Day of the Dead (1985) vs Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Welcome everyone to a very special edition of 31 Days of Horror, this is an interesting conversation topic.  Two zombie films that came out the same year about a month apart that are very different and yet are sequels to the same film.  So it was time to do a comparison.  Really. it is hard to put these against each other since they are both great in their own right, but this is fun.  Of course we know they both spawn from the classic Night of the Living Dead and I realize the Dawn of the Dead is the direct sequel to Night of the Living Dead, but it is hard to compare Dawn of the Dead vs Return of the Living Dead considering the time they were released and the special effects aspect, not to mention to me Dawn of the Dead is on a totally different level than the other films.

To understand why we are doing this, we have to go all the way back to Night of the Living Dead.  The film was written by George A. Romero and John Russo, Romero went on to make five more “of the dead” films, including Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead.  In, 1985 John Russo took part in making Return of the Living Dead with Dan O’Bannon, which was a great film and totally has stood on its own.  The Return of the Living Dead series has four sequels, getting worse with each entry.  Return of the Living Dead seems to almost mock Romero’s films, but it doesn’t, it takes a less serious route and has a little more fun.  Romero and Russo disputed over what to do with the sequel of Night of the Living Dead so they came to an agreement, wherein Romero’s sequels would be referred to as the Dead movies, and Russo’s sequels would bear the suffix Living Dead.  This is where I will leave off.

In this post, I, Ray will write about Day of the Dead and Rev. Krueger will write about the Return of the Living Dead.  This should be fun.  Personally I do love both films and watched the both this evening.

Day of the Dead (Ray Marek III)

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Day of the Dead is a zombie film that is the third installment in a line of six films made by George A. Romero.   This film further examines what happens when a group of people are stuck together with the rest of the world falling apart around them.  The difference between this and the other films, well this one seems to be further down in the timeline considering the state of decay with the zombies.  The interesting part of this film his the doctor who is examining the zombies and doing experiments on them.  Captain Rhodes leads a small military force who questions what the doctor, or he calls him Dr. Frankenstein, of what he is doing.  Eventually things get tense and some of Rhodes men die trying to get fresh zombies for the experiments.  Then Rhodes discovers Dr. Frankenstein is feeding his men to Bub, the doctors prize patient, who while aBubll this is going on is learning, showing his brain is beginning to function and remember things.  Romero goes deeper into this in the follow up, which came 20 years later in Land of the Dead.

I know most have seen this film and for the rest I will not spoil the rest of it, even though I did spoil a lot, sorry.  This film is very dark and depressing
and I think that is what Romero wanted to do, have a very serious tone.  It really expresses itself well, it has some great moments and for the most part the sense of dead lurking in the caverns.  It also gives that feel of no way out, that is something I always feel watching it to this day.  It really feels like this is the end of the line for the these people and they are biding they time.  There is something to be said about the actual zombies vs the zombies from Return of the Living Dead, Russo”s zombies are nearly invincible whereas Romero’s, shoot them in the head.

Overall, this film has the serious tone and I think it is the best zombie movie to date.  Between the special effects, the make up, the story it is well done.  To put it against Return of the Living Dead, you cannot do it, they are different films that are just spawn of the classic original.

The Return of the Living Dead (Rev. Krueger)

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I am not sure how many movies in history have been generated from a split between two creators, but I know that we would have been short one good movie or another without Romero and Russo splitting. While Romero went the route of dark and serious, John Russo decide to go different route.

Return of the Living Dead picks up in a medical supply warehouse, the kind of place that sells basic needs for the medical community like anatomical dummies and such. Being a small warehouse the only two working is a trainee and his mentor. Theses guys are kinda goofs, and when the mentor brags about having something interesting in the basement, all hell is unleashed. But, these two goons aren’t the only two that are affected, so is the trainee’s friends that have come to visit, and eventual the mortician across the street is pulled into the mess.

There are several things about this movie that stray from the original, and break away from Romero’s zombies. For one thing this is a dark comedy, and very 80’s in style. Hell, it included a nude dance video in the middle of the movie (towards the end actually for the pervs that are going to skip to that part).

Return of the Living DeadOne of the biggest difference, that I noticed, is that the zombies can’t die. No shot to the head, no decapitation, they just keep coming. This brings a sense of hopelessness that only the comedy of the story can help balance. But, those are not the only changes, these zombies are smart and can talk, and scheme. Also, breathing in gas tainted by them can change you without being bitten. In many ways, Romero’s zombies are a walk in the park compared to Russo’s, I know that I wouldn’t want to tangle with them.

This is a complex movie with great characters, and some very chilling moments. If Romero create a the ultimate serious zombie flick, then Russo was on the other side of that coin.

In Closing

I think it is unfair to really compare the films, Russo/O’Bannon and Romero took complete different paths when making sequels.  While Russo/O’Bannon went with a more satire and silly film that still had a few scares, Romero really wanted to show everyone how messed up the end of the world could be in a zombie apocalypse.  Both films are great and seem to be well received in horror communities.  If you want to compare something, how about Romero vs Russo or their zombies.

Since these films zombies have changed a lot, mostly the seem to have gotten smarter and run a lot.  I guess that makes things scarier, I don’t know.  But if you are in the mood for a good zombie movie, check these out and stay the FUCK away from Warm Bodies, that is a piece of shit.

About Ray Marek III 243 Articles
I am a lifelong horror fan. I have written for a few web sites, Kung-Fu Comrades, Nightfall Unlimited and Rage of Rayzor. Freddy's Revenge was the first Horror Film I watched, I was 5. When my mom found out I liked horror films, she began challenging me. Soon to follow were the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Dawn of the Dead. Horror is in my blood, I want to share that with you...my blood...horror. I write unpublished comics. Lifelong dream is to write comics for a major comic book publisher or build my own comic book company.