For the last four years, Alamo Drafthouse programmer Zack Carlson has hosted a late-night horror movie celebration called Terror Tuesday and if you are a lover of horror, both esoterically brilliantly and obscurely awful, this night was invented just for you. The Terror Tuesday Report will dissect the movie shown as well as provide a barometer for the audience's reaction; as many of these films demand to be seen with an audience, this proves a vital component to the evening.
This week's film: 'The Return of the Living Dead' directed by Dan O'Bannon, 1985
Freddy just started working at a medical supply warehouse. His friends, perpetually in search of a party, come to collect him at the close of his first day to kick off yet another evening of debauchery. Having arrived too early, the colorful bunch decide to wait out the remainder of Freddy's shift cavorting in a dilapidated cemetery. Meanwhile, Freddy's boss weaves him a yarn about experimental military chemicals bringing corpses back to life and how the discarded concoction somehow found its way to the basement of their own facility. As you can expect, these lovable dunces end up getting doused with the chemical in gaseous form and, while trying to dispose of the evidence of their idiocy, release the chemical into the sky which, wouldn't you know it, falls back to the Earth as acid rain. But when the rain seeps into the hallowed ground of the cemetery, the party Freddy's friends so desperately sought receives a horde of uninvited, undead guests.
'Return of the Living Dead' is a true classic from a variety of perspectives. On a purely surface level, the film is a remarkably clever horror comedy. 'Return of the Living Dead' offers no shortage of playful overzealouness, which fuels the laughter with no problem. The characters are broadly drawn but each contains at least one redeeming quality that makes them run the gamut from ironically entertaining to genuinely likable. The antics of the hapless warehouse workers are farcical gems and the Murphy's Law comedy (everything that could possibly wrong indeed goes wrong) never feels redundant or tiring. Writer/Director Dan O'Bannon (co-writer of the classic 'Alien') weaves a chewy tapestry of purposefully silly dialogue and absurd situational humor that elevates the flick's deceptively campy exterior.
On an unsung level, 'Return of the Living Dead' is a loving, if hilariously inaccurate, celebration of punk culture. This is most obviously represented in the broad-stroke background characters who seethe with new wave apathy and punker angst. The leader of the gang, Suicide, is adorned in so many chains as to make him the Jacob Marley of hoodlum set. Well-constructed scream queen Linnea Quigley plays a fiery, pink-coiffed biscuit who's as obsessed with death as she is with rebelling against her stifling wardrobe. Her eventual return as a powdery, snake-jawed, and still very nude zombie is the film's crown jewel moment. (What I love most about this crew is that there is no logical reason for its inclusion of sweet, naive Freddy or his preppy, straight-laced girlfriend.)
But the other punk influence on the film is far more understated. 'Return of the Living Dead', while treading gently on the name of George A. Romero's seminal 1968 film, breaks new ground in the zombie subgenre, and ultimately became retroactive canon for the zombie construct. Ask Joe Schmo on the corner to fire off a short list of words associated with zombies and its more-than-likely "brains" will enjoy high purchase on that list. Prior to 'Return of the Living Dead' zombies craved the flesh of the living but never specifically sought sustenance from the rich cerebral nougat of our skull candy shells. O'Bannon created a film in which the bucking of established standards for zombie cinema echoed the raucous individualism of the punker characters and of the punk movement altogether. Does it work as a perfect mirror to the movement? No, but behind its amusingly quirky caricatures is a bold new approach that captures the flirts with an identical spirit.
This week marked another memorable return as our beloved frontman Zack Carlson returned from his month-long sabbatical to once again host the evening's madness. Zack, along with movie geek titan Brian Connolly, has just published a book entitled 'Destroy All Movies: The Complete Guide to Punks on Film' and used tonight's film as a unique bridge between the familiar spectacle of Terror Tuesday and the book's subject matter. I highly recommend purchasing this book. It is an unchained, staggeringly comprehensive reference to Hollywood's tumultuous, uneducated relationship with youth anti-culture that is also a hilariously fun read. Zack sported a leather vest and chains and kicked off the evening getting drenched in green slime which granted the perfect luster to both this week's film and the communal response to his return.