Hello fright fans, my name’s Sam Ashurst and I’m a huge fan of 70s giallo movies, ’80s VHS trash classics, ’90s serial killer flicks and ’00s foreign chillers.
It’s been a while since my last column, so I’ve put together a special feature to celebrate the release of Return Of The Living Dead on Blu-ray on 4 June.
Below, you’ll find an oral history of Return Of The Living Dead , featuring brand-new interviews with the cast.
Scroll down for Linnea Quigley going in-depth on her graveyard dance scene, Jewel Shepard describing her strip club meeting with Dan O’Bannon, and Brian Peck revealing his intense passion for horror flicks.
You’ll also get Beverly Randolph talking about how Return left her bruised and battered, Don Calfa comparing a fellow castmember to a penguin, and the whole lot remembering what it was like to watch the film with an audience for the first time.
So, take off your razor-tipped gloves, hang up your cobweb-covered hat and gently rest your bone-blunted axe beside the door.
And welcome to my House Of Horror…
Don Calfa: Well, when I read the script, I just had a feeling about it that it was right on the money, and yeah, I honest to god thought it was really good on the page, and I knew a little bit about Dan O’Bannon, I knew that he’d acted in and written Dark Star , and I said “Boy this thing could be funny and scary,” so I really thought going in this could be good.
Linnea Quigley: I thought the script was really cool because I like punk and I was playing in a band at that time, and even before that I was punk, so I could relate to that.
It’s, like, weird, I think actors always read their parts and then they read the rest of the scripts, I think most of us do, if they even read the whole script, y’know?
But I thought it was a really cool concept, and I considered myself pretty new in the business, even though I’d done some things, I still felt pretty new and this was a bigger movie than a lot of ‘em I’d done.
Brian Peck: It’s funny, I’ve said this many times before, and I can’t emphasise it enough, I’m a huge horror movie fan.
Y’know I’m a movie geek, I’m a guy from a very early age grew up in movie theatres, I didn’t play sports, I didn’t spend a lot of time outside in the sun, I sat in movie theatres and watched movies, or was in my family’s TV room and would watch old black and white monster movies.
I grew up in the sixties, so as a child I was there for that sort of re-explosion of monsters, y’know the popularity of monsters that happened in the sixties.
I watched all the classic Universal monster movies on TV in black and white, and I built all of the Aurora monster models, my favourite thing in the sixties was monsters, so all of my toys were monster-related and my favourite TV show was The Munsters .
I’ve just been a long time movie lover, but a real lover of monster movies. If I ever had any free time, my favourite pastime was turning my bedroom into a haunted house, in my opinion it was a haunted house, y’know, an attraction, and I would get my mother and maybe two friends to walk through it.
So, I go way back with a love of horror so as an actor that was always a real dream of mine to actually get to be in a horror film, and I had been a very big fan of The Night of the Living Dead and the Dawn of the Dead and the Romero zombie movies that had come out at that time.
So when I got this particular script and I thought the script was very well written, I had a lot of admiration for Dan O’Bannon, and Alien was in my top five movies of all-time, and I have to laugh because when I read the script and actually got the role, I had an Alien poster over my bed at the time.
I was shivering with excitement at the prospect of even getting to be in this movie.
Beverly Randolph: When I first the read the script I was really excited because I’d only read five short scenes of it for interviews, so when I finally saw the whole script it was really exciting, I thought I was getting into something more than I expected.
When I first read I didn’t laugh, I didn’t really have any emotion, I was just so excited to have gotten the part, I just read every line and devoured every scene to just be prepared for our rehearsals and our shoot.
Jewel Shepard: Dan met me in a strip joint and he was looking for basically tits and ass in general, then he got speaking about this upcoming movie he wanted to do, so he was looking for that.
Then he wanted me for a particular part, then when I took my clothes off and did naked dances in front of him – the kind of things that go on in strip joints – he said excitedly “I have this character role, it’s called Legs.” That was the Trash part, only it wasn’t Trash at the time, it was Legs.
So he offers me this naked part and I’m just thinking “I can’t be naked on film” because I’m doing this strip joint stuff on the quiet, but maybe I can be a movie star or whatever but I can’t be naked in movies because that was frowned on at the time.
