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Traumafessions :: Reader Chuckles on Return of the Living Dead

August 18th, 2009 by aunt john · 14 Comments

I really enjoy the site. Keep up the good work.

Anyhow, I suppose that as a young child, I was exceptionally sensitive and was repeatedly trauma’d by 1970s pop culture: the cover of the Queen album News of the World; those huge monsters that ate people on the MUPPET SHOW; the trailer for THE DEVIL’S RAIN (which ran before some thing much more mundane at the drive-in); and of course my cousin Roger’s thoughtful description of PHANTASM which I really didn’t understand but caused me to steal and bury my neighbor’s silver sphere garden decoration.

However, I must (somewhat shamefully) admit that the mightiest trauma didn’t come down until I was 12 or 13 years old. I was told by some of the older kids on the block that I should see this hi-larious movie called RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Now, I’ve seen the film a few times as an adult and it is pretty damned witty, but the kids on my block forgot to mention that the film could also be regarded as being UTTERLY HORRIFYING by a kid that was afraid of (certain) Muppets. I was doing O.K. until the “tar-man” zombie showed up. After that it was zero chuckles and pure white knuckles.

There was something about the RETURN zombies that really shook me up. These zombies were so much like living people that their acts of cannibalism seemed much more terrible. Freddy’s slow transformation from loving boyfriend to brain-craving zombie really underscored the point. Further, although they were much more human than other zombies, they were essentially unstoppable, which made me feel helpless. Finally, they wanted to eat living human brains, which greatly bothered me for reasons that I still don’t fully understand to this day.

My viewing of RETURN began a new phase in my life that lasted for years. I would not go near a cemetery and memorized the locations of every one in town so that I could plan my bicycle rides accordingly. Same with funeral homes, natch. Hospitals were nearly as taboo, as I knew that corpses were kept somewhere therein.

I was very uncompromising about my new extreme phobia. A friend of mine lived a couple of houses away from a cemetery, so he was scratched off my buddy list. My grandma lived near a gigantic military cemetery, and although I could not opt out, I counted the seconds until we left during each visit.

Nightmares about a full-scale zombie uprising were the norm. Looking back, these were really the catalyst that kept the trauma rolling along. I clearly recall waking from these night terrors covered in sweat and spending the rest of the night looking outside my bedroom window, anticipating the moment when that first decaying shambler would appear under the streetlights.

At some point my zombie-phobia simply faded and as I grew older I came to enjoy all things zombie. I’m sure a shrink could bill a few grand dissecting how I embraced my fears and wanted to connect with my childhood and blah, blah, blah. Unfortunately, zombies have of late become so overexposed that for the first time in my life I’m becoming finding them to be somewhat boring….

Oh well. All good things must one day end.

Maybe I’ll steal a decorative silver ball and bury it for old time’s sake.

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Tags: Traumafessions

14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 blueroc85No Gravatar // Aug 18, 2009 at 8:19 am

    WOW! I can see why this movie freaked you out as a teenager even. It  is funny to look back on the things we were scared of as kids, even though our fears were very serious at the time. Thank you for sharing your entertaining story. I especially liked where you buried your neighbors lawn ornament and feared “certain” muppets! Don’t feel bad….between the ages of 3- 7 I had a strong fear of my grandfather’s work boots. I can’t say why. They were just ordinary work boots.

  • 2 VicarOfVHSNo Gravatar // Aug 18, 2009 at 10:58 am

    No shame in this one, my friend. ROTLD is indeed hilarious and witty, but it is also effectively creepy and at times downright unsettling. One of the few movies to pull off this balancing act effectively, imo.
    The human-to-zombies transformations are pretty hard to take–for grown-ups as well as kids–particularly James Karen’s emotional, wedding ring-kissing goodbye. 🙁 But the zombie that really bugged me (aside from the living half-dog…*shudder*) was the one-legged zombie that must have been played by a dwarf with a long prosthesis on one  leg…he’s munching away, sees the heroes, and suddenly takes off running toward them in this weird, WRONG lopsided gait…it’s pretty terrifying, I don’t mind saying so.

  • 3 Amanda By NightNo Gravatar // Aug 18, 2009 at 11:32 am

    I agree that the zombies having some human like qualities made them all the more creepy. When they ask for more ambulances, I was all, “Oh no! They can CALL for their kill!” and they can RUN. And of course, the downbeat ending is a total sucker-punch. So yeah, as it was said above, it’s a wonderful balancing act between the horror and the humor and they did it to perfection.

