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The MFF 2020 Mid-Year Random Awards: A Celebration of Sandwiches, Dancing and Eyeball Explosions

July 5, 2020

The MFF random awards are back, and this edition is covering the first half of 2020 cinema! It’s been an odd year for movies as the pandemic has delayed dozens of releases, and allowed smaller films to thrive on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and VOD. The good news is we’ve had zero problems coming up with the creative awards that you’ve been accustomed to since 2011, because there’s been copious amounts of fun films that gave us some excellent material.

Sit back, relax and enjoy the randomness! Also, make sure to listen to the latest MFF podcast that celebrates all things 2020 and random.

Best Usage of TrianglesGretel and Hansel

The Oz Perkins (The Blackcoat’s Daughter) directed film features a plethora of triangles. You will love it.

Best Punches to the back of the headIp Man 4: The Final Fight

I can now say that I’ve seen Donnie Yen fight Scott Adkins in a movie.

Most Stylish Running The Gentlemen

Charlie Hunnam is excellent in The Gentlemen, and he does some A+ running.

Best dancing in a Vietnam barda Five Bloods

Before things get explosive, director Spike Lee does a great job of creating joy.

Best flour fightBloodshot

Bloodshot is an underrated action film, check out this badass flour fight.

Best BadassThe Hunt

Betty Gilpin is really good in The Hunt. Her character is one of my favorite 2020 movie characters.

Best Hallway Fight The Invisible Man

Between Upgrade and The Invisible Man, director Leigh Whannel has created some excellent action set pieces.

Best Henchman SquishBad Boys for Life

Start the clip at the 2:00 minute mark and you’ll see a most excellent henchman squish.

Best Usage of an Unseemly Amount of Rocket launchers EXTRACTION

There are so many rocket launchers in Extraction.

Best eyeball explosionSea Fever

Sea Fever is an excellent film that features a GIGANTIC sea creature. It also features eyeballs exploding – it’s great.

Best Head SquishVFW

VFW is an incredibly violent film that features some glorious smashing of heads. Start the clip at the 2:00 minute mark to see what I mean.

Best Grenade Award Fantasy Island

Grenades play a very important role in Fantasy Island.

Best Cumbersome and Cool Looking Suits Underwater

The suits in Underwater reportedly weighed 100 pounds, and their bulk looked pretty neat onscreen.

Best Skiing Impersonation Sonic the Hedgehog

Jim Carrey is really good in Sonic the Hedgehog. Watch the clip, you’ll see some old school Carrey physicality.

This award is courtesy of David Cross. Make sure to check out The Award Wieners Movie Review Podcast.

Best Arbitrary Abstract Structure in a Snowy Wasteland: the (probably hallucinated) cross-shaped “house”The Lodge

The building is super obvious, but it works because it’s so on the nose. The Lodge is a lot of fun. Thank you Jonny Numb for the award!

Best Use of a Breakfast Sandwich as a Plot Catalyst Birds of Prey

I really want to eat the sandwich. Who cares if the cheese is way too old.

Best Bill Nighy Usage AwardEmma

Bill Nighy is very good in Emma, the movie uses him perfectly.

Best Cave Singing – The Trip to Greece

I’d listen to Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon sing in caves for hours. I love The Trip to Greece.

Best Movie to Watch if You’ve Hurt Your Back and are Stuck Lying on the Couch AwardEurovision Song contest: The Story of Fire.

Thank you John Leavengood for this award!

John’s Horror Corner: Return of the Living Dead 3 (1993), the masochistic zombie love story you never knew you needed in your life.

July 3, 2020

MY CALL: This film is to Return of the Living Dead (1985) what A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) is to A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Yes, I said it! It’s the Dream Warriors of the franchise; the best sequel the series has to offer by a landslide of brains tumbling down the mountainside. MORE MOVIES LIKE Return of the Living Dead 3: For more horror love stories, try Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), Let the Right One In (2008) or Crimson Peak (2015).

