George Gordon Reviews the Return of the Living Dead Soundtrack

By George Gordon, Hoff’s Horrorfest co-producer

Cult status is defined as something that wasn’t popular when it first came out but later gains many fans. The Return of the Living Dead has the unique distinction of having cult status and being popular. The film, released in 1985, was a critical and a moderate financial success grossing $14 million against a budget of $4 million. The film will forever be the gold standard for the horror punk genre, if that’s even a thing.

The one thing that is undeniably great is the soundtrack. A perfect mashup of some of LA’s and southern California’s finest punk bands mixed in with some English pub rockers (The Damned) and one of Texas’s finest (Roky Erickson).

One of the album’s highlights is “Partytime (Zombie Version)” by 45 Grave. Although not initially on the soundtrack but featured in the film, “Partytime” seems to be written exclusively for this film genre, the aforementioned “Horror Punk.” 45 Grave was led by lead singer Dinah Cancer formerly of Bags and guitarist Rob Ritter, formerly of the Gun Club, two mainstays of the LA punk scene. Sadly, 45 Grave broke up before the release of the film and even though they broke up you can still hear their influence on one of the more popular bands to come out of LA, Jane’s Addiction. “Been Caught Stealing,” anyone?

Another standout from the soundtrack is from little-known rock band Jet Black Berries. The song “Love Under Will” has one foot in psychedelia and the other in ’80s excess. Across the pond, Billy Idol had to be thinking, “Woah, I like that.” “Love Under Will” sounds like Depeche Mode ditching synth for crunchy goth-like guitar solos.

A lot of love, rightfully so, has been given to the LA ’80s punk scene on this soundtrack. Whether it’s The Cramps being their absolute campiest on “Surfin’ Dead” or The Flesh Eaters going for it on “Eyes Without a Face,” LA is all over this record. But we can’t end this without talking about the contributions of The Tall Boys, The Damned, and Roky Erickson. The Tall Boys’s “Take a Walk” makes me wonder if pyschobilly was a genre invented by The Tall Boys or is psychobilly something we needed to describe The Tall Boys. Either way, The Tall Boys sound as if Jerry Lee Lewis decided to live in Bakersfield after selling his soul to the devil.

No horror punk soundtrack is complete without The Damned, the English rockers who gave birth to Gothic rock, and Roky Erickson, whose album The Evil One seems to be made for this movie. I’m pretty sure the producers were sitting in a room going, “You know what would round this soundtrack out? Roky Erickson and The Damned!” And those songs delivered.

So, has this album reached the level of cult status like the film? No, but every year it gets pretty darn close.

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