Then he went around to the next girl with these very long legs and her name was Legs in the actual strip joint, the strip joint’s name was The Ball in Santa Monica, then he offered it to her and she wasn’t very interested because you hear “Hey you wanna be in movies?” all day long and she thought it was just scamming.
And then he went to another girl, she was called Bebe, and she was like “Yeah I’ll do it.”
Bebe looked like Bettie Page at the time and then when he came back to her about 6 months later she was like 6 months pregnant so she couldn’t do It.
So I said “I read the script and I really like this girl here because she’s a party chick and I’m really a party girl and I like to party” and he’s going “But it’s not a very large part, what about this other thing?”
But I really didn’t like have the temperament for the role that later became Trash so I just didn’t do it.
I was taking drugs at the time, basically I was doing drugs at the time, and I related to that, yeah, that’s what you do.
Linnea Quigley: I remember that Stanzi Stokes, who’d cast me in Silent Night, Deadly Night called me and I read for her, and then they had me come in and read for Dan O’Bannon and Graham Henderson, and they had Miguel Nunez there.
I did that little “Do you ever fantasize?” scene and then I had to do a little impromptu dance to show I wouldn’t freeze up with the nudity, because back then, unlike today, women were told in the industry “It’s death if you take off your clothes, don’t do that” and now it’s crazy how many people do it.
Don Calfa: I came in wearing the long jumpsuit and I had some earphones on and I was boogying to some outrageous music and all that and I came in and knocked ‘em out.
My hair was long and dark and I had a long moustache at the time, and Dan said “Would you mind shaving the moustache?” I said “Absolutely not, and because he’s German American I’ll dye my hair blonde” and he said “You got it!”
Brian Peck: The project actually first came to my attention because a friend of mine, an actress, my previous film was a kind of teen sex comedy called The Last American Virgin , and I had become very good friends with one of my co-stars from that film, and she was actually in the running for the part of Tina that Beverly Randolph ended up playing.
So, she was the one who said “Hey, I’m auditioning for this movie, and boy, I think it’s right up your alley”, so she actually lent me her script and that’s how I read it the first time.
I called my agent and said “Hey, get me in on this movie” and the funny thing is that my agent actually refused to set up an audition because after reading it he said I wasn’t right for any of the roles.
He sort of had this one track mind that, because I had played the nerd in Last American Virgin who was picked on for the whole movie, the only thing I could be was losers and nerds, and he said “They’re looking for punk rockers and street rockers and you know you’re not that guy.”
Very frustrated, I relayed that story back to my friend Kimmy Robertson, and she said “I’m going in for a callback, let me take your picture and resume”, so she actually hand-delivered my resume to the director and said “He’s this friend of mine, we did this movie together, he’s a really good actor, he’d be really good for this movie, and for some reason his agent won’t set up an audition but you should see him.”
The casting people called my agent, I don’t think he ever figured out how I got the audition, and I went in.
So getting in was a bit of a hurdle but once I got in I have to say the audition process was pretty standard, I auditioned for the casting director and about a week later I went in for a call-back, which was where I met Dan O’Bannon for the first time, and there were other actors there that were in consideration for some of the other roles, and we kind of did a mix and match of some of the roles as a group audition, and that was it. I only auditioned two times.
The strange part was that there ended up being some delays on the movie over the titles and the copyright between John Russo and George Romero, so I when I knew officially that I’d gotten the part, the next thing I knew the movie was on hold because of these legal issues, honestly eight or nine months went by, and I’d not really forgotten about it but just assumed it was never gonna happen, then in June of 1984 I got a phone-call out of the blue, calling me to come in for a wardrobe fitting!
A) I didn’t know the movie was finally back up on its feet, and b) that was the first confirmation that I even heard that I had even got the part.
So, I was like “What? really? Thanks for this movie, it’ll be fantastic” and next month we start shooting.
Beverly Randolph: That was a long process, it took nine months, so we didn’t find out that we’d be cast in the picture – the core group of us – until nine months later when we read about it in the paper.
