Warning: After the jump, this review contains NSFW imagery including nudity. Venture forth at your own risk!
Prior to the mid 1980’s, punk was repulsive – not pop. It got zero exposure, stunk of piss and BO, and generally existed to be an Antichrist of the music of its era. In the 1990’s, grunge became popular in the mainstream and opened to the doors for more avant garde sounds to get radio play, namely everything from Green Day to today’s Good Charlotte. It was party popular, played in the top 10 videos, and made the punk genre very, very different to that which it was when it started. Bubblegummy, cliquey, and attractive to a pop-reliant, Nickelodeon generation.
Somewhere between these two eras, punk underwent an awkward phase – evolving into more catchy and gimmicked entities – more readily played at a party or put on a mix tape. Awkward, yet not entirely offensive to the virgin ear. This was the dead center of the 80’s. Enter now RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD – August 1985.
In 1985, zombies had not yet become mainstream, and were the love affair of a generation of teens collecting hard to find horror on VHS tapes from their local video store. So when RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD stepped onto the scene, every punk and metal oriented gore loving DAWN OF THE DEAD owner took notice of the coming attractions and ads in the paper – and were there at the movie theaters opening night. All without phone calls or social networking – it just happened.
It’s hard to recall a film that made more than $10 million in theaters before 1985, that featured punks as the main cast. This, in itself, was a gift in itself to many outcasts and genre loving misfits, and when Dan O’Bannon delivered a laughably funny film that also stood up to some of the most hardcore zombie films ever made – something our parents could even respect – it became an instant cult classic.
Firming this was its soundtrack. No widely appreciated film lasts the test of time without a good music backbone. RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD’s OST was a melodic snapshot of a short lived time, when punk was stepping out of the gutters and into the moonlight of goth, rockabilly, and mohawk pride.
Opening with The Cramps “Surfin’ Dead”, it lays the tone with a Halloween tint of monsters and fear, to an oddly party admissible good time rhythm – which is what the rest that follow do, as well, each in their own unique way.
“Party Time” by the otherwise unknown 45 Grave brings back memories of the classic scene when the skeletal corpse comes up from the grave in the cemetery and opens his toothy grin! Do ya wanna party?! It’s party time!!!
“Nothin’ For You” personally got me into TSOL. It was a good blend of a rock jam and punk negativity.
“Eyes Without a Face” by The Flesheaters is just low average and forgettable. Probably got on because of the band’s name – which I’m guessing came together a week before shooting started.
“Burn the Flames” by Roky Erickson is a soundtrack classic. Never to be found outside this film and its fans, it’s a gothic, mad creep at the organ fest, that links fond memories to many people’s favorite scene of Frank screaming to death after his zombie-avoiding suicide burning in the crematory oven. So burn! Hahahahahahaa…. Burn the flames! Classic.
“Dead Beat Dance” by The Damned is probably only remembered by the laughing and screaming crossovers, and is a bit catchy, but never gets on anyone’s mix tapes, I’m sure.
“Take a Walk” by the Tall Boys. Who? Chill, dark rockabilly jam to compliment The Cramps existence on the album, and reminiscent of the film’s climaxing chaos, as our victims scramble around in the rain, slipping, falling, and looking for refuge from the zombie apocalypse.
“Love Under Will” is the catchy chorus line and the title of The Jet Black Berries feminine entry into the fray, probably best reflective of the nerdy emo couple that gets trapped and isolated back at the mortuary. Doesn’t bring back many more memories than that – and they were the annoying (yawn) part of the cast, to be brutally honest.
“Tonight We’ll Make Love Until We Die” by SSQ is a classic on its own – and a must own for every lusting, brooding, teenage goth girl decked in black. It recalls memories of the best thing about RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD: Linnea Quigley – who singlehandedly gave birth to s-e-x-y in p-u-n-k back in 85. Its the hard on track she gyrates to naked atop the gravestone – the scene that deservedly earned her a lifelong career in B-horror – as well as when she return from the grave with “super-jaw”. And the part of the film my cock-brain will NEVER forget. This track is a pleasure to listen to whenever I come across it.
“Trash’s Theme” by SSQ is a forgettable instrumental by SSQ, the band behind the tracks for Quigley in this film, so in that respect it gets some points for inducing further reminiscence, and maybe a few for being a mellow, whispy sort of new wave, atmospheric synth walkout to the album, but I’ve never sought it out on its own – and I’m guessing it really tapped only a small niche of followers.
Many of the bands from RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD’s OST are one time wonders, while others went on to bear worthy underground careers during this transition of punk redefining itself, but the overall sound and effect of the album truly puts the signature flair of 1985 punk authenticity on the film experience – one that has lived after for years as an accurate effigy of a rare moment in time. Post Green Day-ites, these are your genre roots – GG Allin’ites and Black Flag’ers, this is the popularity-seeking nightmare it turned into.
4 out of 5 Skulls
1. “Surfin’ Dead” by The Cramps
2. “Partytime (Zombie Version)” by 45 Grave
3. “Nothin’ for You” by T.S.O.L.
4. “Eyes Without a Face” by The Flesh Eaters
5. “Burn the Flames” by Roky Erickson
6. “Dead Beat Dance” by The Damned
7. “Take a Walk” by Tall Boys
8. “Love Under Will” by Jet Black Berries
9. “Tonight (We’ll Make Love Until We Die)” by SSQ
10. “Trash’s Theme” by SSQ