This past weekend, B-movie goddess Linnea Quigley celebrated her 60th birthday. Quigley is about as famous on the horror circuit as an actress can be without actually being a household name, thanks to movies with titles like Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama, Nightmare Sisters, and Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers. Arguably, her most high-profile role came in 1985 when she played the sexy punk rocker Trash in the cult hit The Return of the Living Dead.
The Return of the Living Dead is about a young man named Freddy (Thom Mathews from Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI) who gets a job in a medical supply warehouse. To impress the new guy on his first day, an old-timer named Frank (Poltergeist’s James Karen) shows off a handful of military drums that he says contain the zombies from the true story behind the movie Night of the Living Dead. When they accidentally puncture one of the drums, a mist spills out and brings all of the cadavers in the supply warehouse to life. Frank and Freddy call the owner of the company, a grizzled man named Burt (Clu Gulager from A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge), who solves the problem by calling in a favor from a mortician across the street named Ernie (The Star Chamber’s Don Calfa) and having the cadavers cremated. Crisis averted.
Except that the ashes are blown out of the funeral home’s exhaust chute and get caught in the clouds above, causing it to pour contaminated rain down onto the cemetery next door where Freddy’s girlfriend, Tina (Beverly Randolph from No Solicitors), and a group of his punk rocker friends including Trash (Quigley), Spider (Friday the 13th: A New Beginning’s Miguel A Nunez Jr.), Suicide (Mark Venturini, also from Friday the 13th: A New Beginning), Scuz (The Last American Virgin’s Brian Peck), Casey (Party Camp’s Jewel Shepard), and Chuck (John Philbin from The New Kids) are hanging around, waiting for him to get off work so that they can party. When the ash-rain soaks into the ground, the buried corpses in the graveyard come to life, hungering for human brains.
Although The Return of the Living Dead is not a direct sequel to George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, the two films do share some common mythology. The screenplay was written by director Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Dead & Buried) and based on a story by original Romero collaborator John A. Russo (who retained the rights to use the words “living dead”) and Russell Streiner (another Night of the Living Dead producer/actor), so the ties to Romero’s franchise go deeper than just a few lines of origin exposition. The Return of the Living Dead is a much more tongue-in-cheek, comical romp than Night of the Living Dead, so in many ways, it’s more fun. And it may not have as big of a cult following as the Romero original, but it’s close.
When she made The Return of the Living Dead, Linnea Quigley had just come off of a banner year appearing in the slasher classic Silent Night, Deadly Night and the grindhouse revenge flick Savage Streets. At the time, Quigley was still a supporting player as far as actors go, but she was used to contributing the most memorable scenes to her movies, and her big moment in The Return of the Living Dead is legendary. Her character, Trash, is a death-obsessed punk rocker who gets turned on by the very thought of being in the graveyard after dark, so she strips down and starts erotically dancing on the tombstones. All of her friends act like it’s no big deal, like she gets naked and thrusts her hips around all the time. She’s in the middle of her dance when the contaminated rains come, and since the punks get chased back to their car unexpectedly, Quigley spends the rest of the movie practically nude. This is the stuff of which teenage horror fans’ dreams are made.
The zombies in The Return of the Living Dead are groundbreaking. Although some argue that the last act of Lifeforce beat them to the punch by a few months, The Return of the Living Dead is considered by most horror fans to be the introduction of the fast-moving, athletic zombies that are still popular today in movies like 28 Days Later…, World War Z, and the Dawn of the Dead reboot. Additionally, The Return of the Living Dead is the first time that zombies are known to have eaten the brains of their victims, establishing another common pop culture trope of the zombie trend that seemingly will never die. The Return of the Living Dead may have been a purely fun movie, but it’s treatment of zombies has been highly influential. When most people think of movie zombies, they picture the ones from The Return of the Living Dead.
It’s impossible to talk about The Return of the Living Dead without mentioning the music. The soundtrack is made up mostly of punk rock bands that fit the overall theme of the movie (the tagline is “they’re back from the grave, and ready to party!”). The most memorable tracks are “Surfin’ Dead” by The Cramps and “Partytime” by 45 Grave, the latter of which was featured prominently in the promotional campaign, with a “Zombie Version” with revised lyrics being released on the official soundtrack album (the original version appears in the movie). The film also includes songs by T.S.O.L., The Flesh Eaters, and Roky Erickson, with a special new wave song by SSQ called “Tonight (We’ll Make Love Until We Die)” tossed in for Trash’s big dance number. The musical selections were not without controversy, though; a track by The Damned on the theatrical release had to be replaced with a tune by Straw Dogs for reissues, as the rights for the original song had not been properly secured. With or without the song by The Damned, however, the soundtrack to The Return of the Living Dead is considered a classic, both in horror and punk rock circles.
Linnea Quigley would go on to become one of the most celebrated scream queens of all time with appearances in movies like Night of the Demons and Witchtrap in the late eighties. With over 150 screen credits to her name, Linnea Quigley is still very active, whether she’s making movies or signing Graduation Day photos at conventions. Even at 60 years old, she is still a ravishing beauty who shows no signs of slowing down, and that’s good for the rest of us. Happy Birthday, Linnea. You’re just getting started.