The start of it was reading the lines with the casting director, then moving on to meet the producers and reading for them, then reading for the directors and everybody, then doing a screen test, so it was a very lengthy process.
Brian Peck: I would like to say that I was a brilliant actor, to have brought more to the character than was on the page, but I definitely played the role as it was written, I have to give Dan O’Bannon the credit for creating the character on the page.
I think what I brought to it, or at least what I tried to bring to it, was a sense of realism to this punker character, I was nothing like that in real life, and I ‘m often asked if I was into the punk scene when we made the movie, and I take that as a huge compliment.
I definitely wanted it to be a real character, in an unreal situation obviously, that was the thing I was pretty adamant about, and in that regard I was really involved in creating the look of the character and my costume, they’d originally in the wardrobe just had me in a whole bunch of leather, pretty much the same type of look they had for the character of Suicide, and I just ended up looking like a miniature version of Suicide, and I was the one who suggested the trenchcoat, the buttons and the Mohawk.
The day I actually went and got my hair done there was some discussion about doing my hair as a makeup effect, and I just right off the bat said right off the bat “No, no, no it’s got to be real” and they said “Are you willing to do that?” “Yeah of course!”
Jewel Shepard: I had blonde hair, I looked hot, and Dan just came to me and said “Well, just chop it off” and you gotta understand from a girl’s perspective when you’re twenty-something years old you just don’t chop off blonde hair so I just said “Well, I’ll wear a wig”
So basically it was a wig and then they coloured it in those colours blue, red, and whatever they were.
They had a series of four wigs, I would have to wear when it got wet the ones that looked wet and it was the same thing with the outfit, they wanted something bright and at that time it wasn’t the kind of stuff that was being worn and he said “Well, you don’t want to be sexy or attractive” and I said “It’s not like I didn’t want to be sexy or attractive, I just didn’t want to be naked.”
So I ended up in that potato sack of an outfit.
Beverly Randolph: I came up with the idea that Tina was a little good Catholic girl, dating the bad boy.
So, I did bring that aspect to it, although I’m sure it doesn’t show on screen which is fine.
That was my plan, to play this really good girl who truly was in love with this bad boy who wanted to fit in with these people and win his heart.
Don Calfa: I brought props, I have Ava Braun in the background, I have a caricature of Goebbels in the background. And I brought props and things and all that. I had a hand in picking the costume.
Originally when I got the part my name was Ernie Kaltenbrunner – I didn’t realise that it was Burt and Ernie – it was a little homage that he’d gotten in the movie.
And a friend of mine said “What’s your characters name?” and I said “Ernie Kaltenbrunner” and he said “Get out of here!” he said “Ernst Kaltenbrunner was a high ranking Nazi and he was trialled at Nuremburg” and apparently the guy was an aristocrat, he was into duelling and swords and fencing, he was a master at it.
I said “Oh my god I didn’t realise that” so when Dan did the autopsy he gave me the tape that I could listen to in rehearsal and it was ‘When the Panzas go Rolling Along’ which was a German marching song, the Panza being a tank, that’s why my head is jerking, I’m listening to marching music.
Jewel Shepard: When it was time to film Trash’s big graveyard dance scene, up there with the road flares, I was just watching her dancing for just endless hours and I’m thinking “Thank god I don’t have that part” ha ha!
The producers would come and sit there and stare at her and “Oh damn she’s naked.” Like, yeah.
Linnea Quigley: I remember I was really happy because we weren’t under the rain machine so we were warm, and, of course being nervous about it.
I just made up the dance as I went and then I remember they were going around underneath me with the road flares, and the sulphur was making me a little bit dizzy because that is not the nicest smell, and of course it was going right up my nose.
And I remember them gluing the patch on me – the Barbie doll patch they called it – and that was odd, but I felt like I had something on at least.
Don Calfa: She wore a merkin, which is a fake pussy! It’s a fake pussy! It was a fake shaved pussy, somebody said to me “What’s a merkin?” and I said with a Texas accent “Well, a merkin is a fur piece from the real thang!”
I thought she was great. When she got up there, she was butt naked.
