Restoring a zombie puppet from The Return of the Living Dead

Restoring a half-corpse zombie prop puppet from The Return of the Living Dead!

“The pain… the pain of being dead!” One of the most memorable zombies in 1985’s cult classic horror film, The Return of the Living Dead, was half a corpse that spoke and revealed once and for all, why zombies eat brains. Spoiler alert, “it makes the pain… go away.” The creepy and effective prop zombie puppet was made for the film by our friend, Tony Gardner, from Alterian Inc. You can learn a bit more in this video where Tony talks about being the “half-corpse-guy.”

Many years later, the puppet came to our New York studio for restoration and a proper display. The overall condition was good, but very fragile and a bit unstable. Most puppets are made to be as flexible as possible. Wonderful for wiggling around on set to create the illusion of life, but that flexibility works against the foam latex skins as they age. The foam becomes very brittle and Patrick Louie began this restoration by strategically locking internal mechs so that the puppet would move less, thus making the foam less likely to break.

Pat also began the process of stabilizing the foam and bridging some of the gaps. Ricky Vitus continued that work, filling in gaps and resculpting any missing skin. Speaking of missing, Ricky also recreated a number of missing finger bones and fingernails as well. What followed was careful in-painting. This is where only the new patches were painted and all original skin and paint is left as untouched as possible. Our patches were blended and aged to match the original skin, and the whole piece was generously sealed several times, to help slow the hands of time and give the prop’s foam latex skin some additional longevity.

Our client suggested a display with the metal autopsy table from the film. We suggested combining that with the film’s iconic poster art, a graffiti’d tombstone! Samantha Martino sculpted the tombstone in rigid foam, the way we create theme props.  Melissa Ocampo gave the foam prop grave stone its faux stone finish and distressed look. Sam airbrushed the “graffiti” style title on the faux stone.  Sam also airbrushed the pink back into the hair. This was another request from our client. Over time, the color had faded substantially and a little refresh at the local TSD zombie beauty parlor did the trick!

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