For this third installment to the franchise, the military continues to refer to the incident in 1969 and the cadavers in canister-like drums, perhaps the only points of continuity linking any of the movies together. But this sequel makes no accident of the unleashed zombie outbreak. Led by Colonel Reynolds (Kent McCord; Predator 2), the military continues the research referenced in past movies by deliberately reanimating zombies. Naturally, these experiments get out of hand and people die deaths as gruesome as the franchise has yet offered.

Unlike its predecessors, there are no comedic elements to this movie. With director Brian Yuzna (Society, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead, Faust, Bride of Re-Animator) in charge, you know the gory effects will be abundant and chunky! The first death is a testament to this as a scientist’s head is slammed against a wall a dozen times until the back of his head looks like a burst pinata!

The zombie latex effects are really engaging. A preposterously gross zombie tears itself asunder from its fused contorted form; another zombie missing the top of his head with his scrambled brains bare; there’s a Henrietta-inspired long-necked zombie and the long-necked shenanigans are awesome; steam melts the faces off some of them; there’s a friendly yet monstrous mecha-zombie; and Julie gives herself a provocative Cenobite makeover. It’s delightful.

At odds with his father with devastated by the death of his girlfriend in a motorcycle accident, teenager Curt Reynolds (J. Trevor Edmond; Lord of Illusions, Pumpkinhead II) tries to save Julie (Melinda Clarke; Killer Tongue) using the reanimation procedure involving the cadaver canister gas. The experiment works! Well, it sort of works. With her body slowly doing and her hunger for brains unbearable, Julie masochistically discovers that pain is her only relief—and that pain can be tough to watch as she pierces her skin with whatever implements she finds lying around while they flee the police and the military.

At this point, yes, Curt’s girlfriend is slowly turning into a zombie and eating flesh. And yes, even in undeath she blames him for her suffering. But somehow this doesn’t feel as campy or ridiculous as you’d think. Their emotional connection is palpable. Curt suffers as he watches Julie suffer and, losing her will to live, she is as emotionally fragile as ever… and we viewers really feel for both of them. As her turning progresses and her pain augments, she loses control. She needs Curt to help end her torment; she begs for it. When Julie pleas “don’t leave me,” I’ve never felt so much sympathy for a zombie.

This movie is to Return of the Living Dead (1985) what A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987) is to A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Yes, I said it! It’s the Dream Warriors of the franchise; the best sequel the series has to offer by a landslide. And I don’t care that Melinda Clarke spends a shocking amount of screen time topless. It’s done with a straight face and I refuse to call this campy or raunchy or cheap. Clarke did a fantastic job with her role.

There are those who may call this movie dumb, but I’d ask them to defrost their cold hearts and give this another chance. I’m not gonna’ lie. I get a bit choked up at the end. This is no epic love story. But for a “part 3” horror movie, it’s as powerful of a love story as you’ll find and it’s far better than any “part 3” deserves to be. It just might tug at your heart strings before it snaps at your skull for your brain. Enjoy…

John’s Horror Corner: Death Ship (1980), definitely my least favorite haunted boat film.

July 2, 2020

MY CALL: I was hoping for something so bad it’s good. I just got bad… very bad and very boring. MORE MOVIES LIKE Death Ship: Looking for much better horror at sea? Try Uninvited (1988), Deep Rising (1998), Virus (1999), Ghost Ship (2002), Harbinger Down (2015) or Sea Fever (2019) for above water horrors; Underwater (2020), The Rift (1990), Deepstar Six (1989), Leviathan (1989) and, although all Sci-fi and no horror, I’d still strongly recommend The Abyss (1989) for submerged horrors; and Cold Skin (2017) or The Bay (2012) for horror with a view of the water.

Despite the incredibly similar poster used in Ghost Ship (2002), the internet has assured me the films are not related. And that’s a shame because I actually liked Ghost Ship (2002). Wish I could say the same about this…

Leading the last cruise of his lackluster career, Captain Ashland (George Kennedy; Demonwarp, Uninvited, The Terror Within, Just Before Dawn) finds some unwelcome excitement when an unmanned freighter catastrophically crashes into his cruise ship. A handful of cruise survivors on a raft find their way to the time-forgotten freighter only to discover the vessel is completely unmanned.