    I like the story too about burying the ball. Funny!

  • 4 ApocalypsejunkieNo Gravatar // Aug 18, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    Those zombies were very juicy, as I recall. Mucus-y, even.
    I laughed so hard at the thought of you furitively sneaking onto the neighbor’s lawn and snatching their gazing ball. Did you throw a blanket it over it…just in case?

  • 5 EibmozNo Gravatar // Aug 18, 2009 at 5:27 pm

    I had such a bad zombie phobia that at times when I heard sirens and dogs barking in the distance, I expected to hear screams as well. Terrible nightmares.

  • 6 Chuckles72No Gravatar // Aug 18, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    @Apocalypsejunkie – Nope – I just snatched the thing and droppd it into a pre-dug hole in my back yard.  It was daylight, so I figured that I was fairly safe.  Funny thing is that it was just my cousin’s description of Phantasm that freaked me out so much – I can’t imagine what would have went down if I actually saw it. 

  • 7 Mariam67No Gravatar // Aug 18, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    I love zombie movies, and I can sincerely say that tarman is the only zombie to give me a nightmare. He totally freaked me out, and I had bad dreams that night.

  • 8 FatherOfTearsNo Gravatar // Aug 18, 2009 at 10:37 pm

    Yep, Freddy’s transformation was scary as the film suddenly slowed down when he went to attack his girlfriend!  Then we see the closeup of him drooling!  In another scene what was left of a zombie was strapped to a table and when “she” was asked questions about why they eat brains, the zombie’s exposed spinal column was slithering around on the table like a snake when she answered the questions!  Oh, my creepy album cover as a child was Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and the paperback cover of the “Sybil” book freaked me out as well.  http://i405.photobucket.com/albums/pp132/FatherOfTears/sybil-big.jpg

  • 9 ApocalypsejunkieNo Gravatar // Aug 19, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    A pre-dug hole?!? So you had this whole operation planned out. Talk about taking your trauma by the horns…..I salute you 🙂

  • 10 gcap2719No Gravatar // Aug 22, 2009 at 2:07 am

    Love the Tarman poster. Really changes the whole view on Carpenter’s classic.
    ROLTD is one of my favorite films, but I admit that it scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. First you are set up with all of these jokes and then the zombies cause havoc, totally changing the tone of the film.
    When I was younger, I was freaked out for many of the same reasons that bothered the OP. Freddy, who I liked as Tommy Jarvis in Friday the 13th Part 6 – which I saw around the same time as this, turned into a crazy zombie after being the nice guy of the bunch. The zombies were also acting human like and were indestructible, unlike the zombies I was used to.
    But as I got older, I appreciated this movie more and more. Today I own every DVD edition made and am eager for the Blu-ray whenever that gets released.

  • 11 smidget28No Gravatar // Aug 23, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Ok, if I saw this as a kid, Tarman, I would have NEVER recovered. However, I never saw this movie until I was an adult…and I just find him hilarious and funny. But I can totally see how he traumatized you and I may have become a vegetable if it were not for my protective parents.

  • 12 JennyMNo Gravatar // Aug 26, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    I remember when this movie came out in the theater. I was going to the movies with my brother and dad and begged him to take us to see this. Instead he took us to European Vacation. I was so mad. He did make it up to me by renting it as soon as it came out. I agree with VicarofVHS about the dwarf zombie. He still scares me.

  • 13 laliluleloNo Gravatar // Jan 2, 2010 at 5:24 pm

    I lived next to a graveyard growing up.  My sisters encouraged me to watch it with them, reassuring me it would be funny.  It sure was comical but totally scared the shit out of me when i was a kid.
    When the tarman takes out the alpha of the group the despair set in quick.  Theres even a slight heroic score right after they hear Tina screaming for help in the basement, and they go to help.
    The soundtrack is also tight.  Roky Ericson, The Cramps, TSOL.  Great stuff.

  • 14 Serval87No Gravatar // Aug 23, 2010 at 11:23 am

    This is one of my absolute favorite movies and it does make me laugh. I have been watching it since I was younger, and for a little while it didn’t really unsettle me. Then I took a break and watched it when I was around 10 or 11, and the part where Tina is trapped by the tarman scared the crap out of me! I could only imagine being in her shoes in that moment, and when she’s running up the stairs and stumbles. Then I would lay in bed at night, feeling scared, and expecting to see the tarman coming through my shadowy doorway. ::shivers:: I still love this movie, though. It’s one of my favorites.

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