Dan O'Bannon never had the career he deserved, given that he had a knack for taking a genre and turning it on its head. Usually slap-bang on top of its head, sending bits of brain everywhere.
He is the guy who wrote Alien, which transplanted the haunted house movie into space. But he did something similar with his little-seen directorial debut, The Return Of The Living Dead, which takes a deliciously simple idea (what if George A. Romero’s zombie flicks were based on truth?) and, like Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator (which came out the same year) spins off into a lurid, blackly comic nightmare that has as many laughs as it does pure scares.
Zombie purists may be appalled — not only do O’Bannon’s breed run, they also speak, memorably wiping out waves of policemen only to get on the radio and request reinforcements — but O’Bannon isn’t interested in purism. Instead, he was interested in subverting the conventions and tropes already established by Romero (whose own po-faced Day Of The Dead also emerged that year; must have been something in the zombie water) and embellishing them with leftfield plot turns (the mortuary workers who accidentally unleash the zombie virus slowly turn into zombies over the course of the film, with Thom Mathews and, in particular, James Karen milking the transformation for plenty of chuckles) and a punkish anything-goes attitude that papers over the film’s many uneven patches. If you don’t believe us, witness Linnea Quigley’s infamous naked graveyard dance number, if you dare. Essential, enormous fun.