The Return of the Living Dead became a phenomenon when it made the zombie genre stylish and sexy in 1985, putting its own unique stamp on horror culture, blending it with cartoon humour. The ROTLD franchise started as a spinoff of the 1968 horror film Night of the Living Dead thanks to John A. Russo retaining rights to the “Living Dead” moniker when he split from working with George A. Romero. Dan O’Bannon was brought in to direct the new film conceived by Russo, though it does not bare much similarity to the original novel after O’Bannon’s complete rewrite.
Once production was underway their came a difficult task of figuring out how to portray the teens in the movie. They soon settled on the current punk rock phenomenon and the costume designer perfected a set of looks for Brian Peck, Linnea Quigley, and Jewel Shepard, among others. They all became mod rockers, each with their own unique character traits and styles.
Quigley’s character Trash has an attitude stoner complex. She thinks that living sucks, to die is being cool, and is fascinated with how she might die. She’s most famous for the scene in the cemetery where she ends up ripping off her clothes to the hit song “Tonight (We’ll Make Love Until We Die)” by SSQ, which is imprinted on the minds of fans both young and old.
Soon her fantasy comes true when she’s besieged by the zombies that leave her for dead in order to be reanimated as one of the undead. This turned Quigley into the sexiest zombie in horror film history.
ROTLD turned many heads of both critics and horror fans alike. It was way different than other zombie classics like Zombi and Dawn of the Dead, which also had hip zombies, and like those it helped pave the way to other great zombie franchises like Resident Evil and The Walking Dead.
As for the dead, the Tarman zombie became a fan fave in his own right with dedicated merchandise to honour him. The actor and puppeteer, Allan Trautman, who plays the Tarman zombie is very blessed to be a popular horror icon. The Tarman also went on to appear in the first sequel, Return of the Living Dead Part II.
ROTLD became a box office success, bringing in more than triple its budget. That initial success has since created an ever growing legacy. Fans hold costumed tribute showings and home video sales have been great, with consistent releases on DVD and Blu-ray. Thanks to the fans, this movie will live on to inspire future zombie horror films, as well as many more parodies such as those done by The Simpsons and South Park. “More brains!!” became a cultural phenomenon and rightfully so.
The film also had an impressive soundtrack featuring songs from The Cramps and The Damned. This fit very well with the punk aesthetic of the film and it holds up to this day.
Finally, here is The Return of the Living Dead‘s original theatrical trailer for you to enjoy with this article.