Bevery Randolph: Oh my gosh, yeah that was a shocker, because I had read the script but I didn’t expect Linnea to be that naked, and god bless her for it, just to have no inhibitions whatsoever, when we got up at night with the lights and the road flares and the smoke it was just amazing.
It was an amazing scene, and the music that they were playing, I was like “Oh my gosh I can’t believe it!”
It was pretty neat, it doesn’t compare to these huge movies we do today, but at that time that was something special to see.
Brian Peck: At the time we shot it, of course I was dancing around in road flares whilst she was doing it, I just remember at the time thinking “Oh this’ll be cool, people will like this!”
If I did a movie now and did a scene like that in twenty twelve, I would be shocked. Because you know now if you see one set of boobs briefly in an R-rated movie it’s like “Wow! They went there” and it’s just so stupid because in the seventies and eighties you knew when you bought your tickets there was gonna be tits and ass and guys were gonna get naked and we were gonna see lots of it, it was gratuitous and it was why we went, you know?
Not to sound like a perv, but I like that stuff in those movies, and I just think it sort of sucks now that that has become more of a rarity, so I thought it was great and when she was doing it, you know Linnea was very sexy totally hot and she was up there dancing around and giving it the shimmy, and I just thought “This is a cool scene.”
Linnea Quigley: It was just filming as usual, I thought, it was actually a good night because there weren’t any rain machines and there were some fun scenes with Suicide pushing me aside, having some respect for the dead y’know? Tina being Tina being mad that I was on drugs y’know? It was just fun.
Jewel Shephard: When I actually saw it on the big screen, my first thought was like “Fuck I got the wrong part”, it was really like “Oh shit, that is what makes the next career move.”
As soon as it came out Linnea got, like, 50 million calls and I thought “Damn it! Man, I should have kept my clothes off, man, that was what they wanted!”
Don Calfa: Linnea and I worked together later in Treasure of the Moon Goddess . She’s a fab girl.
Beverly Randolph: The night shoots were hard, it was cold and wet, and as soon as you walk out the trailer they would soak you down again, or you’d have to get under the cold sprinkler they were pumping out, so the night shoots were really rough.
One time I fell asleep in my chair, because y’know you have to quickly adjust, and I fell asleep in my trailer,
I woke up and I guess I looked a little sleepy, and oh did Dan let me have it for that, “were you sleeping?”, I said “oh yeah sorry I just dropped off”, and he was livid, “you look like you’re sleepy, oh my god you can’t look like that”, I said “Dan, as soon as that cold water hits me I promise I’ll perk up”, I was already scared when he came in my trailer.
Jewel Shepard: I’d known Dan the longest out of everyone. I knew him from the strip club, and from when we would go and get comic books, he and I always got along really well.
I understood he was a very talented, very finicky very different kind of guy, and you know from a working perspective I understood his strangeness, it was hard for others who didn’t have that, he was very abrupt, very rude, very in your face, like, if he didn’t like something, he told you.
You know that’s hard when someone is not very familiar with that, I come from that background so to me I don’t take it personally.
Don Calfa: Dan did not like Beverly at all, he treated her like shit. At the time he was having a bit of an affair with Jewel Shepherd, she was the favourite, Jewel admitted that Dan met her in a strip club.
But for some reason he treated Beverly like shit, and she’s wonderful in the film.
My favourite moment, when we were in the attic and Thom comes in the attic, which is a freeze frame, it’s the end of the movie, and I’m up there with her and I said “Dan, look, we’re gonna die with him or whatever or we’re gonna get blown away by a rocket, we don’t know, but we’re assuming at that point we’re gonna be devoured by a zombie and to get the emotion going I had a tape that I used to get emotions going and I played it for her and she started to cry like crazy…”
Beverly Randolph: I just loved that one, I got to pour out the emotions to play that.
Don Calfa: “…And I said “What if I bring the gun to her head?”
And he loved it like I’m gonna kill her, like I’m gonna mercy kill her. And he went for that, and he loved it.
Beverly Randolph: We probably only did about five takes of that scene because a hatch came down and landed on Tom Matthews’ head, the guy who played Freddy, so he had to go to hospital and get stitches in his head so we didn’t get to do too many takes of that one.
