If there is one thing I’ve grown tired of lately, it’s the fan base of everyone’s favorite horror icon, the zombie. Since my horror craze started a bit later in my life, I was late at grasping the concept that at some point in time zombies were not annoying– they were terrifying. How was I suppose to know that before zombies became memorabilia for teenage horror fans, they were vehicles of social commentary? Who would have told me that once, long ago, zombies were not punch lines but actual walking corpses that managed to chill the blood of anyone watching? Luckily it doesn’t take a whole lot to learn these startling facts. A copy of Romero’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, or even Fulci’s ZOMBI 2 is enough to help you understand that zombies had a history and a life before they were downgraded to a joke.
well, the zombies I guess, for eating up every single piece of zombie hysteria that was thrown at them.
One would think that being a modern day zombie hater, would mean that by default, I would hate the grandaddy of all zombie comedies–RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Don’t worry, I thought it too. I expected to roll my eyes at the joking and glorifying of the zombie race but instead, I grew interested. In the short time span that I’ve held RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD in my hands I have watched it about 3 times. Not because I was instantly taken with it, but because I respected it and wanted to understand why it didn’t fall victim to my automatic hate of zombies.
As far as I can tell, the main reason that RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD does not fall prey to its expected outcome is for the same reason I came to like it—it has respect. It’s quite easy to determine that the makers of the film have an appreciation and a respect for zombies that seems missed by most modern filmmakers today. Perhaps the most obvious way it does this is by keeping the zombies scary. There are moments in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD that have me wincing with semi-embarrassed fear. My favorite being when the paramedics turn on the headlights to find an eerily motionless horde of zombies starring back at them.
Today it is common for the opposite to happen, as people start insinuating that zombies are just slow dead people and their only threat is their large number. Yes it’s very funny when a stumbling zombie ambles through the doorway and Mr. Tough Guy shoots him in the head as a mere afterthought. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD however gives us grown men screaming their heads off and falling apart at the very idea of sawing off a dead guy’s head. Additionally, it barely has one instance where the living people are shown overcoming the dead. It’s always the dead in complete and mass control of their surroundings.
It’s harsh man, but in my opinion–the truth. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD exemplifies this principle perfectly. There’s no burly hero, or even a shot of someone getting the better of the zombie. There is hopelessness and of course eventual resignation which solidifies the great amount of respect that the film has for zombies. Zombies aren’t the joke at all–our false sense of strength and intellectual capabilities are.
While I may have been dubious of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD’S appeal at first, I have eventually come to realize its greatness. Yes, Trash may dance naked in a graveyard,
and sometimes the zombies say silly things—
but through all of this, the film never looses sight of its initial inspiration-the zombie genre. Its respect is evident in more ways than one and it has me fully prepared to admit that the more realistic account of the zombie apocalypse is not NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD at all—it’s THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, as much as our inner hero doesn’t want to admit.