Referencing George Romero’s 1968 cult classic Night of the Living Dead early on (partly to dispel confusion that this was a sequel to that movie), Return purports to tell us the "true" story of the living dead, and how it was all the Army's fault.
The disheveled corpses, sleeping peacefully in a dilapidated cemetery, are inadvertently revived when a military-developed chemical leaks into the atmosphere and over their graves. To the horror of some unsuspecting punk teenagers (with nicknames like “Trash” and “Suicide”) who unwittingly picked the graveyard as a place to party the night away, these zombies are hungry for brains and can run—fast. They can also talk, a gimmick that allows for at least two good jokes involving police radios. Despite all the problems in store for the adolescent characters, the adults apparently have much more at stake than their safety. Clu Gulager, as the owner of a nearby medical supplies warehouse, recognizes his culpability in hiding the lost military canisters that unleashed the troublesome gas into the air (infecting two of his employees—James Karen and Thom Matthews—in the process).
Return of the Living Dead is as much a part of its time as Night of the Living Dead was a time capsule of the 1960s, and yet both films seem to be telling us something very disturbing about our culture, then and now. Instead of the Bomb coming from the Russians, it comes from within our own borders, a rather chilling concept that endures even now.