‘Return of the Living Dead’ Punked Up Zombies in 1985
‘Return of the Living Dead’ humorously examines the pointless, pseudo-rebellious, wannabe-nihilist pastiche that permeated the punk culture.
Some things are said to age like a fine wine. One needn’t be a wine connoisseur to understand the expression, just as one needn’t be the biggest horror fan to appreciate Dan O’Bannon’s Return of the Living Dead. It is very much designed to entertain the viewer, to draw them in, to beat them over the head with its simple theme of brain-devouring zombies. Much like Friday the 13th, this is definitely a fun movie, referenced by pop culture in plenty of hidden ways. Any time someone refers to a zombie eating brains, it is no doubt harking back to this film. Also, this movie rather humorously examines the pointless, pseudo-rebellious, wannabe-nihilist pastiche that permeated the punk culture.
Return of the Living Dead “Punks Up” the Zombie Genre While Attacking Reagan-era Militarism
In the 1980s, punk rock was a relatively new phenomenon, even though it was already in decline. However, plenty of 1980s movies got in on the fun, mocking punks for converting rebellious impulse into mere commercial fashion. Keep in mind, this was the 1980s when people were seemingly less afraid to flip the bird to anyone and everyone. The movie largely focuses on some punk rocker-types, typified by names like Spider (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.), Scuz (Brian Peck), Trash (Linnea Quigley), and Suicide (Mark Venturini). What tough names, man! Suicide is responsible for one of the best funny quotes in the film. In a vaguely self-aware moment, he looks at his punk style and proclaims: “You think this is a fuckin’ costume? This is a way of life.” That’s hardcore!
Of course, Suicide’s brains are as tasty as anyone else’s to Tarman (Allan Trautman), so all his style and edginess are for our entertainment value (much as they would be in real life, although “serious punkers” would deny this hardcore because a spiky clothes and spiky, dyed hair mean so much). Then you have Trash, largely known for supplying the female nudity of the film. It’s possible that she serves no other role beyond combining sex and death.
However, Trash is reminiscent of punk-goth “chicks” who think they’re rebelling by brandishing their sexuality at every opportunity. Basically, her character was designed to cause concern to prudish parents, much like punk in general. Still, let’s be honest: While punk rock often did frighten the establishment, there never was any doubt who would come out on top. Return of the Living Dead reminds us that, no matter how renegade-like we act, the establishment has the guns and the bombs…and also the freaky chemical and biological agents.
Having a Go at Reagan
Admittedly, Return of the Living Dead never explicitly goes after Ronald Reagan. Aside from the punkers, the story mostly involves workers at a medical supply warehouse — Burt (Clu Gulager), Frank (James Karen), and Freddy (Thom Mathews) — who must deal with a bizarre zombie virus uncorked from a leaky storage barrel. By the time they scramble to mortuary worker Ernie (Don Calfa) for assistance in cremating the re-animated dead, it’s too late! The chemicals cannot be contained, as they permeate the corpses buried in the nearby cemetery. This is literally a comment on how most problems cannot simply be destroyed, as they won’t stay dead. No matter how hard we try, they keep creeping back and biting us.
While this may sound bizarrely philosophical, I am reminded of nuclear disasters, plagues and moral panics, as well as the complacent scourge of apathy. As the world inevitably rides roughshod over the masses, those cracking the whip from above often forget that, ultimately, not all among them will remain immune from what they create…at least not forever. The funny thing is, I am not just arbitrarily politicizing a silly horror movie. All of these social commentary elements are in this film, and you don’t need to look very hard.
Life often looks like a special blend of natural and man-made disasters, and we most likely pathetically look for the powerful to solve our problems. However, their big solution most often involves bombs and guns (as this movie very much suggests). On the flip side, if we rebel against the establishment, the question emerges: What do we replace it with? More of the same? Eventually, something will pop that cork of panic again, and we’ll probably be back to square one.
What are your thoughts on Return of the Living Dead? Gnaw at our brains in the comments!
American Horror Story Delicate, Multiply Thy Pain
American Horror Story Delicate began last night, Killer Queens. And it was, well, a complicated episode. This makes sense because this season is about a complicated topic.
Just in case you didn’t know, this whole season is based on the novel Delicate Condition by Danielle Valentine. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.
Anna Victoria Alcott is an actress who just got her big break. She was in a horror movie that no one can stop talking about.
Except Anna herself. Because this career success couldn’t have come at a worse time. She and her husband Dex are in the middle of the difficult IVF process. It’s expensive, time-consuming and painful. Ironically, so is trying to win an Oscar.
But Anna has other things to worry about. Someone is messing with her. Several women are watching her in public. Worse, someone appears to be getting into her home, slashing notes she leaves for Dex, and removing her vital IVF medication from the fridge so it spoils. Her calendar is hacked to move her doctor appointments around so she misses them. Worst of all, someone broke into her home and crawled into bed with her.
