FOOTAGE FETISHES: “RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD”

I Hate These Guys

Which brings us to crematorium operator Ernie Kaltenbrunner, who exhibits some good judgment and courage throughout the film; he also happens to be a Nazi. Never having heard the DVD commentary, I can’t say if O’Bannon ever addresses this outright, but my reaction upon hearing his name the first time was, “Huh?” Ernst Kaltenbrunner was head of the German “Empire Security Office” and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) during World War II. I’ll spare you the history lesson, but this essentially meant he was in charge of the Gestapo as well as the concentration camp system – in short, an unforgivable bastard. Happily for us, he was executed at Nuremberg in 1946.

Now since the *real* Ernie (here we go again) was dangled some 40 years before “Return,” one can argue that his character’s name is just some sort of goof. Of course, he is listening to the Nazi war anthem “Panzer Rollen in Afrika Vor” when we first see him in the embalming room…and he says something in German that I can’t translate during the trioxin-fed rainstorm…and he operates a crematorium. On one hand, Ernie gets his in the end. Of course (and here’s a SPOILER), they *all* get theirs in the end (even our hero Spider) so his inclusion as a character can either be viewed as a sly inside joke or mere bad taste. I’ll leave it for you to decide. Of course, none of this is really relevant. I offer it primarily in the interest of trivia and because I felt like Mr. Smarty Pants when I figured it out before any of my friends.

Dead Can Dance

Though “Return of the Living Dead” is not a sequel to Romero’s “Dead” movies it deserves placement in the upper ranks of horror films, zombie or not. O’Bannon and company do an admirable job combining horror with hilarity (horlarity?), all while maintaining a tightly paced, suspenseful tale of the living against the dead. The eventual climax of the film fits perfectly with the tone, and leaves no doubt as to why none of these characters ever showed up in either of “Return’s” two sub-par sequels.

The zombie in film hasn’t fared much better since its 1980’s heyday. Romero is (again) apparently working on a fourth “Dead” film as we speak. I’ll believe it when I see it. As always, there have been cult favorites such as Peter Jackson’s “Braindead,” as well as the underrated “Serpent and the Rainbow.” Zombies nowadays are better represented in video games like “House of the Dead” and Resident Evil. Though hopefully the poor showing of the film version of RE means we won’t be subjected to any “Dance Dance Revolution” movies, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Remake My Day

Why not have Clu Gulager and James Karen reprise their roles as Burt and Frank? Rob Brown (Finding Forrester) could hone his acting chops as Spider, and you could get Joe Strummer to play Suicide’s dad, out for revenge. I’d cast Steve Zahn as Freddy, but only because I’d like to see him convulse in torturous pain as he turns into one of the living dead. Ernie would be played by Christopher Lee, who might be looking for some lighter fare after tackling Saruman. And that leaves Beaumont, Texas’ own Tromette, Arban Ornelas, as Trash. I smell blockbuster.

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Writer Pete Vonder Haar takes us down memory lane for an in depth look at films we may have forgotten about. Some of these films will bring back fond memories, while others may force you to cancel your cable service in fear of coming across a late night screening of them.




Posted on September 11, 2002 in Features by

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