The Return of the Living Dead
Director: Dan O'Bannon
Cast: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Thom Mathews
Run Time: 1 hour 31 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Despite the splendors of American Army engineering, a chemical agent at a medical warehouse leaks into the nearby cemetery where a group of punks are partying, causing zombies to rise.
80’s horror is kind of my thing, in case you hadn’t noticed. As an extension of that, I deserve a lifetime sentence in nerd hail for having waited so long to see The Return of the Living Dead. Having been written and directed by Dan O’Bannon (frequent John Carpenter collaborator and the man who wrote the story treatment for freaking Alien), and starring Clu Gulager (The Initiation, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2), James Karen (Poltergeist), Thom Mathews (the cutest Tommy Jarvis, from Friday the 13th Part VI), and Linnea Quigley (everything), I’m basically a Benedict Arnold to my cause, but I’ve rectified that now.
For its first thirty minutes or so, RotLD is unimpeachably the funniest horror comedy ever to walk this freshly-dug earth. The script is tight, fast-paced, and the tongue is so firmly in cheek that the teeth keep biting it every time they try to talk. The punk ensemble is a pitch perfect Greek Chorus of prickly delinquency led by a fearless Quigley with fire engine red toilet brush hair. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Linnea crab walk her way over the hood of a car. The fact that she spends almost the entire remainder of the film naked certainly doesn’t tarnish the film’s cult reputation, but it’s also a dastardly hilarious shock gag that keeps on giving.
While the punks are pure bubblegum fun, the adult cast knows exactly what type of movie they’re making and have no qualms about pitching their performances up to the rafters. Karen and Gulager seem to be locked in a fierce battle to see who can burst their own blood vessels first, and the winner is us.
The set design is pretty top notch, too. Although the film never escapes the “this was made in somebody’s basement” feel, each element of the set is integrated into the storyline in a unique and clever way, from the eye test chart decorating the office wall to the pinned butterflies in the storage room. Everything has a purpose, whether it’s a sight gag so subtle you’re liable to need further viewings to even notice it, or merely a feature that will come in handy later.
Unfortunately, Return of the Living Dead runs out of steam faster than me after foolishly assuming I can run a mile without warming up first. The characters are too thin to hang such a good movie on, and it ends up ripping right through them by the hallway point. The film never ever let up being entertaining, but its nonstop, careening clip flags in favor of a more standard house in siege movie that gives an inexplicably heavy level of focus to Miguel Nuñez (of Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, in which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for the role of Demon, the enchilada-scarfing biker who gets impaled while Hershey squirting in an outhouse).
And while the lead zombie has an impressive visage and a terrifying mien, the effects in the film are surprisingly demure for an 80’s zombie epic. For all the obsession with brains, there’s hardly a flash of the pink stuff, and what little we’re left with doesn’t exactly hold up all these years later.
It’s a very cheap, unassuming, slapdash little movie, but that’s exactly what allowed it to harness the gonzo anti-establishment energy that drives its engine for so much of the time. Do I wish it were more consistent? Yes. Would it be better with a gore top-up? Undoubtedly. But it’s still Return of the Living Dead, and its ratty, clever, indefatigable energy refuses to be held down. Nor would I want it to be. Let your freak flag fly, baby.
Night of the Creeps
Director: Fred Dekker
Cast: Jason Lively, Tom Atkins, Steve Marshall
Run Time: 1 hour 28 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Two college freshmen accidentally unleash an alien experiment that turns people into evil zombies.
If I deserved a lifetime sentence in nerd jail for missing out on The Return of the Living Dead, having seen Night of the Creeps certainly qualifies me for parole on good behavior. The film, which has unfortunately almost been lost to the mists of time, is a true gem that deserves to be unearthed, packed with goodies from director Fred Dekker (of The Monster Squad, a much more recognized flick).
For starters, I’m a sucker for college movies and Night of the Creeps is an excellent depiction of the freshman year experience. Within relatable situations (crushing on the unattainable girl, rushing the unattainable frat, experiencing freedom for the very first time), Dekker (who also wrote the screenplay) etches out a genuine friendship between two teens, ride with rich humor and poignant humanity. With such a strong core to branch out from, Night of the Creeps is free to explore all sorts of crazy side streets and as such is one of the most explosively creative, jubilantly hilarious horror-comedies of the decade, hitting both sides of that hyphenate in nearly equal measure.
Admittedly though, one side does dominate through seer strength and willpower so let’s begin with that one: the comedy. There’s so much going on in the film (frat pranks, alien ray gun fights, parasitic zombie worms, a black and white sci-fi prologue, and even a mad axe-wielding slasher) that it would rattle with pure energy even without a strong creative vision. But Dekker must be French for “duct tape” because the man holds all the disparate elements together like a pro, infusing them with laugh-out-loud wit every step of the way. The film traffics in self-referential, winking humor in the vein of Jason Lives, but just like its plot, it can’t nail itself down to one single style. High camp, sophomoric frat comedy, goofy sight gags, and intellectual barbs are tossed into the mélange and blended expertly.