Shortly after boarding, this “death ship” decides to let us know it means murderous business. The cruise entertainer Jackie (Saul Rubinek; Hunters, Santa’s Slay) is dropped overboard and dies in the ship’s propeller… and this is shown to us in the most boring way possible… as in, not at all. Where’s the blood, the severed limbs, the thrashing? Oh, dear. This is not the gory B-movie for which I had hoped.

The menace of this ghostly autonomous ship is not very convincing. It behaves in convoluted ways, almost like a Shoots & Ladders™ manner of building to the first kill (which is disappointingly entirely off-screen and shows nothing of the results), and does things that seem very defeatable to kill its passengers. Essentially, ropes and hook-pulleys swing around and knock into people, and doors and levers move on their own. It’s beyond tame; it’s a bore.

Ashland is somehow possessed by the Nazi warship via German whispers of Nazi ghosts… and it’s still boring. This is the worst haunted ship ever. The most exciting scene in the movie is also the most gratuitous: a shower scene in which it rains blood on an entrapped woman.

I absolutely never want to see this again.

The MFF Podcast #286: The 2020 Mid-Year Random Awards

July 2, 2020

You can download the pod on Apple PodcastsTune In,  Podbean, or Spreaker (or wherever you listen to podcasts…..we’re almost everywhere).

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

The MFF podcast is back, and we’re bringing you the 2020 Mid-Year Random Awards! We unleashed the Random Awards onto the world for the first time in 2010, and since then they’ve become an institution of our site. We had a great time putting together these awards, and despite the lack of theatrical releases, we had an easy time coming up with a bunch of funky awards. In this episode, we give awards to Bloodshot, The Half of It, Underwater, da Five Bloods and more! Enjoy!

We love Underwater and the massive suits

If you are a fan of the podcast, make sure to send in some random listener questions so we can do our best to not answer them correctly. We thank you for listening, and hope you enjoy the episode!

You can download the pod on Apple PodcastsTune In,  Podbean,or Spreaker.

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

Bill Nighy should be in everything.

John’s Horror Corner: Bride of Re-Animator (1990), the wildly gory bonkers sequel that is somehow even nuts than the original.

June 30, 2020

MY CALL: Definitely a more gory and much more zany follow-up to the original. So if you enjoyed Re-Animator (1985), I’d recommend continuing the romantic blood-and-gutsy story. MORE MOVIES LIKE Bride of Re-Animator: Looking for more love stories gone-wrong via reanimation? Try The Bride (1985), Frankenhooker (1990) or Return of the Living Dead part 3 (1993).

MORE LOVECRAFTIAN HORROR MOVIES:  For more Lovecraftian adaptations, try Screamers (1979; aka Island of the Fishmen, Something Waits in the Dark and L’isola degli uomini pesce), Re-Animator (1985), From Beyond (1986), The Unnamable (1988), The Unnamable 2: The Statement of Randolph Carter (1992), The Resurrected (1991), Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993), Lurking Fear (1994), Dagon (2001), Dreams in the Witch-House (2005), Color Out of Space (2019) and The Dunwich Horror (1970). And although not specifically of Lovecraftian origins, his influence is most palpable in Prince of Darkness (1987), In the Mouth of Madness (1994), The Void (2016), The Shrine (2010), Baskin (2015), Cold Skin (2017)—most of which are on the more gruesome side to varying degrees.

Continuing 1985’s plot based on H. P. Lovecraft’s story “Herbert West, Re-Animator,” director Brian Yuzna (Society, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead, Faust, Return of the Living Dead III)—returning after producing part 1—follows in the footsteps of former director Stuart Gordon (Dolls, The Pit and the Pendulum, Dagon, King of the Ants, Re-Animator). And likewise returning with his impish scoring is Richard Band (Parasite, Mutant, Ghoulies, Puppet Master, Re-Animator) and his feisty style a la Danny Elfman meets Beetlejuice (1988).

