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Drinking With The Dread: The Return Of The Living Dead

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Welcome back to Drinking With The Dread, booze and gore hounds! Last month’s selection favored new-age demonism with Jason Lei Howden’s Deathgasm, so I decided to keep things a bit more retro-classic this go around. It’s time to worship at the altar of 1985’s greatest – nay, an exemplary genre exercise that stands as one of *the* most magnificent party horror flicks of all time. Grab your gaudiest attire and try not to crack any sealed canisters, because we’re raving to the grave with Dan O’Bannon’s The Return of The Living Dead.

The funny part is, without certain powers that be, we might be recalling a completely remodeled film. Tobe Hooper was originally meant to direct a 3D, more canonically Night Of The Living Dead kind of zombie scourge, but then Lifeforce happened and O’Bannon was offered the director’s chair – under one condition. He wanted to drastically rewrite John Russo’s original story to differentiate from Romero’s now-iconic brand. O’Bannon found more fun in degenerate punk teens and sleazy 80s schlock. Could you imagine a world *without* Linnea Quigley’s flare-lit tombstone dance? Not a reality this horror fan wants to imagine.

From tonality to soundtrack to costumes to dialogue, The Return Of The Living Dead is a voyage into the morbidly hilarious and grotesquely renegade. It’s not enough that volume bumping could double as a boot-stompin’ party mix (“Partytime (Zombie Version)” by 45 Grave – Hollywood’s *greatest* needle drop) – there’s also history behind O’Bannon’s identification of brains as zombie chow. It’s more than just a solid drinking rule – spoilers, sorry – because George Romero’s ideals positioned zombies as eaters of flesh. No distinct tastes. O’Bannon was the one who pushed subgenre tendencies towards cranium chomping. A little horror history lesson for ya!

Of course, this is a column that focuses on party-first horror. You’re here because of Suicide’s assertion that his anarchistic bondage getup isn’t just a costume, it’s a “lifestyle!” You’re here for David Bowie haircuts and hapless pickup lines such as, “Do you like sex with death?” You’re here for Clu Gulager’s scheming, James Karen’s wailing, Don Calfa’s incinerating. Government cover ups, zombies who pose as paramedics and radio in their dinner orders, dead-mocking misfits who find themselves hunted by living corpses. All hail this divine slice of after-dark cinema that never takes itself serious and leans heavily into overplaying elemental necessities. As timeless as it is culturally representative.

Straight up: The Return Of The Living Dead flaunts a brand of cool every horror comedy tries so desperately to achieve, and Dan O’Bannon makes it look easier than Ms. Trash in a room full of corpses.

Highlight moments include (but are not limited to):

  • “Hey, somebody get some light over here. Trash is taking off her clothes again!”
  • “Send…more…paramedics.”
  • Ernie and the “rabid weasel” bags.
  • Burt’s coverups.
  • Suicide’s…well…pretty much Suicide at all times.
  • Spider’s reactions.
  • Zombie Trash.
  • The greatest 80s horror soundtrack of all time?
  • Tarman!
  • O’Bannon’s ability to serve us the stinkiest, most pungent horror cheese and make every bite just as delicious as the last.

Alright you surfin’ dead junkies, let’s get to this month’s imbibing. Here are the slime-covered rules for Drinking With The Dread’s The Return of The Living Dead Drinking Game:

  1. Drink every time Frank drops a wiseass remark or lets out a whimpering scream.
  2. Drink every time the film shifts character focus (with so many characters scattered around, editing cuts back-and-forth between groups like crazy).
  3. Drink every time the word “Brains” is spoken.
  4. Drink every time the needle drops so damn hard (every time a rockin’ song kicks a scene into gear).
  5. Drink TWICE for each prominent character death (maybe not for *every* policeman in the swarm, but I’ll let you decide).
  6. TAKE A SHOT when that oh-so-famous zombie rises, his jaw pops down and 45 Grave asks us “Do you want to party!” right before the first big zombie attack.

Shout out to my buddies for lugging over a case of Lagunitas Sumpin’ Easy to support our trial run, which clocked in at about 3-4 beers each if you’re being generous. Liberal sips will run you over 3 beers so have the 4th handy, but this will be a solid 3-beer (and one shot) game for most. That’s probably best since the film’s enjoyable qualities may distract from drink-taking at times. Or maybe just cause a spit take or two.

As always, participate responsibly. If you see yourself guzzling at too fast a speed, dial the rules down. It’s not like Freddy’s cronies will appear to ridicule you like the square-peg you are. Which they would most certainly do.

One last time, let’s raise our glasses in honor of a quintessential party-horror classic: The Return Of The Living Dead. Dan O’Bannon created a certifiable zombie masterpiece to be embraced like the lifestyle it is, peacock flow-hawks and all. It cares so little to impress that genuine disinterest in playing by established rules becomes the film’s naughty, unmistakable charm – only this doesn’t have to be anyone’s dirty little secret. If anything, it’s a litmus test for relationship acceptance. Haters need not apply.

What do you think?

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Written by Matt Donato

Matt is an NYC internet scribe who spends his post-work hours geeking over cinema instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don't feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged).

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