Film Review: The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Release Date: August 16th, 1985
Directed by: Dan O’Bannon
Written by: John Russo, Rudy Ricci, Russell Streiner, Dan O’Bannon
Music by: Matt Clifford, Francis Haines
Cast: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Linnea Quigley

Hemdale Film Corporation, A Greenberg Brothers Partnership, Orion Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, there’s a bunch of people from the cemetery who are stark, staring, mad, and they’ll kill you and eat you if they catch you. It’s like a disease. It’s like rabies, only faster, a lot faster. That’s why you’ve got to come and get us out of here now… right now!” – Burt Wilson

There are very few movies as awesome as The Return of the Living Dead. It is, hands down, the greatest zombie comedy ever put to celluloid… sorry, Shaun of the Dead. It is also balls to the wall insane from beginning to end while being full of punk teens, great older actors and the best zombie hoard in the history of motion pictures.

Like Dawn of the Dead, which was George A. Romero’s sequel to Night of the Living Dead, this film is also a sequel (in a way), as John A. Russo was the other half of the creative duo that gave birth to that original film back in 1968.

The Return of the Living Dead is an alternate continuity to Romero’s Living Dead universe, though. In fact, the original film is mentioned in this picture, as it is a movie that exists within this alternate timeline. However, the movie is referenced and casually dismissed as a Hollywood version of the “real story”. This film continues off of that original story, which is established in a conversation between two of the characters very early on.

The reason for the split continuities, is that Romero and Russo had creative differences over the property. Romero even went as far as to send Russo a cease and desist order over this film, which effected the marketing but ultimately, didn’t stop the film from being released and spawning its own sequels.

Romero purists will probably hate me for saying this but this is my favorite Living Dead film. It is also my favorite zombie picture. I wouldn’t say that it is the greatest, as far as overall artistry is concerned, but it is the one that I watch the most and have the largest amount of appreciation for. The film is just fucking cool and that is really an understatement.

Initially, Russo wrote a Return of the Living Dead novel and shopped it around Hollywood to be adapted. At one point, Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre 1 & 2Poltergeist, The Funhouse) was slated to direct the film but that fell through. Ultimately, what we got was this, which is better than what the Hooper film probably would have been.

In this film, we quickly learn that zombies don’t die by destroying their brains. The zombies can be dismembered, have their heads knocked off and still keep coming. They’re essentially impossible to kill. At one point, they cremate a pile of animated zombie parts. However, the smoke from the crematorium goes up into the clouds, which rain onto the graveyard, reanimating the dead. There really isn’t an effective way to kill the zombies, which makes the threat in this film, infinitely worse. Not to mention the fact that they move with speed and want to eat human brains.

I know that they don’t give out Oscars for pictures like these but James Karen put on a performance that was legendary. He was a hilarious and useless doofus that accidentally set the zombie threat free. All he did from that point forward was freak out and whine but he did it with such believable gusto that it is impossible not to be captivated by his absurd character and to love the scenes that he’s in.

We also get Miguel A. Núñez Jr. in my favorite role that he ever played. He’s a punk rocker that kind of acts like a damsel in distress but it works. Linnea Quigley also shows up, gets butt naked and dances on a tomb because this is the kind of stuff she was best known for. It is also her most memorable role, in my opinion. Don Calfa, probably best known as the killer in Weekend At Bernie’s is the guy who works at the crematorium and he’s also fantastic in this. Clu Gulager is perfect as the no nonsense older alpha male lead; Thom Mathews, one of the Tommy Jarvises in the Friday the 13th film series, pulls his weight too.

This film, for what it is, is absolutely perfect, which is why I have to give it the highest score possible. I used to love watching this when it rotated in and out of Joe Bob Briggs’ MonsterVision on TNT back in the 90s but nothing beats watching the unedited non-television version. How else are you going to see the beautiful gore and Ms. Quigley’s glorious breasties? Her bum is quite exceptional too, for the record.

