There’s a double helping of zombie mayhem being unleashed on 4 June with the releases the 1980s cult favourite The Return of the Living Dead and Cuban horror satire Juan of the Dead.
The 1985 horror comedy, The Return of the Living Dead, from the late director Dan O’Bannon (who also wrote Alien) came 17 years after Night of the Living Dead, but was actually a sequel – well, kind of. O’Bannon worked on the original George Romero film and earned the rights to use the word ‘Living Dead’ in any future titles. But rather than going down the extreme gore route, which Romero did so brilliantly in his first two sequels, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, O’Bannon led his zombies down a more tongue-in-cheek path to create his own take on the genre. Today, almost three decades later, The Return of the Living Dead, remains a cult classic of its own and probably the best horror comedy ever made.
While a gang of pseudo punks (they look nothing like real punks) hang out in a Pittsburgh cemetery, an army-issued cylinder containing the gas that caused the original zombie outbreak in the 1960s is accidentally released inside a nearby supply warehouse. After the gas re-animates a hospital cadaver, two warehouse employees burn the body at the cemetery crematorium. But a rainstorm then washes the contaminated fumes into the ground, causing the dead to rise…
For a comedy the zombies are pretty creepy. O’Bannon has drawn his inspiration from the real-life mummies of Guanajuato in Mexico and old EC horror comics, and created some of the most iconic film zombies ever (Tar-man is a classic). They even talk. The lines ‘I can feel myself rotting’ and ‘Send more paramedics’ are now legend.
Added to the mix is the goth/garage punkin’ soundtrack, featuring The Cramps and The Damned, which makes this film was one my all-time favourites (it was the soundtrack to my youth).
The special edition Blu-ray and deluxe DVD release (out 4 June) from Second Sight is a fan’s dream, featuring five hours of bonus features, including the must-have 2-hour documentary, in which the cast and crew look back on the making of the film.
When the inhabitants of Havana start turning into contagious zombies on the anniversary of the revolution, 40-something layabout Juan (de Villegas) seizes the opportunity to make a few pesos by becoming an exterminator of the undead. Helping him in his quest are his best mate Lázaro, estranged daughter Camilla, transsexual China, and burly boxer El Primo – who faints at the sight of blood (not good when there’s so much spilling about).
But as the situation spirals out of control, the motley gang are soon forced to seek sanctuary themselves. But do they take to the hills or try to escape by sea? With the zombies multiplying at an incredible rate, and having the ability to walk under water – it looks like its curtains for Juan and his Scooby gang…
Shot with cartoonish glee and certainly more fun than frightening, this zom-com kicks ass because of its irreverent humour. Havana is a place where things are falling apart or breaking down, but the public transport system is always reliable – even during a zombie riot. And, as for the living dead – well, the government just dismiss them as a new breed of dissidents created by America. It’s these fresh little touches that make the movie more than a Shaun of the Dead rip-off.
Director Brugués has also put so much personality into his characters that you get a real sense of Cuban spirit and identity – they are cynical and resourceful, but love life no matter what is thrown at them. Plus, there’s Havana in all her crumbling, faded glory. In fact, after watching this, my next holiday destination will be in this little part of the Caribbean as I want to experience some of that Cuban spirit myself.
Juan of the Dead is a Metrodome release, out on DVD on 4 June