No single actor exemplifies this movie’s personality more than Tom Atkins (of Maniac Cop and Halloween III: Season of the Witch). Atkins swallows the script, digests it, and expels it from every pore of his body. His “Thrill Me,” catch phrase is iconic, but every aspect of his character (the detective investigating the strange happenings on campus) from his deadpan one-liner deliveries to his clipped, decisive movements and hyperbolically serious demeanor is explosively inexplicable and outrageously mirth-inducing. It is also thanks to Atkins that the horror portion of the film works even a quarter as well as it does.
The gravitas he lends to the proceedings allow the scarier moments to get under your skin and claw their way firmly around the base of your spine. Between him and the excellent special effects (which render what could have been totally silly parasite worms as utterly menacing, absolutely autonomous creatures with drive and sinister purpose), Night of the Creeps lands some square sucker punches when you least expect it.
And the filmmaking ain’t half bad, either. When you compare Night of the Creeps to Return of the Living Dead, another goofy horror flick directed by its writer, it’s light years head behind the camera. There’s some daring cinematography, including an immensely memorable spinning shot that outstrips any single visual moment in RotLD, and the lighting scheme (especially when it veers into pulpy pinks and blues) is quite dashing.
All in all, Night of the Creeps is an easy film to fall head over heels for. It’s a heap of fleshy, flashy fun, and it really deserves to stand shoulder to shoulder with classic titles like Evil Dead II and Ghostbusters, if I do say so myself. It’s my blog. Sue me.
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer
Director: Danny Cannon
Cast: Jennifer Love Hewitt, Freddie Prinze Jr., Brandy
Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Julie James is back and wetter than ever – on an island vacation ruined by monsoon weather, the rain slicker-clad killer returns to claim the lives of her and her friends.
I Know What You Did Last Summer is hardly a classic teen slasher, so the fact that it more or less instantly dove into the realm of ludicrous, crappy sequeldom shouldn’t come as a surprise. In a way, it almost improves the series, and in many ways it makes it a whole lot worse. The instant backslide into pulpy nonsense is fondly reminiscent of 80’s slasher dreck, but the film is so inextricably stupid that – like the Eskimos – I was forced to come up with 50 different words to differentiate the various gradations of stupid that I encountered. Here is but a small sample.
Idiotsplosive: This is a word for something that’s loudly, obnoxiously idiotic. You can’t possibly ignore it because it’s in your face with a bullhorn shouting “Here I am!’ and sharing Facebook posts about Donald Trump.
This word is the exclusive domain of characters like Jack Black cameoing as the local pothead. Yes, that Jack Black. He runs through nearly every scene in the first act, practically flapping his arms and shrieking inane stereotypes. It’s sheer bliss when he gets a set of hedge clippers buried in his chest. This word also handily describes the score, which is mostly content to busty itself combining rip-offs of Friday the 13th and The Exorcist, but the second anything remotely tense happens, gets overexcited and lets loose with a cacophony of bleats and squeals. Someone touches Julie’s shoulder? BWAMP! A mote of dust lands on a lamp in the foreground? BWLEH! It’s exhausting.
Infinidim: This is a word for something so richly, complexly stupid that it borders on incomprehensible.
This word was created for scenes like the opening red herring, which assume that nobody in the audience knows the capitol of Brazil and that no angry bystander will have irately shouted the correct answer before the reveal an hour later. This word also comes in handy for a film that bases two entirely separate scare scenes around clothes dryers. If you care to extrapolate from that, there’s rather slim pickings when it comes to decent frights in this flick, though one of its jump scares is suitably goosebump-inducing.
Stupidndous: This is a word for something so outrageously daft that it can’t help but be heaps of fun.
Here’s a line from I Still Know What You Did Last Summer: “That was like, heart attack time!” In short, this is a fantastic party movie if you’ve got a big bowl of popcorn and a pile of quip-ready friends. From the high camp of the killer’s reveal and the epilogue (“I love my electric toothbrush!”) to the nonsensical voodoo subplot and the daring decision to put Jennifer Love Hewitt in a sports bra while a hurricane rages around her, this movie does everything wrong in all the right ways.
Micromoronic: This is the word for when the stupid hasn’t entirely gone away, but has temporarily subsided to manageable levels.
Believe it or not, there’s a couple almost completely decent elements to ISKWYDLS. For one, the cinematography is gorgeous, capturing long summer nights with a crisp honey glow and shooting the hotel hallways with an almost (dare I say) Dean Cundey-esque precision to the placement of light and shadow. And I must admit that a stormy tropical island is a pretty awesome place to set a slasher movie, Brandy or no Brandy.
At the end of the day, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is harmless. If you’re lactose intolerant, you won’t be able to stomach its lethal levels of cheese, but otherwise it’s a half-decent flick for a summer marathon as long as you never take it seriously. It’s not as well made as its predecessor, but it might just be more fun to watch, so take your pick.
Body Count: 9
- Dave is hooked through the mouth.
- Derek is hooked to death.
- Housekeep has her throat slashed.
- Titus is stabbed in the chest with hedge clippers.
- Hotel Manager is knifed in the skull.
- Tyrell is hooked through the neck.
- Hestus is harpooned in the back.
- Nancy is harpooned in the gut.
- Will is hooked in the chest.
Rating: 5/10Word Count: 2194
Reviews In This Series
I Know What You Did Last Summer (Gillespie, 1997)
I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (Cannon, 1998)