Just a year after helping out with Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, Bill Philputt has moved up the credits list from associate producer to direct More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead. Those who can’t get enough of “Where are they now?”, behind-the-scenes revelations from the original cast and crew or “How do they do that?” will savour every frame of a production that turns out to be a memorial to prolific writer and first-time-lucky director, Dan O’Bannon (the extra-generous bonus features include an extensive interview with the incorrigible filmmaker—his last before moving on to to join the undead December 17, 2009).
Glued together by writers Thommy Hutson, Christian Sellers and Gary Smart, the film is largely single, talking heads (occasionally responding to each other’s comments without sharing the same space) recalling the audition, rehearsal, shoot and opening of the classic not George Romero title-only sequel, Return of the Living Dead (1985).
The material is inventively woven into a seamless whole thanks to cartoon-like animations that freeze the last word of each interview then transition to the next storyboard style. Of course, there is lots of archival footage to remind old fans or create new ones just how this landmark horror-comedy came into bloody being.
Most courageous of all is designer William Stout’s recounting of a rocky ride trying to bring O’Bannon’s creatures before the camera only to be, eventually, fired. Few would have been so honest, much less agree to appear but his considerable achievements continue unabated. Tony Gardner vividly walks viewers through the trials and tribulations of being twenty-one-years-old and having to come up with all manner of low-budget beasties, notably the half-corpse woman with moveable parts.
Last-to-the-leads Clu Gulager (what fun if Leslie Neilson had answered the call!) met the neophyte director for the first time as the shoot began. The rest of the cast had had two weeks’ intensive rehearsal and blocking so it was understandable when his level of heat for the project wasn’t anywhere near that of his colleagues. Happily—if the stories are to be believed, many are baldly contradicted during this documentary—it only took one “fuck you” in the ear to bring him up to steam.
Miguel Núñez makes no secret as to his love of naked titties almost as much as Linnea Quigley enjoyed her special moment in the film doing an anything-goes table dance atop a tombstone.
Unlike Return’s punk-informed songs/lyrics (unforgettably “Tonight we’ll make love ‘til we die”) that were the least part of O’Bannon’s “auteur” plan (seems his music editor can claim most of the credit for salvaging Matt Clifford’s original score) composer Sean Schafer Hennessy has crafted a perfectly minimalist soundscape that employs much pizzicato and arhythmical construction that ideally complement the variously hued and paced declamations of the more than two dozen subjects whose delight in the experience and respect for O’Bannon’s achievement (begrudgingly or not) is as palpable as his legions of grateful not-yet-dead admirers. JWR
The Return of the Living Dead
Dan O’Bannon, 1985, 91 min.
Ham and cheese to die for
Taking a look at this cult classic in 2012, it’s readily apparent that these zombies are more valued for their comedic than horrific appeal. Especially in the opening scenes, the avalanche of dialogue—James Karen providing several slices of ham—laughs in the face of “show don’t tell.” Still, Freddy’s “You mean the movie lied” apologetic reference to George Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead is a positive hoot all to itself. Much later Don Calfa’s “It’s them” [meaning the paramedics just attending with sirens wailing!!] is one of many moments where O’Bannon’s inexperience in “the chair” trumps his artistic intentions.
One is also further titillated (beyond stripper/actor Linnea Quigly—most certainly the cheesiest of all—boobs driving most men on the screen and in the audience to awakening their own too-long recessed ogres) by the echo of Monty Python’s “Not quite dead” (from the parrot sketch) as those long in the soil burst out of their graves to feast on any available cranium.
Bloody farce takes on a whole new meaning as these damned struggle feverishly to conduct nourishing lobotomies until the end of time. JWR