Return of the Living Dead
We won’t bore you with all the legal shenanigans that ensued following the totally unexpected success of George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead in 1968. The important thing to know is that all the legalisms ultimately created two parallel universes: the Dead series, which follows the timeline created in the ’68 film, and the Living Dead series that didn’t truly get underway until 1985 (yeah, it took that long to resolve). The Dead series spawned a passel of neo-classics like Day of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead; the Living Dead franchise decided to go for the slightly lighter and goofier approach, and Return is the first and best of that secondary timeline.
Return is also responsible for a couple of the most long-lasting zombie tropes. In this timeline, the zombies are created by a government-issue gas that was (and frequently still is) regularly released, where the Dead series never quite settles on an origin story (Radiation? Satellites? A housing crisis in Hell?). These Living Dead zombies are also a little smarter than the shamblers of the Dead set; some even speak or carry a gun. Individual parts of the zombie can still animate and come at you (take note of the “half cat” image you’ll immediately want to forget). And this is the first film to establish the zombie desire for brains as opposed to endless, indiscriminate hunger.
You’ll also get to enjoy the work for great character actors, like Clu Gulager, James Karen, and Don Calfa (don’t worry, you’ll recognize them when you see them), and witness the first “big” movie from director/writer Dan O’Bannon, who went on to make a name for himself with the Alien franchise and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall. So: historically important, zombitationally speaking, but also still a damn good time. Or, in other word: Brains!