Saturday, 6 September 2008

Don Calfa's 'Revenge of the Living Dead' review

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Over the years, the Return of the Living Dead
franchise has taken several turns, through both Romeo and Juliet (Return of the Living Dead III) and TV movie (Necropolis, Rave to the Grave) territory, though one actor from the original movie had different plans for the series. Don Calfa, who played eccentric mortician Ernie Kaltenbrunner, wrote a treatment soon after the release of The Return of the Living Dead back in 1985 with partner Roger Carney. The studio showed little interest in the concept and instead approached Meatballs II director Ken Wiederhorn about creating a new story from scratch. All of the characters were jettisoned in favour of carbon copies, though both Col. Glover and Tarman would make a brief appearance.

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Now, over twenty years later, Calfa has joined forces with British artist Gary Smart to bring his sequel, The Revenge of the Living Dead, to life in the form of a graphic novel! The story continues immediately after the conclusion of the film, where the army, in a last attempt to contain the outbreak, nuke the US town of Louisville, Kentucky. 'But what if the army got the coordinates wrong?' asks the comic. In this version of the story, the bomb goes off target, exploding in the distance. Whilst Ernie and Tina hide in the attic of the morgue as zombified boyfriend Freddy attempts to break his way in, the other survivors (Burt, Spider, Chuck and Casey) are holed up in the medical supplies warehouse across the street. As the movie comes to a close, Freddy manages to find his way into the attic, just as the city is illuminated by a bright explosion. But as the toxic smoke makes its way into the sky, the acid rain that reanimated the dead earlier on rains down all over the surrounding area, hinting that the story is indeed far from over.

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Whilst many fans have expressed their disappointment with 1988's The Return of the Living Dead Part II's, Calfa's story follows on very much in the vein of the first movie. Ernie has become the somewhat reluctant hero of this motley crew, with Spider (originally played by Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning's Miguel A. Núñez Jr.) fighting alongside him while the other characters appear almost as useless as they did in the movie. Unfortunately, Burt died in the explosion, when part of the room caved in on him. This does make sense from a dramatic point of view, though, as this gives the story that 'anything goes' sensibility that made the film so appealing. In his place, both Freddy and Frank, the bumbling Laurel and Hardy-style double act, make a welcome return. After both slowly transforming into zombies throughout the movie, Frank tried to cremate himself, which may cause some confusion to fans as to how he has managed to survive, but the comic does explain that due to his incompetence he only burnt himself instead of ending his (undead) life as planned.

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As Ernie and Tina meet up with the other survivors, the town is put under a military lockdown, with Col. Glover leading a search and destroy mission to exterminate any infection (i.e.; kill anything that moves). The group is forced to pile into an ambulance and make their way out of the area before it is destroyed. Fans will be pleased to see not only a brief cameo by a naked and zombified Trash (a role which turned Linnea Quigley into the ultimate '80's scream queen), but also a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance of Dan O'Bannon (writer and director of The Return of the Living Dead) among the crowd of zombies. Those with a keen eye will also notice a soldier wearing the nametag 'O'Bannon' on his uniform. Both Tarman and the ½ Woman Corpse also appear briefly.

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The Revenge of the Living Dead is the perfect companion piece to the first feature, which expands on the original concept by taking the action out into the city (The Return of the Living Dead was primarily set in three locations; the graveyard, the mortuary and the warehouse). As the survivors attempt to leave the city, they must not only avoid the undead that have grossly outnumbered them, but must also flee from the military that show little interest in taking prisoners. The artwork is impressive, with each character perfectly resembling the actor on which they were based (Ernie even has that demented stare that Calfa has mastered). Whilst the comic is in no way as gory as the movie, the pace is kept tight and the layout is superb, with Smart clearly an up-and-coming talent. For fans of The Return of the Living Dead, and those that love zombies and graphic novels, The Revenge of the Living Dead is a treat!

No release date has been set, but I will keep you updated on the progress…

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