The Rebellious Existential Comedy of ‘The Return of the Living Dead’

A horror comedy with brrrrrrrraaaaains.
Return Of The Living Dead

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on Dan O’Bannon’s tragic horror-comedy zombie film The Return of the Living Dead.


A horrifying portrait of humanity’s self-destruction? That may sound like a tall order for a slapstick horror-comedy, but  The Return of the Living Dead is cut from a different, and indelibly goopy, cloth.

The 1985 film is set in a universe where George A. Romero’s genre-defining Night of the Living Dead exists as a fictionalized account of a real military experiment. The evidence of the mishap is collecting dust in the basement of a medical supply facility, lost in transit due to bureaucratic shenanigans.

When a bumbling employee decides to show the ominous metal drums to a new hire, the pair accidentally release the contents of one of the barrels. What follows is an increasingly chaotic domino effect of scrambling, ineffective decision-making in the wake of a developing zombie apocalypse.

Written and directed by Dan O’BannonThe Return of the Living Dead straddles a multitude of tonal spaces to deliver one of the most subversive, hilarious, and depressing zombie films ever made. An unabashed genre satire that ended up bringing a lot of new zombie lore to the table, it is simultaneously one of the funniest and grimmest tales of an undead uprising.

Unlike most zombie fiction, the grand thematic point of the movie is not that man is the real monster. It’s that man is an absolute moron. The Return of the Living Dead is about an outbreak. And inasmuch, it’s colored in all the chaos, confusion, and pitch-black humor of a self-inflicted apocalypse.

As the video essay below relays, The Return of the Living Dead is a pitch-black take on the improbability of mankind’s ability to survive its own stupidity. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll regret learning the horrifying reason why zombies hunger for our sweet, delicious brains.

Watch “Return of the Living Dead is a Comedic Nightmare Tragedy”:


Who made this?

This video on The Return of the Living Dead is by Ryan Hollinger, a Northern Irish video essayist who specializes in horror films. Hollinger’s analysis usually takes the shape of a personal retrospective. Indulging in a healthy dose of nostalgia, Hollinger’s videos are contagiously endearing, entertaining, and informative. You can also check out Hollinger’s podcast The Carryout on SoundCloud here. And you can subscribe to Hollinger’s YouTube account here.

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    Meg Shields: Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).