• Before making a single edit, Tropedia EXPECTS our site policy and manual of style to be followed. Failure to do so may result in deletion of contributions and blocks of users who refuse to learn to do so. Our policies can be reviewed here.
  • All images MUST now have proper attribution, those who neglect to assign at least the "fair use" licensing to an image may have it deleted. All new pages should use the preloadable templates feature on the edit page to add the appropriate basic page markup. Pages that don't do this will be subject to deletion, with or without explanation.
  • All new trope pages will be made with the "Trope Workshop" found on the "Troper Tools" menu and worked on until they have at least three examples. The Trope workshop specific templates can then be removed and it will be regarded as a regular trope page after being moved to the Main namespace. THIS SHOULD BE WORKING NOW, REPORT ANY ISSUES TO Janna2000, SelfCloak or RRabbit42. DON'T MAKE PAGES MANUALLY UNLESS A TEMPLATE IS BROKEN, AND REPORT IT THAT IS THE CASE. PAGES WILL BE DELETED OTHERWISE IF THEY ARE MISSING BASIC MARKUP.


Farm-Fresh balance.pngYMMVTransmit blue.pngRadarWikEd fancyquotes.pngQuotes • (Emoticon happy.pngFunnyHeart.pngHeartwarmingSilk award star gold 3.pngAwesome) • Refridgerator.pngFridgeGroup.pngCharactersScript edit.pngFanfic RecsSkull0.pngNightmare FuelRsz 1rsz 2rsz 1shout-out icon.pngShout OutMagnifier.pngPlotGota icono.pngTear JerkerBug-silk.pngHeadscratchersHelp.pngTriviaWMGFilmRoll-small.pngRecapRainbow.pngHo YayPhoto link.pngImage LinksNyan-Cat-Original.pngMemesHaiku-wide-icon.pngHaikuLaconicLibrary science symbol .svg SourceSetting


"Send more paramedics."

Return of the Living Dead (1985) is a horror-comedy Film written by Dan O'Bannon, starring Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Beverly Randolph and Linnea Quigley. Return is based on the premise that Night of the Living Dead was based on actual events, caused when a gas called 2-4-5 Trioxin was released into the morgue in the basement of a VA hospital in Pittsburgh, causing the bodies to jerk around as if they were alive. Unable to contain the undead threat, the military stored the lively corpses in sealed barrels. When the story leaked out, the government allowed Night of the Living Dead to be made, but they ordered the filmmakers to alter the story and claim it was fictional.

However, due to a clerical error, a few such Barrels of Doom were shipped to a warehouse currently employing our intrepid heroes, and stored there for years. As testament to the strength and quality of the barrels, one of them springs a leak as soon as the foreman reassures his new employee of the solid military construction by slapping the side of one of them. The Trioxin gets into the cadaver freezer, animating the contents. The shambling, hungry dead escape, craving their favorite food: Brains...

Return of the Living Dead was followed by four sequels, one of which featured a tragic romance between a boy and his zombified girlfriend.

This movie series contains the following:

