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A Newbie’s Guide to Sci-Fi Horror Classics [Issue 3]

It’s October in the year 2020. Needless to say, it’s a scary time on top of being the spookiest month. In this issue, allow me to recommend a Sci-Fi Horror classic film that’ll put you in the Halloween spirit and simultaneously lighten the mood.

In April this year I joined Letterboxd, a film site that provides the opportunity to track watched films, rate and review, create a watchlist, follow friends, and join movie discussions. It was there that I discovered a countdown-to-Halloween challenge called “HoopTober” created by user Cinemonster. This is the seventh year for the visual scavenger hunt, with the main theme being his favorite director Tobe Hooper (known for 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). A few of this year’s rules are to choose films from six decades, watch seven 2nd films of franchises, three diseased-based films, etc. One of the films on my Letterboxd “Newbie’s Guide to HoopTober7” list is none other than The Return of the Living Dead (1985). Boy is it a jolly ride, and whether or not you’re a newbie like me, it’s worth the sight. 

The setting is 1984 Louisville, Kentucky in a medical supply wearhouse near a cemetery. Coolguy Freddy gets training from his mentor Frank, who shares that the bodies from the film Night of the Living Dead (1968) are real and have been stored in the basement for years. They accidentally open the chambers that release deadly gas into the atmosphere, which prompt the dead to return to life as zombies. Freddy’s crew of riffraff partiers hang out in the nearby cemetery as they wait for his shift to end. Unbeknown to the group, the earth is upturned by brain seeking zombies and they must be stopped!

With this spooky film, prepare for comedic relief and to be in awe at the practical effects. Not only are intentional jokes embedded throughout the plot, but the acting is “extra” in the best possible way. The whole cast fully commits to each role ultimately increasing the entertainment. The soundtrack will make you giggle. The rock-and-roll song “Partytime” and California cruising song “Surfin’ Dead”, are just a couple and the titles say it all. Another factor that makes this thriller joyful are the memorable costume designs. Although I’m a newbie I felt like I recognized some of the characters through what could only be cultural osmosis. Each character from Freddy’s crew could easily be a Halloween costume. As the character ‘Suicide’ says, “You think this is a fucking costume? This is a way of life!”

Speaking of Halloween costumes, the practical effects of these zombies are killer! If you’ve read previous issues of this series, you won’t be surprised by my new found love for this theme. With all the technological advances we currently have, it truly is fascinating to watch films from multiple past decades create such visually effective creatures. Just when you think you’ve seen the most impressive special effects, another one shows up around the corner.

Overall, this sweetly simple zombie movie is thrilling yet light hearted. I can now check one of six decades off my HoopTober7 watchlist and it’s currently the top rated one of the 16 I’ve viewed. Then again, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised my highest rated spooky film is from the 1980s. For my next decade, maybe I’ll watch Night of the Living Dead (1968).

Fellow newbies, what have you discovered that you recommend for me? Long time horror fans, what should the newbies and I watch next? I’m certainly looking forward to a cozy winter season, quarantining with some new flicks.

This article was written by a guest contributor

Catherine Ann

Catherine became a member of the Chicago-based Music Box Theatre, which opened up her world to unexpected interests in horror and obscure classics, particularly ones with practical effects. She attended the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival and was fully captivated by the film community.
Follow her on Instagram | Letterboxd


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