When we left medical student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs; Necronomicon: Book of the Dead, Would You RatherThe FrightenersLurking FearCellar Dweller) in 1985, he was being violently suffocated to death by Dr. Hill’s (David Gale; Re-Animator, The Brain, The Guyver) animated intestines as his classmate Dan Cain (Bruce Abbott; Re-Animator) fled through a hallway of naked zombies to try to save his fiancée Megan (Barbara Crampton; Beyond the GatesYou’re NextLords of SalemChopping MallWe Are Still Here)… save her with West’s reagent, that is.

We pick up eight months later as Doctors West and Cain serve as military medics overseas. I have no idea how they avoided prison or a psych ward after the events of part 1 at their medical school… which apparently still held graduation on time despite the deaths of the dean, his daughter and the school’s star professor. In some tropical war-torn country, they have further developed the reagent using recently deceased soldiers and, apparently, iguanas.

This sequel continues the next chapter to befall the Miskatonic Hospital in Arkham, Massachusetts once the two ill-fated physicians return. An investigator is looking into the death of Dr. Hill, the Miskatonic pathologist knows something pathologically strange is going on regarding the once-reanimated cadavers, Dan is falling for a couple women while still pining for his lost Megan, and West is animating adorable little Claymation fingers-and-eyeball creations.

The blood is abundant and the finger-eye critter Claymation is really kinda’ cute. I loved watching it scurry around the living room while the detective was interrogating the doctors. Meanwhile, West capitalizes on Dan’s interest in their fellow overseas veteran Francesca (Fabiana Udenio; In the Army Now, RoboCop 2) and his terminally ill yet attractive patient Gloria (Kathleen Kinmont; Halloween 4).

This sequel is abundantly more humorous than its predecessor, and the gore and effects celebrate its next-level lunacy. This wanders into Frankenhooker (1990) territory with animated legs and feet stitched together kicking someone in the face, a dog comically stitched with a human hand grabbing at you for a jump scare, a flying severed head with bat wings (yes, that actually happens!), and the psychotically amorous macabre bride of Frankenstein who rips out her own heart to present it to her would-be lover before going to pieces. This may not be of the “classic” quality of part 1, but it’s every bit as fun to watch even though I’d admittedly revisit it less frequently than the original.

This movie ends much as the first, with the fate of Herbest West seemingly hopeless when a crypt collapses over him as he is being swarmed by his own malformed miscreations. God, I love these movies.

The MFF Podcast #285: Congo, Sesame Cake, and Bruce Campbell

June 30, 2020

You can download the pod on Apple PodcastsTune In,  Podbean, or Spreaker (or wherever you listen to podcasts…..we’re almost everywhere).

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

The MFF podcast is back, and this week we’re joined by Jay Cluitt (Life vs. Film) to discuss the 1995 action film Congo. Directed by Frank Marshall, and starring Laura Linney, Ernie Hudson and Tim Curry, this bonkers film tells the story of a group of people dealing with man-eating hippos, sesame cake, and deadly gorillas who’ve been trained to defend a lost city filled with diamonds. In this episode, we discuss the excellent Stan Winston creatures, martinis, and the greatness of Ernie Hudson.

If you are a fan of the podcast make sure to send in some random listener questions so we can do our best to not answer them correctly. We thank you for listening, and hope you enjoy the episode!

You can download the pod on Apple PodcastsTune In,  Podbean,or Spreaker.

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

John’s Horror Corner: Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988), pales compared to the outstanding original which it basically reimagines.

June 28, 2020

MY CALL: This is basically more of the same yet not nearly as good as 1985’s original, which it basically remakes in the same vein as Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead II (1987). The only notable improvement is in the zombie special effects. MORE MOVIES LIKE Return of the Living Dead II: First off, just make sure you see Return of the Living Dead (1985). Looking for more gory 70s-80s zombie fare? Try Dawn of the Dead (1978), Zombie (1979), City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), Day of the Dead (1985), Re-Animator (1985) and Flesh Eating Mothers (1988).

Not really acknowledging that part I ever happened (at least, not clearly other than the arrival of the military), this second installment of our chemically-induced zombie franchise continues to blame the brain-craving wave of reanimation on the army’s experiments in biological warfare.