General Tropes

  • Ashes to Crashes: Burning the living dead is a very bad idea, as more zombies come to life that way.
  • Brain Food: Ur Example in regards to zombies. Here, the zombies eat brains because they give off endorphins that kill the pain of decomposition and rigor mortis.
  • Body Horror: The zombies in general, especially the page picture, Tarman, who is seen transforming from a relatively intact looking corpse into, well...Tarman.
  • The Dead Have Eyes.
  • Dem Bones: A couple zombies, including Tarman.
  • Everything's Deader with Zombies: Present and accounted for, a lot.
  • Fiction as Cover Up: The original Night of the Living Dead was meant as a cover-up of a zombie outbreak.
  • Gallows Humor: And how.
  • It Can Think: The Return zombies show signs of intelligence, like puzzle-solving (Tarman rigs a chain winch to tear open the doors of a closet a potential meal is hiding in), speech (they know more words than just "Brains", but this one seems to be their favorite), and awareness of their condition (leading to a couple Tear Jerker moments with infected heroes), traits not found in their shambling, mindless cousins from other zombie franchises. YMMV whether this makes them more or less scary.
  • It Got Worse: Throughout the series, the ultimate example being either the unintentional Trioxin rain from the first film or the appearance of mech suit equipped zombies in Necropolis
    • Subverted with the mecha-zombies of Necropolis, who are inexplicably vulnerable to headshots, despite every zombie in previous installments being unphased by them.
      • Possibly a bullet to the brain leaves the zombie itself still functional, but destroys the components that link it to the suit?
  • Made of Plasticine
  • Mood Whiplash: The first and second movies are horror-comedies. The third movie completely drops the comedy in favor of being squicky and sad.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Type F.
  • Pac-Man Fever
  • Pipe Pain: Burt uses a pipe as a weapon when the zombies try and break into the mortuary.
  • Revenge of the Sequel: Return was this to Night of the Living Dead, despite not being a true sequel to any of Romero's flicks.
  • Running Gag: "Send more..."
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The canisters of Trioxin that also contain zombies.
  • Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror
  • A Storm Is Coming/When It Rains, It Pours: Whenever trioxin gas or zombie ash gets into the atmosphere, it immediately starts pouring down raining. It's a rule.
  • Thematic Series: The series is loosely connected as well as being a loose Spin-Off of Night Of The Living Dead.
  • The X of Y
  • Zombie Apocalypse
  • Zombie Gait: Averted.
  • Zombie Infectee: A few characters manage to keep their wits about them after being bitten, finding ways to fight off their cravings well into their transformation, so as not to be a danger to their loved ones.
    • At least in the first movie getting bitten doesn't make you an infectee. Only a direct exposure to the chemical does the trick. Too bad that it can spread with rain falling on your skin.
      • And even then, you have to die first. Unfortunately for Freddy and Frank, a face full of Trioxin is poisonous.
      • It's ambiguous whether a bite does it, actually. Trash is exposed to Trioxin-laced rain, but so are the other punks, none of whom develop the same symptoms as the first two who get exposed. Several other zombies (including the aforementioned "more paramedics" and "more cops") weren't present for the rain, but rise again all the same. In contrast, Suicide is the first known fatality of the new outbreak, his brains devoured by Tarman (who was drenched in Trioxin to the point that his body decayed into, well, Tarman), but he doesn't rise again despite both heavy exposure AND bites.

The Return of the Living Dead

  • Barbie Doll Anatomy: The actress playing Trash (Linnea Quigley) was wearing a prosthetic crotch cover, the result of meddling executives wishing to avoid an "X" Rating.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: An in-universe example, as the military insisted that certain elements of "the original story" be changed.
  • Batter Up: Burt decapitates Tarman (The zombie in the page picture) with a baseball bat.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: When Trash resurfaces as a naked zombie near the end of the first film, having been (theoretically) eaten by a bunch of zombified old men... one can't help but notice a distinct lack of bite marks.
    • Remember that the zombies here are only interested in her brain, and so she should only have head wounds..
  • Berserk Button: Tarman does not like having his meals interrupted, nor does Suicide like being called spooky.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Later in the film, Frank immolates himself in the retort, as he has become a zombie and has no other means of ending his agony that would be certain to work.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Averted. Spider, the only black member of the crew, is among the last to die at the end of the film.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Averted. Ernie's Walther P38 holds 8 rounds in the magazine and 1 round in the chamber. He fires three shots at the zombie by the ambulance, then four more at the horde trying to break through the front of the mortuary. Later he's seen trying to reload it once all the windows have been boarded up.
  • Cool Old Guy: Burt kicks more ass than any of the seemingly tough punks.
    • Ernie has his moments as well.
  • Cute Monster Girl: Zombie!Trash.
  • Death by Irony: Earlier in the film, Trash says the worst way to die to be eaten by a bunch of old men. The zombies that eat her are such.
  • Death By Pragmatism: The characters decide that they can't handle the zombies by themselves, so they call the military. Helpfully, the military nuke the town. But see Deus Ex Nukina.
  • Deus Ex Nukina: Instead of sterilizing the zombie outbreak, the nuclear blast only serves to distribute the Virus widely.
  • Distress Call: One of the brain-hungry zombies uses a fake distress call to request more food: "Send more paramedics."
  • Driven to Suicide: Frank commits self-immolation while he's still in control of his own mind after Freddy becomes a zombie.
  • Drop the Hammer: Spyder uses a sledgehammer to try and fend off the zombies.
  • The Eighties: Almost a cross-section, too. You have punks, preppies, greasers, and so on all in the same group of kids - complete with Eighties Hair, of course.
  • Fan Service: Trash appearing naked for most of the first film...
    • ...then you might consider her appearing naked as a zombie for the end of the film to be Fan Disservice. Unless you're into that kind of thing....
      • If you look at her as a zombie, the only things to indicate that she's undead are her now bleach-white skin and the fact that she's gnawing your arms off. Of course she also looks vaguely like a rabid Ronald McDonald.
        • And the gigantic monster jaw.
  • Foreshadowing: As Burt and Ernie burn the evidence of the Trioxin leaking, Frank sneers, "Some big favor. I can operate that goddamn thing." In one version, Freddy asks in reply, "But who'd want to?" Frank would, later in the film, to take himself out of the equation before he can eat any brains.
  • Genre Savvy: Good news: Some of the men are aware that Night of the Living Dead was based on true events. Bad news: The movie was loosely based on actual events, and the "real" zombies are completely different.
  • Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: At one point Spider starts babbling and Ernie slaps him.
  • Heroic BSOD: Ernie, after encountering his first zombie.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: The first film begins on July 3rd, late afternoon. It's probably safe to assume that by the end, midnight eventually rolled around.
  • If You Can Read This...: There is an eye chart in the background in the first movie that reads, "Burt is a slave driver and son of a bitch who's got you and me here."
  • Immortality Hurts:

 Ernie: Why do you eat people?

Zombie: Not people. Brains.

Ernie: Brains only?

Zombie: Yes.

Ernie: Why?

Zombie: The PAIN!

Ernie: What about the pain?

Zombie: The pain of being DEAD!

Ernie: It hurts... to be dead.

Zombie: I can feel my body rot!

Ernie: Eating brains... How does that make you feel?

Zombie: It makes the pain go away!

  • It's the Only Way to Be Sure: About ten blocks of Louisville are converted to radioactive slag.
  • Kill It with Fire: This ends very, very badly.
  • Lost in Translation: The Italian dub translates the film's funniest line, "You mean the movie lied!?", as "Continua a muoversi!"[1]
  • Mercy Kill: It's implied that Ernie is getting ready to do this to Tina when Freddy has them both cornered in the attic and is about to break in. He has his pistol pointed at her head, ready to kill her and spare her the pain of Freddy eating her brains. Of course, the Deus Ex Nukina arrives before he has to do it.
  • Name's the Same: O'Bannon swears it's a coincidence that the main heroes of the first film include a man named Burt and his old friend Ernie.
    • Not to mention that Clu Gulager and Don Calfa sort of look like that other Burt and Ernie.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Quite literally in the first movie. When Trash is describing the worst way she can think of to die (namely, being eaten by a bunch of old men), she is clearly getting turned on, to the point that she tears off all her clothes and does a naked dance in the middle of a cemetery.
  • Noodle Incident: "No, we can't, the cops said they'd shoot us if we went back to the park."
  • Not a Zombie: Averted. The first group to encounter a zombie knew about the chemical, and the first animated corpse they encountered was one they already knew to be dead. The second group encounters a zombie so horrifically rotted, and screaming for brains, that there isn't much question.
  • Not Using the Z Word: Averted. At one point Spider says, "There's zombies all over the cars outside."
  • Nuke'Em: It only spreads the virus.
  • Phlegmings: In the first movie, when Freddy finally succumbs to the zombie hunger he starts foaming at the mouth like he's chewing on Alka-Seltzer.
  • Playing Against Type: The Tarman is performed by actor and puppeteer Allan Trautman, who is best known for his work with Jim Henson and The Muppets.
  • Raising the Steaks: Several preserved specimens are animated, including half a dog and a number of preserved butterflies.
  • Second Law of Metafictional Thermodynamics: The army has no idea how to get rid of the zombies. They bomb the whole town. This proves to be ill-advised.
  • Tempting Fate:

 Freddy: These things don't leak, do they?

Frank: Leak? Hell, no! This was built by the Army Corps of Engineers!

(slaps tank, which instantly leaks)

    • Trash's fantasy of being eaten by old men wouldn't have been expressed by someone more Genre Savvy.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Ernie, in the first film, is strongly implied to be one. He listens to a German march on his headphones, uses a pearl-handled Walther P38 handgun, and has an Eva Braun pinup on the wall in one scene.
  • Throw It In: Frank's self-immolation scene was suggested by James Karen, who didn't wish to shoot any scenes in the cold Los Angeles rain.
  • Transhuman Treachery: Freddy has an epiphany:

 Freddy: [to Tina] See? You made me hurt myself again! I broke my hand off completely at the wrist this time, Tina! But that's okay, Darlin', because I love you, and that's why you have to let me EAT YOUR BRAAAAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIINS!