The Return of the Living Dead could make a case for being the coolest movie of all-time. It probably isn’t for everyone but for kids who grew up watching horror in the 80s, this thing is a friggin’ masterpiece.

Plus, it features music from The Cramps, who were the most perfect band to feature in this film. It was tailor made for their tunes.

Film Review: Night of the Demons (1988)

Release Date: October 14th, 1988
Directed by: Kevin S. Tenney
Written by: Joe Augustyn
Music by: Dennis Michael Tenney
Cast: William Gallo, Hal Havins, Amelia Kinkade, Cathy Podewell, Linnea Quigley

Paragon Arts International, Republic Pictures, International Film Marketing, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 87 Minutes

Review:

“Eat a bowl of fuck! I am here to PARTY!” – Stooge

I’ve never been a huge fan of this 80s horror picture. While it does have its fans and it went on to have sequels and a remake, it just never hit the mark for me.

Night of the Demons feels like someone wanted to make their own version of Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead mixed with Lamberto Bava’s Demons with an added in teen sex comedy element. That’s not a bad mixture, really, but the film feels cheap and like a retread without much of anything new to offer.

Plus, the demons look so repulsive and off putting that it is almost a distraction. At least Bava’s Demons had amazing style and was more creative with its visual repulsiveness.

The makeup is pretty good, considering the quality of the rest of this film’s special effects. However, the demon dragon skeleton thing looks like a character from The Muppets, even if it is supposed to be the embodiment of pure evil. It’s an awful monster that looks as if it were constructed by some kid that didn’t know how to assemble one of those wooden dinosaur bone puzzles. Also, everything else looks just as amateurish.

The cinematography, the shots, the lighting – it’s all bad.

The acting doesn’t get any better than the rest of the film’s faults and really, you don’t care for a single person in this mess of a film.

The only really cool thing with the picture was the main girl dressing up like Alice from Alice In Wonderland. It helped to give the film an otherworldly vibe and the girl felt like a real fish out of water except it was Alice in Hell instead of Wonderland.

I also liked the use of Bauhaus’ “Stigmata Martyr” when Angela was transforming into a demon with her strange dance.

Also, Linnea Quigley is in this so boobies are guaranteed. But she’s the biggest star, which goes to show the quality of talent in front of the camera.

Night of the Demons is a forgettable film, other than it pushing the bar with its repulsiveness.

Film Review: Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1994)

Release Date: October 19th, 1994
Directed by: Jeff Burr
Written by: Constantine Chachornia, Ivan Chachornia
Music by: Jim Manzie
Cast: Andrew Robinson, Ami Dolenz, Soleil Moon Frye, J. Trevor Edmond, Hill Harper, Alexander Polinsky, Linnea Quigley, Mark McCracken, Steve Kanaly, Roger Clinton Jr., Kane Hodder, Gloria Hendry, Joe Unger

Motion Picture Corporation of America, Live Entertainment, 88 Minutes

Review:

“You will die! You all will die! Miss Osie curses every one of you to the vengeance of Pumpkinhead!” – Miss Osie

Pumpkinhead is a solid late 80s horror flick. Its straight-to-video 1994 sequel is not solid. Well, at the very least, the monster still looks damn cool and he still rips people to shreds.

Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings does stay afloat but that is mainly due to its interesting ensemble cast. You have Andrew Robinson, who was damn good in Hellraiser, as the police chief. You also have Ami Dolenz, who I really just like to look at because she is mesmerizing. Then there are a couple 80s sitcom stars, Soliel Moon Frye (Punky Brewster) and Alexander Polinsky (Charles In Charge). You even have small parts given to Kane Hodder (the best Jason Voorhees from the Friday the 13th film franchise) and Gloria Hendry, who kicked ass in several 1970s blaxploitation movies. I also can’t forget scream queen Linnea Quigley and her famous boobs.

