In 1985, the world of the undead was changed forever when Dan O’Bannon’s horror-comedy Return Of The Living Dead hit theaters. More than two decades later, the film lives on as a cult classic and arguably one of the most influential zombie movies of all time. Now it has its own documentary, the brand-new More Brains: A Return To The Living Dead, an exhaustive look behind the scenes of the classic, narrated by Brian Peck, a.k.a. Scuz, the mohawked punk from the film. This Saturday, Oct. 22, Peck will be in town with producer Thommy Hutson to promote the doc and introduce a special Saturday night Watching Hour screening of the original film. Before he came to town, we caught up with Peck to talk about ROTLD fandom, the film’s impact, and the new documentary.
The A.V. Club: What has your experience with ROTLD fans been like?
Brian Peck: The fan base now, it seems to be getting more rabid every year. When I go to the movie and meet the fans, it breaks down into a number of categories, one of which is people who weren’t born in 1985 when it came out in theaters. I always ask them how they saw it, and a lot of them tell me, “My parents showed it to me,” and I think, “Wow, you had irresponsible parents.”
The thing that’s so surprising and ultimately really flattering is these fans are überfans. It’s not just, “Oh I really like Return Of The Living Dead,” it’s much more effusive, like, “This is my favorite movie. I watch it every week.” They even have the poster art tattooed on them! A lot of them have the mohawk zombie and I feel like that’s kind of me. It’s very flattering.
AVC: When did you first realize you were part of one of the all-time great zombie films?
BP: About six years ago, at the American Cinematheque in Hollywood; they did a 20th-anniversary screening of Return Of The Living Dead. It was August 2005, actually 20 years to the month since the theatrical release. They invited [writer-director] Dan O’Bannon and almost the entire cast. That was really the first time we had all been together again—for some of us, the first time we had seen any of the other cast members since we made the movie. Since that sold out, and the crowd was so gracious and excited to see the movie, it was the first time that we realized the movie was still something that people cared about. It was the first indication that the movie had made the leap to cult status.
AVC: It’s kind of surprising to hear the cast and crew didn’t realize how enduring the film was, since most zombie fans consider it a classic.
BP: [The Cinematheque showing] was the eye-opener for us, as big as the thing had grown. Even for Dan. I am really glad he was there. Dan could be a curmudgeonly guy, but he was beaming that night. This theater held 700 people, and it was packed to the rafters—a sellout. There was so much affection for the movie. Watching with that audience was amazing. People were laughing at the right places, cheering. I went with a group of my friends, some of whom had never seen the movie. They were impressed. They were like, “Wow, you never told us this move was so cool.” I was like, “ I didn’t know it was so cool.” Since then, we’ve milked it, of course.
AVC: Now, just a few years later, there’s this full-blown documentary about it.
BP: They just finished the thing, I just finished watching it. I am really happy to be able to promote it, because it is awesome. It says on the cover that it’s the definitive Return Of The Living Dead documentary, and it really is. They managed to get all of us to do interviews: the cast, the producer, the production designer, even Bill Munns, the makeup designer guy that got fired, did an interview. If you like the movie, [the documentary] is sort of a must-have. It’s fun to see everyone’s perspective, plus you can also see who went bald and who got fat and who aged well and who looks likes shit, which is always fun.
AVC: There’s certainly plenty to talk about in a doc. Even beyond that kind of affection people have for the film, it helped shape people’s ideas about zombies to this day.
BP: Yeah, the thing that’s crazy to me is that Return Of The Living Dead started the whole “zombies eating brains” thing. That’s taken hold and that’s now part of the zombie lexicon. You see all these shows that make fun of it, or parody it, or reference it, and you’re like, “That’s from a movie I was in!”
The first one I saw [do it] was an episode of South Park. Not only do they say “brains,” but they said some direct quotes from the movie. I will never forget, I was alone at the time, but I wanted to turn to someone and say, “Hey, they’re doing lines from the movie I was in! They just quoted something I said in the movie!” But there was no one there to tell.
I have worked on bigger and more expensive things since—that no one cares about, or even [some] people do—they did well, but they haven’t hung on like this one has. It’s become a huge part of pop culture, certainly a huge part of zombie culture.
AVC: There’s also the soundtrack, which featured some iconic punk rock and arguably helped launch the whole psychobilly/goth punk thing.
BP: It’s really east to look back after 25 years and say, “Oh, of course this was a great film,” or whatever, but I will be honest—one of the things I never got was the soundtrack. When we filmed it, I was thinking more of the traditional horror film score that was spooky and scary. When I first saw it, I didn’t like [the soundtrack]. I thought it made it less scary. But now, looking back on it, I think it was perfect and is one of the reasons the movie is so popular.
AVC: Speaking of punk, ’fess up: Were you rocking that sweet punk look back in the ’80s and that’s why you landed the part of Scuz?
BP: I honest to God could not have looked less like the character if I tried. I was a theater major at USC; I was a spoiled preppy guy going to an expensive college in the theater department. I was more likely wearing Sergio Valente jeans and a lavender polo shirt with my nicely coiffed brown hair. I was a typical 1985 theater geek at USC, very preppy.
I always take it as a compliment, because I have a lot of people ask me about it, and say that of all the people in the movie, that I seemed the most like I was really punk.