  • Understatement: After driving through a throng of brain-hungry zombies: "I think that something is not right outside!
  • Vertigo Effect: When Tina first sees the Tarman.
  • What Could Have Been: Ernie didn't intend Burt's favor to be to "watch [his] ass out there" after leaving the funeral parlor with Spider. The workprint reveals that he intended the favor to be more of a Meaningful Echo to the very first scene:

 Ernie: Burt, that favor you still owe me... no matter what happens, don't name it after me.


 Burt: I thought you said that if we destroyed the brain, it'd die!

Frank: It worked in the movie!

Burt: Well, it ain't working now, Frank!

Frank: You mean the movie lied!?

  • You Fail Mortuary Science Forever: Zombies aside, rigor mortis is solely a phenomenon of muscle tissue, hence can't "start in the brain" as the first film claims. Livor mortis, yes, rigor no.
  • Zerg Rush: How the zombies kill.

Return of the Living Dead Part II

  • Actor Allusion: Ed and Joey get a few to the first film; for example, in one scene, Ed expresses his wish for his body to be burned after he dies (a reference to Frank's self-immolation in the first film), and then, after Joey speculates about Ed's reason for wanting to be burned:

 Ed: Watch your tongue, boy, if you like this job.

Joey: Like this job? Like this job?

  • The Alleged Car/The Precious Precious Car: A minor character has a vintage Cadillac which he states is "cherry" as a reason not to let the heroes use it as a getaway car. Too bad it has a few problems starting up at crucial moments all the damn time...
  • Blatant Lies: The opening narration of the second movie states that after observing the effects of Trioxin, the military decides not to use it and, "as far as anyone knows, all trioxin has been destroyed"... as the camera pans over a truck loaded with many barrels of same.
  • Can You Hear Me Now: A rare non-cellular version occurs in the second movie. A boy who found a couple errant drums of Trioxin attempts to call the number stencilled on the side, but the panicking driver of a van takes out a utility box on the corner through which the phone lines for the entire neighborhood are routed.
  • Distress Call: "Send more cops."
  • Groin Attack: While the heroes are juggling around a severed zombie hand inside a moving car, at one point it latches onto the family jewels of the car's owner.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: Jesse Wilson is Michael Kenworthy, who would later appear in The Blob, is also in this film and survives.
  • Large Ham: Ed and Joey spend most of the second film howling about how much zombification hurts.
  • Not Now, Kiddo
  • Post Mortem One Liner: This gem after Jesse kills Billy:

 Jesse: That's why you're dead, asshole; no brains and a big mouth!

  • Shout-Out: The Michael Jackson zombie at the end.
  • Undead Child: A twelve-year-old neighborhood bully gets a faceful of Trioxin vapor in the second movie.
  • You Look Familiar: Thom Mathews, who played Freddy in the first movie, returns as an unrelated character named Joey in the second. Both directly witness the beginning of the Zombie Apocalypse, and both get a dose of Trioxin in the beginning of their respective movies. Likewise, James Karen played Frank in the first film and Ed in the second. Joey even lampshades this in the second as he laments that he feels like he's been through this whole thing once before, and Ed was there too.

 Joey: I just feel so…I got this feeling.

Ed: Yeah…me, too.

Joey: No, it’s like we’ve been here before. It’s like a dream, this whole thing! You, me, them...


Return of the Living Dead Part III

  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: The Riverman lives in one.
  • Better to Die Than Be Killed: Curt and Julie immolate themselves as lovers rather than let Julie be used as a superweapon.
  • Boy Meets Ghoul: The third movie.
  • Cute Monster Girl: Zombie!Julie.
  • Driven to Suicide / Downer Ending: Julie can't bear existence as a zombie, and Curt can't bear existence without her, so they both allow themselves to die in a fire at the end.
  • Fingore: The third movie has two obvious examples: once in the beginning, where a lab tech's fingers are torn off by a zombie, and once about 2/3 of the way through where Julie rams a glass shard through her hand.
  • Horror Hunger: In Return of the Living Dead 3, the hero's (undead) girlfriend develops painful hunger pangs, but none of the snacks that he procures for her will sate her appetite. Her zombie cravings cause her to mutilate herself in order to drown out the hunger... but she feels much better after she munches on a couple of street toughs.
  • I Know You Are in There Somewhere Fight: Curt has one with the Zombiefied Riverman near the end of the movie.
  • Magical Negro: The river man.
  • Resurrected Romance
  • Vampire Refugee: The love interest in the third movie must keep finding new and unique ways to injure herself to keep from succumbing to her zombie hunger.

Return of the Living Dead: Necropolis

Return of the Living Dead: Rave from the Grave

  1. "It's continuing to move!"