully turn as well.