Our undead menace is unearthed when some kids find one of the army’s cadaver barrels and release the toxic gas near a cemetery. Then, like part I (but not as tactfully executed), it rains and the chemicals in the contaminated precipitation reanimate the buried corpses.

Returning but not reprising their roles of Frank and Freddy from part I, James Karen (Poltergeist, The Unborn, The Willies, Girlfriend from Hell) and Thom Mathews (Friday the 13th part VI) play the very looney grave diggers Ed and Joey… and boy are they hamming it up for our amusement. Also reprising his role from part I is Jonathan Terry (Return of the Living Dead, Halloween III) as the army colonel behind the whole cadaver canister debacle.

Our first zombie does honor to the “tar man” (and is cast by the same name) by being the slimiest thing this franchise has seen so far. In general, all zombies in this sequel have received a latex effects upgrade complete with bony visages and rotting cheeks. The special effects are really the only franchise improvement. We enjoy an extremely gross, green-gooey punch to a caved-in face; wriggling earthworms in the face; a lower jaw being ripped out; and a zombie being shot in half at the waist.

These zombies are even more intelligent and communicative than in part I. They even sprint… sometimes. Like most zombie movies, their locomotive abilities seem to vary from scene to scene with some being rickety stumblers and others adroit runners. Oh, and watch out for the Thriller zombie.

In many ways, this feels like a pseudo-remake of part I (much in the manner of Evil Dead II). These films all use some of the same cast, do not acknowledge their respective part I predecessors, and enjoy a healthy does of humor interspersed with grossness. James Karen’s whiny humor is a nonsensical delight, and both Karen and Mathews again undergo a slow turning process as their bodies die. These guys whine like cartoon characters to such extent that some may find it as annoying as laughable. But I rather enjoyed how it wallowed in its own lunacy.

Overall, I find part II quite inferior to part I in all ways imaginable except for the quality of the visual effects. The zombies look much better here, but the story doesn’t go anywhere new or interesting. It’s been a loooong time since I’d seen this and, I gotta’ say, this is the first time I recall not being impressed by it. I mean, it’s an alright thing to watch and I enjoyed it for the nostalgia it tendered. But it’s nothing special… not anymore. I’m afraid director Dan O’Bannon (The Resurrected, Return of the Living Dead) left some big shoes to fill, and part II’s writer and director Ken Wiederhorn (Dark Tower, Shock Waves, Freddy’s Nightmares) is like a 9-year old trying on his father’s over-sized slippers; it’s endearing, but it’s just not going to work as well as you’d hope. I’d say the same about the ending.

John’s Horror Corner: Re-Animator (1985), among the very best Lovecraft adaptations with excellent gore and performances alike.

June 27, 2020

MY CALL: This film continues to impress me even today. The entire cast really went for it, the writing and direction were on point, and the effects and gore are so memorable. Can’t recommend this enough! MORE MOVIES LIKE Re-Animator: Looking for more funny yet still gory zombie movies (i.e., zombedies)? Try Night of the Comet (1984), Return of the Living Dead (1985), Night of the Creeps (1986) and Dead Alive (1992).

MORE LOVECRAFTIAN HORROR MOVIES:  For more Lovecraftian adaptations, try Screamers (1979; aka Island of the Fishmen, Something Waits in the Dark and L’isola degli uomini pesce), From Beyond (1986), The Unnamable (1988), The Unnamable 2: The Statement of Randolph Carter (1992), The Resurrected (1991), Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993), Lurking Fear (1994), Dagon (2001), Dreams in the Witch-House (2005), Color Out of Space (2019) and The Dunwich Horror (1970). And although not specifically of Lovecraftian origins, his influence is most palpable in Prince of Darkness (1987), In the Mouth of Madness (1994), The Void (2016), The Shrine (2010), Baskin (2015), Cold Skin (2017)—most of which are on the more gruesome side to varying degrees.