Of course, no one takes any of these concerns seriously. Her agent, Siobhan, is focusing on getting her an Oscar. Her husband, Dex, doesn’t seem to give a shit about her except for when it comes to having a baby. He’s frequently dismissive of her concerns and only seems to want her around when it’s convenient for him. He goes so far as to kick her out of his show opening because she’s on edge.
You know, maybe because she’s clearly being stalked by someone who is trying to keep her from having a baby.
AHS Asylum had a lot of dark and important things to say about mental health care in America. AHS Coven had a lot of dark and important things to say about race and gender relationships.
Last season, AHS NYC wasn’t so subtle. Yes, there was a killer. But the real historical horror of the AIDs epidemic in the 80s was the focus of the season. And that worked very well.
This season, the story is clearly about female body autonomy. Anna is a woman struggling with so many issues that modern women face. The balance between our careers and our families. Feeling like growing old is the most unforgivable thing a woman can do. And of course, the fact that our bodies often feel like they don’t belong to us.
I was also pleased to see some AHS alumni. Denis O’Hare as Dr. Hill was delightful. Leslie Grossman and Billie Lourd will be involved soon, and they never bring anything less than their A-game.
This episode also did something I never thought could happen. It managed to scare me with a calendar notification. That was a special moment for me as a horror fan and calendar-obsessed person.
What didn’t work
Here are some things I didn’t love. First off, the main character Anna is a pushover. She can’t say no to Dex, Talia, Dr. Hill, or Siobhan. No one gets a no from this woman!
Anna didn’t act like that in the book. She stood up to everyone all the time, it was great. She wasn’t getting any support, but she was advocating for herself! That was such an important part of her character, and I’m sad to see that she’s lost that here.
I also hate the changes made to Siobhan and Talia. Now, please understand that this isn’t me complaining that the book was different. That’s not my point. Siobhan was a kind, loving woman who supported her best friend even while dying of cancer. Talia was a smart, business-oriented woman who was still kind. She was trying to start a family with her transgender husband, and bonded with Anna over their IVF journeys. These were vital characters in the story.
I feel like they’ve been railroaded.
All that being said, this was a decent start to AHS Delicate. It’s not the best start of a season we’ve had. But it’s okay. I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the season is going to bring. (4 / 5)
Wheel of Time, Strangers and Friends
Episode two of Wheel of Time, widened the divide between the show and the books. Things are happening out of order, people are acting out of character. Whether this is to the detriment of the show, however, has yet to be determined.
One character missing from episode one was Rand. You know, our main character. But we finally catch up with him now.
He’s living in a city with a woman named Selene. They don’t have what I’d call a super healthy relationship. She spends a bit too much time talking about her ex.
Yes, for those of you who didn’t read the books, this is going to be important.
Rand is also working at an insane asylum. He’s kind and patent with his charges, but not all of his fellow caregivers are.
Meanwhile, Lan and Moiraine are recovering form their Fade attack from last episode. Rather than taking the time to actually heal, Moiraine decides to head out to find Rand. Her team comes with her, which seems to really bother her.
While that little hissy fit is taking place, Nynaeve is causing issues. Not by anything she’s doing, but by what she’s not doing. As none of the regular novice teacher have been able to get her to use the One Power, Liandrin offers to try. No one, including me, is thrilled with this. But, the Aes Sedai are desperate. They know that The Dark One is around, and they need Nynaeve to be ready. So, they let the person who’s driven other students to their deaths and actively committed multiple hate crimes take over.
What could go wrong?
The special effects in this episode were really well done. I especially liked the dead fade nailed to the wall.
I was also pleased with the introduction of Elayne. Ceara Coveney is playing her, and doing a fine job. She’s warm, kind and sweet. I am thrilled that she’s around.
One of the greatest things about Wheel of Time is the friendships between the characters. Rand, Perrin, Mat, Nynaeve and Egwene legitimately care about each other. Elayne seems to care for Egwene right away. I really love that.
What didn’t work
One thing that bothered me in this episode, and frankly the last episode, was Liandrin keeping Mat in prison. I feel like this wasn’t adequately explained. Why does she have him? How did she trap him? What in the hell is she trying to get from him? Perhaps I simply missed something, and please let me know in the comments if this is the case. But it feels like some poor writing to me.
I also don’t love how Moiraine is portrayed in this episode. Really, in this season so far.
I get that she’s never exactly been a warm person. She’s not personable, open, or kind. Some (most) fans of the book would likely agree that she’s kind of a bitch.
But she’s not a bitch for no reason. She certainly isn’t the sort to lash out at the people who love her because she’s in pain. And that’s what she’s doing through this episode. She’s taking her pain out on Lan. And that’s just out of character for her.
It feels very much like a lot is being skipped over from the Wheel of Time books. But, so far at least, I don’t feel like anything vital has been missed. It feels more like the story is being streamlined.
Yes, I understand how this might go horribly wrong. I think we’ve all seen that. But as of right now, the changes make sense for the switch in mediums.
Now, let’s see if it stays that way.