The problem with Pumpkinhead II is that it disregards the first film completely and just does its own thing. However, apparently the mutant kid that becomes the new Pumpkinhead in this movie was the illegitimate bastard son of the first Pumpkinhead and some insane girl that had sex with him. She was probably raped though, honestly. Then again, I knew this Craigslist hooker that lived in my complex and she probably would have given up the ass to Pumpkinhead for a drive to K-Mart and a big bag of Skittles.

Anyway, this movie doesn’t totally suck, it’s just lame that it didn’t continue on from the first one. The sequels after this are more direct sequels to the original but I haven’t seen those yet.

Pumpkinhead II sees the monster brought up from the grave of a dead mutant looking kid. He is summoned by a witch that wants revenge for the people who wronged the boy in the 1950s and for the kids who let her house burn down.

I have to give props to the creature effects. Even though Stan Winston wasn’t involved in this, as he was very involved with the first, the new team did a better than decent job at keeping the monster awesome. He looked the same and even got to move around a bit more. This version of Pumpkinhead was just more mobile and not as limited as the original. This made for better action and more versatile shots, where in the first film, they had to shoot it in a way that hid the monster’s limitations.

While the story and the action aren’t bad, this chapter in the series just doesn’t measure up to the first one. It’s not a waste of time and it is enjoyable if these kind of movies are your cup of tea. It is better than most pointless horror sequels and it had a decent cast. Although, I really just want to check out the third and fourth film to see if they right the ship.

Film Review: Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Release Date: November 9th, 1984
Directed by: Charles E. Sellier Jr.
Written by: Michael Hickey, Paul Caimi
Music by: Perry Botkin
Cast: Lilyan Chauvin, Gilmer McCormick, Toni Nero, Robert Brian Wilson, Linnea Quigley

Slayride, TriStar Pictures, 79 Minutes (Theatrical), 85 Minutes (Unrated Cut)

silentnightdeadlynightReview:

Silent Night, Deadly Night isn’t the first slasher film to take place on Christmas. It also isn’t the first to have a killer with the name Billy. Black Christmas had all of that before this movie. Black Christmas is also a better film. But that doesn’t mean that Silent Night, Deadly Night isn’t a waste of time. It is actually pretty damn enjoyable.

As a young boy, Billy is told by his crazy grandfather that Santa Claus will punish those who are naughty. Later that night, his family is killed by a robber dressed as Santa. He then goes through the rest of his childhood in an orphanage where the Mother Superior punishes those who are naughty. Billy also has developed a great fear of Santa Claus. As an adult, he overcomes his fear when he becomes the Santa in a toy store. After witnessing some coworkers being “naughty” he decides to “punish” them. The rest of the film sees Billy, dressed as Santa, killing everyone he deems as “naughty”. He also just yells out “Punish!” and “Naughty!” as he kills his victims.

The film isn’t a classic but it is decent as a mid-80s slasher movie. None of the kills are all that fantastic and some of them are completely nonsensical. Also, his ability to separate the naughty from the nice is horrible and he pretty much kills those that make things more convenient for his reign of terror.

The acting is bad, the cinematography is inconsistent, the picture quality drastically changes from shot to shot and the special effects aren’t good at all. Furthermore, the filmmakers didn’t understand the basics of physics. There is a scene where Billy strangles a coworker with Christmas lights by holding him in the air with just one arm. Billy is not a hulking beast like Jason Voorhees, he is just some scrawny white dude. There are a few other physics faux pas but that one stood out the most.

Plus, there are scenes that just don’t make sense. For instance, a cop shoots a priest multiple times in the back because he’s dressed like Santa Claus. Then the cop, as well as the nuns and kids who witnessed it, just brush it off as the cop goes off to keep doing his job.

Silent Night, Deadly Night is strange. The main reason is because it isn’t a good movie but for some reason, I really like it. Maybe it is due to how flawed it is or maybe it is because I’d just like to see more horror Christmas films. Don’t watch the sequels though, they are complete shit with no redeeming qualities. And somehow, there are five of these movies.