Based on H. P. Lovecraft’s story “Herbert West, Re-Animator,” director Stuart Gordon (Dolls, The Pit and the Pendulum, Dagon, King of the Ants) and producer Brian Yuzna (Bride of Re-Animator, Society, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead) form a perfect team for this gory yet often sickly funny delight. The fleshy effects are full-tilt from scene one as a screaming man’s pulsating eyes burst blood as he is clearly dying the worst of possible deaths. Then the opening credits grace us with impishly energetic scoring by Richard Band (Parasite, Mutant, Ghoulies, Puppet Master) (very much Danny Elfman meets Beetlejuice) with all the wonderful mood-setting hand-drawn anatomical illustrations of a crudely barbaric medical era. Even the colors of the credit imagery breathe animated life into a normally limp stage of a film.

And about as Lovecraftian as it gets, our story takes place at the Miskatonic Medical School is Arkham, Massachusetts. Medical student Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs; Necronomicon: Book of the Dead, Would You RatherThe FrightenersLurking FearCellar Dweller) transfers from Zurich and brings with him some radical research ideas that will change modern medicine forever. West recruits the interest of his classmate Dan (Bruce Abbott; Bride of Re-Animator) to assist him in his bizarre Frankensteinian medical experiments to bring life to dead tissue. Dan’s girlfriend Megan (Barbara Crampton; Beyond the GatesYou’re NextLords of SalemChopping MallWe Are Still Here) wisely doesn’t trust West one bit.

Most disapproving (and disbelieving) of West’s position on tissue re-animation, Dr. Hill (David Gale; Bride of Re-Animator, The Brain, The Guyver) and the Dean (Robert Sampson; The Dark Side of the Moon, Netherworld, City of the Living Dead) are instant adversaries to his work.

Every use of the reagent finds messier and messier results. The first re-animations of the cat are brutal and gory and mean (and kind of funny), followed by the first human trial of a very large man who is animated into a feral veiny murderous rage until West bone-saws a hole through his back and out his chest. We eventually graduate to the iconic severed head reanimation (which actually predates that of Bishop in Aliens), and of course the bloody murder that led to it, along with a lot of headless body shenanigans, squishy juicy head smushing, mass ugly zombie hysteria, zombie sexual assault, naked spastic zombie antics, and all sorts of bloody chunky drooling. But my favorite was when the intestines erupted from a body and attacked West, constricting and suffocating him like a ridiculous monster all its own.

Dare I suggest that this devastatingly young Jeffrey Combs may have given the greatest performance of his career with his focused, idiosyncratic intensity that typified Herbert West. And this excellent zombie-ish movie is the first thing that comes to mind when I see a green glowing fluid in subsequent films.

There are lessons to be learned from Herbert West. If a would-be tenant is overjoyed by the fact that you have a dusty basement you clearly never use, don’t rent to them; you shouldn’t expect that your roommates will respect your stuff… or your cat’s life; and definitely watch out pervy medical professors and their murderous intestines. Of course, the movie ends with one final use of the reagent… roll credits.

I love this film and find it strikingly well-made for a horror movie which occasionally lets itself be so zany (i.e., very dark but frequent humor). It never reaches Dead Alive (1992) or Return of the Living Dead (1985) levels of silliness—but make no mistake, there are funny parts. Yet the story itself is also interesting and well-staged by the cast, and it doesn’t get lost in its own reanimated hysteria. I’d go so far as to call this the best “film” but most humorously subdued of the zombedy forefathers (e.g., Night of the Comet, Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Creeps).

The MFF Podcast #284: Night of the Comet, Red Dust and Zombies

June 27, 2020

You can download the pod on Apple PodcastsTune In,  Podbean, or Spreaker (or wherever you listen to podcasts…..we’re almost everywhere).

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

The MFF podcast is back, and this week we’re joined by David Cross (of the Award Wieners Movie Review Podcast) to discuss the 1984 cult classic Night of the Comet. Directed by Thom Eberhardt (Captain Ron), and starring Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney and Robert Beltran, this scrappy post-apocalyptic film focuses on two sisters dealing with zombies, evil scientists and machine guns. Night of the Comet is an absolute delight that influenced Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and ages well because of the likable characters and smart direction (on a very tiny budget). In this episode, we discuss red dust, scrappy teenagers, and talking zombies.

