It’s rare to see a sequel directly mention its predecessor in the dialogue. Dan O’Bannon’s film mentions the past, and because it recognizes its parents existence, it allows the filmmakers to have complete creative control to mock and satirize the original as much as they want.
Many of the sequences are flat-out hilarious, a tongue-in-cheek look at our view of typical 1980s horror teenagers and humanity’s innate ability to make really bad judgements.
The characters truly believe that the easiest way to get rid of the threat of zombies is to burn them. They repeatedly do this, even after zombies start rising from the soil, ignorant of the cause of it all: They’re burning the zombies into a gaseous dust-chemical-virus hybrid and sending it out into the atmosphere, tainting the characters oxygen on the surface.
The characters feel a little bit like John Hughes creations, a sense of spunk and youthfulness running through and energizing the young group.
It moves from scene to scene with palpable anxiety, a tinge of comic-relief spliced in hear and there. The little antics, such as the old morgue attendant, Ernie, trying to snuggle up with a young girl who’s in complete shock.
The film blends comedy with outrageous bodily gore seamlessly, like a premiere, gold-edition episode of Tales From the Crypt. It wasn’t as much of a formula in the 80s, and is without a doubt a pioneer of the horror-comedy genre.
The sense of invention in horror cinema is lost when studios accept the formula as perfect and untouchable because it’s simply crowd-pleasing.
The Return of the Living Dead is a joy ride through a zombie infected town. Lovably stupid and impulsively watchable, the wide variety of characters defend themselves with limited knowledge and miscellaneous, random weaponry.
The morgue location provides a different perspective on the usual zombie defense-grounds. Most of the Night of the Living Dead rip-offs don’t realize that tense, well-lit atmosphere is the key. The Return of the Living Dead plasters on a thick layer of situational comedy and the ensuing results are hilarious.