Don Calfa: Then there was the scene with the broken step. Dan did something you should never do. You don’t do that to an actor. Beverly got hurt, she hurt her back.
Beverly Randolph: The scene where I fall through the stairs, that one was really hard, because I guess I was anticipating that step and going through and we didn’t rehearse that one too much so I didn’t know what to expect and I was a bit fearful of falling through and so Dan had sent me off to make-up, and when I came back, I didn’t know why but it was a little funny, all their faces were looking down.
It turned out he had replaced the third step with the fake step and we went right into shooting it.
And so I didn’t know I was going to fall through and I did.
No-one had told me how to fall, we hadn’t practised and I went right down, it was a fairly decent fall, now today if they had done that they would be in huge trouble, but back then nobody was gonna say “Boo” because I was just a kid, and y’know I was fearful.
But I was black and blue from my hip to my ankle, yeeeah, it wasn’t very nice.
And everybody was just shaking their heads like “I cannot believe he just did that”, but he was a bit of a rough director.
Don Calfa: I swear to god if he didn’t think he had the scene right, he would say “Stand over there” and he would act the scene out, which for an actor … I mean Clu would not stand for that, I mean Clu was like “What the fuck is this!?”
The only time Dan ever said anything about me “Do it differently, blah blah blah and then take the gun, blah blah blah” and Clu jumped across the table and he went at Dan and Jimmy Karen and Thom Mathews held him down.
He wanted to beat up Dan! Yeah, he went for him and said “Don’t you ever talk to Don that way, he’s one of the finest actors in North America!”
And Dan was shaking from head to toe, we had to take Dan in the next room and say “Dan, he got it off his chest, he’s not gonna hit you, it’s gone, he’s already done it, it’s done, it happens, don’t worry about it, he’s not gonna hit you believe me, it’s gone.”
I had to live with this!
Linnea Quigley: He was good with me, I could tell the stress he was under, I mean he started losing weight, he had a little tic with his head goin’ on, and he had a lot of adversity because they wanted to keep it on budget, on time.
Dan was a very, very artistic person and a perfectionist so it’s hard for a person like that to work like a factory worker, so there were always little things. There was a tension there, and for Dan it was very hard, but my relationship with him was good.
Brian Peck: Dan in some ways gets a really bad rap, because a lot of people talk about how difficult he was and I get that perspective from some of the actors, he was definitely tougher on the women in the cast than he was on the men, I don’t know why, he just was.
But for me, I came into the project already a fan of his, like I said, there was the Alien picture hanging over my bed when we were doing the movie so I was just excited to be doing a movie with Dan and had such admiration and respect for him to begin with that I had no issue with him whatsoever, Dan was a guy who very detail orientated, knew what he wanted and was not real open to compromise, and I actually admired that about him.
You know, here’s a guy who wrote the movie, he wrote the script, directing, doing what he wants, I think he’s kind of a genius, I’m just here to do what he wants, and I think some of the other actors were a little more resistant and kind of wanted to be like “Why don’t we try this? Or why can’t do this?” and Dan would be like “No!” and I think some of the other actors were a little put off by that, but I had no problem with it.
I also think that Dan figured out very early on that I was so excited to be there and I was like “I’m your puppet, do what you want with me and I’m here to give 150%” and I think he appreciated that about me so he and I absolutely no issues whatsoever.
We got along famously and I would even go visit him in the editing room months after we’d finished shooting because I was so interested in the entire process and Dan welcomed me to the editing room and asked me my opinion on certain edits he had made, he knew I was a cinephile and this extended beyond my own performance, he and I got along very well.
I thought he was a terrific guy and really talented, and I thought it was really unfortunate for him that his social skills weren’t a little better because he could be your total worst enemy at times, but I just thought he was great.
Linnea Quigley: I think my toughest scene was when I’m resurrected, they made a hole and then I got in the hole, not in the foetal position, but, like, oh my gosh, y’know, crouching down to the ground with my knees tucked under, and then they start shovelling the mud on me, and I couldn’t breathe or anything, and they have to start the rain machine, which takes a few seconds to get going, and I couldn’t hear anything, y’know “Action” or anything, and it was very slippery to stand up in mud.