If you are a fan of the podcast make sure to send in some random listener questions so we can do our best to not answer them correctly. We thank you for listening, and hope you enjoy the episode!

You can download the pod on Apple PodcastsTune In,  Podbean,or Spreaker.

If you get a chance please make sure to review, rate and share. You are awesome!

John’s Horror Corner: Return of the Living Dead (1985), a zombedy forefather and an unforgettable 80s B-movie-turned classic.

June 23, 2020

MY CALL: A delightfully goofy zombie movie and among the very first zombedy films, this is a classic that should be in every horrorhounds collection. It also holds up rather well. MORE MOVIES LIKE Return of the Living Dead: Looking for more gory 70s-80s zombie fare? Try Dawn of the Dead (1978), Zombie (1979), City of the Living Dead (1980), The Beyond (1981), Day of the Dead (1985), Re-Animator (1985), Return of the Living Dead II (1988) and Flesh Eating Mothers (1988).

You’ve gotta’ love the comedic chutzpah to put on the screen: “The events portrayed in this film are all true. The names are real names of real people and real organizations.” Then, early in the film a character refers to the events of Night of the Living Dead (1968) as being based on a true case. It’s so cheeky. I love it. These bodies evidencing the events of 1969 reside in the basement of a medical supply company warehouse manned by two nincompoops Freddy (Thom Mathews; Friday the 13th part VI, Return of the Living Dead II) and Frank (James Karen; Poltergeist, The Unborn, The Willies, Girlfriend from Hell).

Unfortunately, the cadaver storage barrels aren’t very secure and one releases a toxic gas which (in a roundabout way) makes its way into the atmosphere animating the dead, including the cadavers in the warehouse. With the necrotic gas in the atmosphere, a little rain over the nearby cemetery brings a taste of Armageddon as corpses animate and rise from their graves. Meanwhile Freddy and Frank are freaking out, call in their boss Burt (Clu Gulager; The Willies, The Initiation, A Nightmare on Elm Street part 2, Piranha 3DD, From a Whisper to a Scream) and the three of them wander into some shenanigans to cover up this undead mess.

The cult icon among the zombies is the tar man. He shambles towards Tina (Beverly Randolph; Death House) like the jangly man and speaks what he wants to eat: “brains!” Yup, these zombies are more cognitive than Romero’s. They speak, run, use tools, solve problems and are incredibly self-aware even as to why they want to eat brains.

In other news, long after their exposure to the toxic gas, Freddy and Frank are very sick, and lack a pulse! So following Dawn of the Dead (1978), we have a slow zombification/transformation process as their bodies slowly die and they comically whimper.

The budget is clearly limited—e.g., when Trash is surrounded by zombies that are basically just a bunch of extras covered in mud, or a totally undecayed healthy human arm reaching out from the grave soil. As it turns out, most of the zombies are mud-covered extras. It’s just that the zombies that matter are getting all the effects budget. The gore is decent, but most deaths are reduced to seeing someone swarmed by zombies before cutting the scene. Still, there’s gore to be enjoyed in several scenes. There’s skullcap-piercing brain bites spurting blood or chunks, thick oozing brain matter, and the more showcased zombies (e.g., tarman and the female torso) exhibit awesomely grotesque detail.

Among the more memorable characters are the punks Trash (Linnea Quigley; Night of the Demons, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Creepazoids, Pumpkinhead II) and Spider (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.; Friday the 13th part V, Leprechaun 4: In Space). Linnea Quigley has her famous (and provocative) grave-dancing scene and Núñez provides most of the amusing lines.

Director Dan O’Bannon (The Resurrected) proved successful with his more humorous unofficial follow-up/sequel to Night of the Living Dead (1968). This film really embraces its own hysteria. From their realization of zombies to their own degeneration from the infection, Frank and Freddy are an emotionally riotous mess, often whining or moaning or crying in pain.

The movie ends with a moment of social commentary as the military firebombs the zombie outbreak, unknowingly creating the atmospheric effect that would create an even more widespread outbreak! See you at the sequel…

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