(3 / 5)
Fantastico Disasterpiece Theatre: Francois and The Unicorn Review
Gringo Fantastico is a troubled luchador presenting Troma films from the safety of a derelict recreation center nestled in chaotic Tromaville. He is tortured by the French-Canadian Demon Piñata Francois who trash talks and hurls abuse throughout the episodes. This week’s special guest is Jonah Ray Rodrigues. New episodes release on the first of each month on Troma NOW.
Roll the Tape!
Welcome back to Tromaville for Chapter Dos of Fantastico Disasterpiece Theatre! Gringo Fantastico (Nate Turnpaugh) returns to the screen with guest Jonah Ray (current host of Mystery Science Theater 3000) to proudly host Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957). Turnpaugh espouses his love for the movie in our most recent interview and credits his friends with helping him to discover it. “They kept trying to get me to watch it, and one day I finally did.”
On a totally unrelated note, the Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines libel as “a written or oral defamatory statement or representation that conveys an unjustly unfavorable impression.” For no reason at all, I choose to immediately correct the record and inform you that Fantastico actually hosts Herb Freed’s Graduation Day (1981).
We once again begin with grainy VHS footage of an interview from the luchador’s past. Much like the previous episode, Fantastico becomes upset at the prodding questions being asked of him. As this ongoing narrative continues to build, it is becoming obvious Fantastico is coming close to a breaking point.
These segments, while short, work to highlight Turnpaugh’s screenwriting ability. They feel authentic and demonstrate a solid understanding of wrestling culture. Crafting a compelling story can be difficult when it is broken into parts and spread across significant time. However, he creates bite-sized pieces of lore that manage to both satisfy and leave the audience craving more.
A Piñata by Any Other Name
Before the movie can start, Fantastico has to deal with the usual shenanigans from Francois. When it is time to bring out Jonah Ray for his interview from the Satellite of Love, Francois outright refuses. The interview must come at the cost of Fantastico’s soul. Fearing for the worst but desperate to continue the episode, Fantastico agrees to a one-day-only loan of his soul.
Enter Francine. She’s a sassy yet loving unicorn who only wants the best for Fantastico. She is complimentary and eager to help, offering her kind words in a sugary sweet voice. For all intents and purposes, she is the opposite of Francois. And yet, she is Francois. At least, she is Francois after consuming Fantastico’s soul.
Turnpaugh continues the ongoing theme of addressing his PTSD within the episode. He explains it as, “the whole concept of self-worth with the PTSD and things like that because that is a problem that I’ve experienced. When people are constantly negative towards you and you constantly have to defend yourself and you constantly be on edge and finally something happens and you don’t have to do that anymore. But you’re so guarded when that happens that you don’t know how to act.”
Throughout the episode, Fantastico chafes against Francine’s presence. He is unsure of what to do when someone speaks affectionately to him after suffering Francois for so long. The only punishments she doles out are rainbows that make you laugh. It’s unsettling and a little uncomfortable and is exactly what working to replace negative self-talk with positive self-talk feels like.
The Satellite of Love
The interview segments with Jonah Ray feel like listening to old friends banter. Turnpaugh tells me he first met Ray at the Malco Drive-In Theater last year where they both attended Joe Bob’s Jamboree. He admits to being caught off guard when Ray knew who he was and was familiar with his work.
Fame and the mental games it causes one to play ends up becoming a large part of the interview. When asked by Fantastico when he felt like he had made it, Jonah Ray responds “I don’t think there is a there, there.” He likens the fame game to climbing a ladder. “You’re […] looking up […] but you rarely look back down.”
One of the best portions of the interview is when Jonah Ray goes full meta and begins roasting the ego necessary to take on the role of a media host. It’s hard not to laugh when you remember this is coming from the mouth of one host straight into the ear of another. It is important to note that both men are playing characters as hosts, which according to Ray changes the dynamic.
New Place, Same Thing
Jonah Ray also spends time talking about the difference in production having moved away from Netflix and onto Gizmoplex. He says it has been a lifelong dream to host MST3K and the move has allowed him space to better bring his vision of hosting to the screen. Netflix, while important in bringing MST3K back, seems to have sucked some of the soul out of the show. He believes moving to Gizmoplex helps with delivering the level of quality fans expect.
Turnpaugh is familiar with format shifts, having moved his show from YouTube onto Troma Now. I ask how this has changed things in terms of production and he says while he has never felt more supported, he has started placing more pressure on himself. “The pressure is never from Troma.” Lloyd Kaufman clearly believes in the show, as he’s recently started giving it top-billing on the site.
Back to Basics
The end of the episode brings back an extremely confused Francois. It seems consuming Fantastico’s soul didn’t go exactly as planned. Turnpaugh promises that audiences have not seen the last of Francine and that some answers may be coming sooner rather than later. You’ll just have to tune in next month to see what insanity happens next in Tromaville.
My rating for the episode: (4.6 / 5)
Follow @realfantastico on the platform formerly known as Twitter to join in with the rest of the Fantasticats as they live-tweet each episode the Friday after release. Episode three features special guests Toby Poser, John Adams and Lulu Adams.