I said “I got give this one take because this is creepy” and I did it in one take, and I didn’t slip all over the place, because if you’ve ever been in mud barefoot, really wet mud, and I was supposed to be coming up gracefully, it could have been pretty funny, but it worked, so we got it in the one take.
Brian Peck: I was just so excited and happy to be there, and happy to be making the movie that I would happily jumped off a building on fire I thought it would look cool on film.
So in a weird way it seems the tougher the scene the more fun I had, so when we were out in the graveyard set out on the location, yeah we were out there all night and it got a little cold, and we were tired and then they would turn on the rain machine and we were soaking wet, I would say that that’s all fairly miserable conditions but I was just so excited to be in a graveyard getting rained on.
The scene where Beverly Randolph’s character Tina kind of trips and fall in a big puddle and then myself and Miguel Nunez who played Spider came sloshing in and we had to grab her and pick her up out of this big mud puddle, Beverly will tell you that we did that scene over and over again, and Dan seemed to take some particular pleasure in kind of torturing Beverly, she was incredibly unhappy and miserable and cold and didn’t like doing it.
But then again it was so cold and miserable and wet I kind of loved it, so I was so excited we were doing it multiple times because I was just so happy to be in this kind of movie.
Don Calfa: The kids kinda suffered with the night shoots, but all our stuff was indoors. I only went out to shoot the little kid, the little guy.
They found him on Hollywood Boulevard dancing with a hat, oh god yeah, he was something there, he was like a penguin, a penguin!
He had the flippers and two flipper feet, and he ate brains, he ate the ovum, raw meat, liver or whatever it was. It might have been brains.
He was eating brains, and he was wonderful at it, it’s a very creepy scene, I emptied a gun on the guy practically.
And that’s where I used the music.
I had to run inside before we did it, and I said give me five minutes so I could play the music, and they left me alone, and then it just brought me, it just rocked me, so I came running up and when I did the scene I could barely talk, I’m so shaken, but that brings the reality don’t you think? An extra edge.
Jewel Shepard: Nothing about the shoot was fun, there was nothing fun about it, there were rain-trucks, we had two weeks of that.
Dan and Clu got into a huge quibble of an argument and Dan threw things at Clu, and he walked off the set and that really upset Dan.
There were financial issues that they kept on saying “There’s not enough budget” and they would come in for that…
It was a horrible shoot, it was probably one of the worst shoots, but, from a drug perspective, I would just sit there and I would just do coke because that’s what people did to get through the day at that time.
It was so normal that it wasn’t even like you were doing drugs.
Linnea Quigley: I didn’t even know there were drugs on set. No, y’know I always never see that, people always tell me about it.
I just did a music video, a rock band paid me to be in their video, and the director told me “Oh, they were doing cocaine” and this and that, and I didn’t see any of it, I did see the drinking but I didn’t see any of that, I never see that, I don’t know why!
Beverly Randolph: Watching it with an audience for the first time was pretty crazy.
I think I saw it in another state in Wisconsin which is kind of a dairy farm area, so it was out of Hollywood and just with the normal people, and yeah it was pretty wild to see them clap and get excited, it was just surreal.
Don Calfa : You know the picture was a little over 2 million to make, with all the marketing and that I think it was a little over 3 million but it looks like a 25 million dollar picture, doesn’t it?
It was thrilling watching it with an audience, they laughed, they screamed…
A reviewer said “It’s funny until it takes a turn”, Yeah, that’s the point idiot, you laugh until you go “Wait a minute” and let’s face it, there are laughs in Night of the Living Dead, which is a masterpiece in its own right.
Linnea Quigley: It was amazing. I was totally shocked, even now you can sort of tell, but you don’t know, really know, what a film’s gonna turn out like, you don’t know with the editing will do, you don’t know what the music’s gonna be like, you don’t know with a lot of things.
Some days you’re not there when they’re filming something, so I was shocked, and like I said, I was kind of new, and I wish I would have done like Brian did and hung out more, but I was pretty exhausted from all the night shooting.
There’s so much going on that you catch later, they had a lot of different things going on, not just one, like they had the eye chart, the butterflies that start moving, just things that when you watch it the first time, maybe you don’t see them, and then you watch it again, and you go “Wait, what’s that?”
