We growing up on movies we all reach that point of “We’re either in or Out” when it comes to horror films. Being a kid from the 80s and being raised on videostore culture and the random films I chose to bring home I was always never really sure if horror films would be my bag or not. Maybe they were too scary? Maybe I just was not ready for them at the young age because they were simply too much to take in?
I can honestly say the first two horror films I remember seeing as a child were Creepshow and Ghost Story. At the age of 7 they freaked me out. Now, I was not allowed to watch such films at home but luckily we lived in a small military base community where everyone always had that one friend who’s parents gave no shits what their kids watched and I was friends with that kid. You know, the kid that could call his folks by their first names which was strange as hell for me and honestly still to this day now that I think about it. Anyways, after seeing these flicks I was freaked out walking home later that day. I would dare not tell my parents that I had just witnessed carnage through a VHS player at my friend’s house and was way too scared to focus on anything else in life. I was still not sure if horror films were for me yet but I had to keep going down the rabbit hole of cinema at my friend’s place. So next up was another beauty.
Next up I witnessed a beta copy of 1984’s Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter at my friend’s place. Now I had never seen the previous films but luckily this amazing edition of the franchise opened with the all important 2 minute recap of the last 3 flicks. Anyways, watching this movie was mind blowing and terrifying to my young eyes. It was the movie that almost made me go crying to mommy realizing that horror movies might be simply too much for me.
Getting home that day, no matter how freaked out I was from what I just saw, I could not tell my parents. If they knew I was watching such films they would be pissed and would force me to confess how I saw these movies. No way I was gonna rat out my friend because to be honest I did not have many of those things called “friends” as a child. But what was tough was coming up with excuses why I could not go down to our basement to grab something for my dad when he asked me to. You see, at that age and time after witnessing the brutality of Jason I was 100 percent convinced he was waiting down there, ready to grab my leg from uder the stairs and pull me down to chop me up with his weapon of choice.
Now after awkwardly telling my dad I would do the basement chords required of me the following day in daylight for what ever reason I could come up with I went to bed thinking “I probably should stick with Sci-Fi or Fantasy as a movie nerd kid”. Maybe, just maybe, horror movies were simply too much for me and my fragile and sensitive mind. Cue 1985 and one magical VHS from the local videostore to change everything…
Living in a small town renting whatever I wanted as a 10 year was no problem because these were local videostores that just cared if you had the money. No one cared how old you were. To see this cover looking at me from the shelf was amazing from a kid’s point of view. I mean, yes, they were zombies which is scary but they had mohawks and looked cartoony at the same time which seemed cool. So I figured why not? Could be fun…or horrifying at the same time.
Right from the get go as my eyes are introduced to new employee Freddy and his co-worker Frank I was hooked. Frank tells the tale of how “Night Of The Living Dead” was based off true events in such a brilliant comical way I was compelled to listen. Admittedly at that point in my life I had never seen NOTLD but knew I would the minute this flick ended. James Karen was so damn good in sucking me in to this tale that even if this would end up being another movie that could cause me sleepless nights it did not matter. I was in the same way as open minded Freddy. Obviously to those that know Frank trying to prove the safe proof protection of the military’s cargo causes the opening bad mojo to spill out as the credits roll and I’m thinking “Oh boy, I’m getting scared now. Maybe I should turn this off”. But then as the credits wrap up and they introduce us into this world we get our next set of characters rolling in…Freddy’s friends.
If horror movies were not enough on my young eyes this movie would also prove to be the first experience I had with punk music and the look of 80s punk rockers or misfits. The gang is now part of the story. A group of young ones that are looking to have a good time just like the kids from Friday The 13th but these guys seemed different. To me they seemed more appealing. They were outcasts like being a nerd in school. But they gave no shits about being who they were and even though I did not quite understand that exactly at a young age I knew I was already caring more about these actors then the ones Jason was gonna dice up in Camp Crystal Lake.
With characters like Tina, Chuck, Casey, Spider, Suicide, Scuz, and Trash I felt connected to them no matter how silly it sounds now. They made me laugh, feel like I was hanging with the gang, and just wanted to “party” with them even though a ten year old’s version of partying was probably quite different. The point is these people were cool and I was on their side from the start.
As the movie continued and zombie action kicked in we get two more important characters that would keep me glued to the tube TV. Burt played by Clu Gulager and Ernie played by everyone’s favourite assassin from “Weekend At Bernie’s’ Don Calfa. Both actors are genre legends. Both actors committed to their roles just like James Karen and all three of these men made childhood me begin to discover the humour in horror or was it horror in humour? Either way one of the biggest elements of Return Of The Living Dead that makes this film a landmark is the perfect blend of horror and humour and the casting choices. All three of these actors nailed it. Every second they are on the screen their comedic and tension timing is spot on. You never think “They are doing this for a paycheque or phoning it in”. On the contrary, they are truly diving deep into this insane world of the dead coming back and wanting our brains.
From the Tarman to the “Send more Cops or Paramedics” zombies this movie gave us talking undead. For me a new thing. Also with lines like “More Brains” the humour was coming out. So just when I was feeling scared at what was unfolding infront of me these words made me relax because they were…funny. Again, at that age I was not sure what to think but I was able to deal with the tension of this film because it would keep me balanced with laughs every few minutes.
Now, aside from the acting, the perfect blend of horror and humour I would completely lying if I did not experience this viewing as my first true movie crush encounter. Enter Linnea “Trash” Quigley. From the moment I saw her with the short punk rock red hair, first for me to ever see a woman in a film with such style, to the graveyard dance I knew was getting funny feelings for a member of the opposite sex for the first time ever. A special moment in any kid’s life. Thankfully I had the power of a VCR remote to keep rewinding and hitting play over and over again to make sure I was feeling that special something.
Trash was pure badass. She gave no shits what people thought. A free punk rock spirit with a punk rock attitude that sadly would get her killed and turned into the undead before the end of the film but no worries…she was now a horror movie icon and 35 years later continues to be.
Add to all of this a perfectly paced running time led by director Dan “Alien” O’Bannon and I had found the movie would convince me I can do this! I can continue to journey into the dark and crazy world of horror films. It was a blessing that this movie came when it did to recharge my batteries of horror movie adventure. It was one of the first that told me at that young age it was okay to be scared but it can also be funny and simply entertaining.
We all have that one special movie as horror or genre film fans that won us over at that young, impressionable age to turn us from casual to diehard fans. Mine was Return Of The Living Dead and to this I owe the movie so much gratitude and love. It told me not to be a a big chicken when it comes to movies, it told me punk rock music was pretty sweet. It told me that strip dancing in a graveyard was okay too. And most importantly it told me to watch some zombie flicks by a guy named George A. Romero. That will be a talk for another time. I will never tell parents what movies they might show their kids at a certain age to get them into the genre but I will always do my best to give to give this bad boy a plug whenever I can.
So even though by the end things did not end good for Freddy or Frank or anyone in the film now that I think about it you can always make sure your outcome is better by telling friends about the greatness of this film and maybe even sharing it with your kids if you are the mellow easy going parent that knows it’s just a movie with fun characters, sweet punk rock tunes, and a shit load of zombies.
So to this movie I simply wanna say thanks for keeping me into the genre at such a crucial time and being that perfect movie I needed at that perfect time. After you it was all downhill or uphill from there. And of course that’s when I realized watching horror movies as a kid was not some fucking costume…it was a way of life!
As always…thanks for reading and till next time much love from the video store!