And then my favourite scene, when James Karen decides to end his life, and I don’t know, that always gets me, I know it’s a horror comedy film but that always gets me, it almost makes me cry, just the way he did it and everything, it was just brilliant.
Don Calfa: I loved the special effects. That half corpse is a work of art, the dead man with the prosthetic and the blood pooling and all that. I’ve had several morticians come up to me and call me and say: “Boy, it was right on the money.”
Jewel Shepard: Well, I walked up and down to get popcorn, to get candy, because I wanted to be recognised.
I went to the Mann Theatre in Westwood and it was reasonably full and I thought ‘Somebody’s gonna point me out in the aisle’, so I literally walked up and down the aisle in the screenings and not one person in the theatre, not outside, nowhere did they recognise me,
That’s what you work for as an actress when you’re young and you’re ignorant, you think fame is important.
And then there’s this big moment – the release – and you want to be acknowledged and I wasn’t, yet, everyone laughed, so I thought “Ah, it must be a good movie.”
Brian Peck: It was funny for me, I don’t know about the rest of the cast, but when we filmed the movie I didn’t realise that there was as much humour in it as there was.
When you read the script the there is stuff in the movie that is very very funny but when you read it on the page you didn’t necessarily get what was funny, y’know when you read that a zombie crawls into the cab of the ambulance, grabs the radio transmitter and says “send more paramedics”, well, that read kind of creepy, and it sounds kind of creepy but in actuality it’s hilarious, and it’s great hilarious.
So when I saw the movie for the first time there was all this laughter that I wasn’t expected, and I was a bit taken a back because I didn’t know if it was a good thing or not.
I thought “Oh god they’re laughing at our movie”, and James Karen’s performance which was so over the top, when we were filming it I thought “Oh , I don’t know, it’s kind broad” whereas in the movie he’s brilliant, he’s hilarious.
I have to say my very first screening of the movie with an audience I had really mixed feelings, and I thought, “God, people really laughed a lot”, and I was expecting it to be more of a straight-forward horror movie, well, obviously years later, that’s the reason we’re still talking about the movie 28 years later, that’s what so great about it, and what was so great about the humour was that it was just in the tone of how it was played.
It wasn’t like Dan wrote jokes in the script which is why I say you could read that moment – ‘Send more paramedics’ – as straight in the script, but then in the movie it’s purposely hilarious, Dan didn’t hit you over the head with it but it was all in there.
That was the problem with Part 2, they were like “Oh it’s a horror comedy so let’s write a bunch of goofy zombie jokes” and they just kind of fell flat.
Don Calfa: It’s stood the test of time because it’s good, it’s tight you know, it’s just tight, it work like a Swiss watch, everything, the timing, it just takes off like a rollercoaster.
Beverly Randolph: I think it survived the test of time because of the music and the unique look of the film, and it had comedy in it, and I think it’s just kind of fun to watch, I think the look of it is really unique compared to other horror films of the eighties.
Linnea Quigley: It was just all in the stars lining up right, it was everything, the cast, the director, the music, the editing, just everything, the timing of when it came out I guess, it was just really something that I don’t think could ever be repeated, at least if they tried to make another one or anything like that, which I don’t think ever works, remakes, I don’t think remakes ever work.
Jewel Shepard: I think it’s a good script. I think that with each character someone looking at that person can identify with that kind of personality.
You’ve got the good girl, the geek kind of guy, you’ve got the zombies, and this is the first kind of film I guess where zombies could run.
I didn’t know there was a difference but then now people bring it to my attention – “Don’t you know that usually zombies are really slow, but in your movie they ran?” And I’m like, “Oh wow. Ok.”
Brian Peck: I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve met who have some form of the Return of the Living Dead tattoo on their body, that artwork from the original one sheet poster I’ve seen tattooed on about twenty people or more. Or Linnea naked, there’s that type of fan.
And then there’s the 45 year old guys who come in with their wife and kids who look like the average family man, middle America and they say I saw the movie in high school and it’s my favourite movie of all-time, here’s my daughter, here’s my son, I’ve made them watch it 10 times.
Then there’s the really young fans, I’m blown away by how young they are, but they’ve seen it somewhere along the line, most of the time I say “When did you see the movie?” and invariably they would say “Oh, my dad showed me the movie” and some rare occasions “My mom showed me the movie”, and I would say “Your parents are very irresponsible, that’s awesome!”
The fanbase is very diverse, I have to tell you it’s such a cool thing to have the opportunity to meet the fans, there are some people who say “This is my favourite movie of all time” or say “This movie changed my life” and I’ve met people that it influenced them to go into the movie industry or some area of make up or special effects.
Jewel Shepard: Do you know how many Tar Mans I’ve seen? So, I have to sit there and I have to take all these photos with Tar Man, so I have to contend with slime all over me, so if somebody comes dressed as Tar Man, I’m always: “It’s on my breasts you Tar Man you.”
Linnea Quigley: The horror fans are normally pretty good. But I did have one weird experience.
When I was doing Return I started getting these calls like [adopts Scream -like voice] “I’m gonna call you three times and on the third call you’re gonna be dead!”
And I started freaking out, and then, the second night I woke up and the lights were out, all the lights in the house.
Because the guy was still calling, and I thought the guy had cut the wires. I actually went out and bought an M1, a rifle, because I got scared and I let the production office know.
I have no idea what that was about, it could have been random, it could have just happened, but it was right around that time.
Don Calfa: You know the fans are thrilled, they’re thrilled to meet you, they wanna know what I said in German, they wanna know everything about the film, and they tell you their favourite moments and all that and then you take pictures with them and they’re excited, and I’m thrilled.
It’s great to be on the road going to different cities and all that and it’s not a pain in the ass for me, I don’t think it is for any of us.
Beverly Randolph : The film has a lot of female fans, because there was three strong and unique individual female characters and probably because they would like to relate to them, like when I read a book I put myself in place of one of the characters places.
I think it was fun because all of us were so different, and I think there’s a character for everyone, for every girl.
Linnea Quigley: I think girls like it because it wasn’t the typical horror film where somebody has sex then dies and there’s the real weak character that can’t get by without a guy.
Yeah, at least Trash was strong, she came back to life and started eating people.
Brian Peck: I often say that if the movie had been a total flop and had come and gone in the blink of an eye, it would still be one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Just getting to work with Dan, getting to be in a zombie movie, I just had such a good time making it, the fact that it’s still a classic and still remembered is an added bonus.
But if I had to pick one moment, it would have to be the day that zombies heads were bursting the mortuary windows and I was hitting them with sledgehammers because that was just such a on the nose thing I had dream about doing as a lover of horror movies.
I had seen so many movies where the monsters are trying to get in the window, or the zombies are trying to get in the window and they’re trying to beat them back, I just thought “This is so cool I’m getting to do this.”
Those were the moments to me where I thought “Wow, I’m actually doing this, I’m really in a zombie film, I’m really in a horror film, and this is a dream come true.”
Beverly Randolph : My happiest memory would be the crew, they were kind to us, especially since they knew we were having a hard time, well, some of us were having a hard time with the director, you know not everybody?
So they were extra kind to you, and on my birthday, the camera crew were like “Beverly, clap the board for us today”, and I said “Well, sure”, so I clapped the board, and they came back later on with an 8×10 still of me clapping the board for my birthday.
I remember some of the guys coming up to see us when I was having trouble with Dan and they were like “It’s not always like this, hang in there you’re being a good sport, don’t take it too hard”, it was just so warm and nice.
Linnea Quigley: My happiest memory? Just being able to work with these amazing people and getting to know them and getting to know the body of work that Don had…
It was a real honour to get to work with these people, and I think it was just interesting because we still go to conventions and know each other, and some of the characters are just like the people, y’know. Some of ‘em are, but some of ‘em aren’t.
Jewel Shepard: My happiest memory? The pay cheque. I’m serious.
In the Screen Actors Guild, you got paid seven days after the first day of the shoot, so that came in and it was like “Damn, I can eat now.”
Return Of The Living Dead will be released on Blu-ray on 4 June