The 13th Floor

#RESPECT – Burt Wilson…. But Really Clu Gulager In Anything…

Sometimes, there are characters in genre pictures that are so darned bad-ass, you can’t stop thinking about them or their amazing feats long after the movie is over. This column is dedicated to those cinematic heroes that keep us coming back for more. This week, the honor goes to Burt Wilson, the owner of the medical supply warehouse on the Resurrection Cemetery property in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, played by the great Clu Gulager!


Having recently revisited the classic Dan O’Bannon 1985 horror/comedy, the one thing that stood out to me was how bad-ass Burt was. In the film, dimwitted but likable Frank (James Karen) and Freddie (Thom Matthews) accidently crack open an old military container filled with gas and a walking cadaver that apparently was long lost from a case that inspired that “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD” movie reanimates! Before you know it, the split dogs in the place are barking up a storm and another fresh naked corpse is running amuck. The two quickly call in the big boss man Burt Wilson. What I love about Burt is as every new problem presents itself throughout the duration of the evening, he does his best to keep cool and help in any way possible.


Sure, as the owner of this facility, he doesn’t want to get sued, but I genuinely get the sense that he wants to help his employees clean up their stupid mess and be done with it. Of course, the problem isn’t that simple, because unlike in previous “zombie” movies, destroying the brain doesn’t seem to work in the RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD universe. So they turn to Burt’s longtime friend of 20-some-odd years, Ernie (Don Calfa) the mortician. His earnestness and sincerity (plus the promise of a really, really big return favor one day) convince his friend to incinerate the remains of the corpse in the crematorium. The smoke, paired up with the sudden rain storm causes the entirety of the graveyard’s residents to rise from their graves and wreak havoc.


Through all of it, Burt is always trying to find a solution. Can him and Spider (played by Miguel A. Nunez Jr.,a bad-ass in his own right) make it to the car for help? After the situation is too far out of control, Burt finally calls the number on the breached container. He avoided it this whole time, because deep down, he just didn’t want anyone to get in trouble. For valiantly trying to do the right thing in RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, you Burt Wilson have earned this hashtag.


And if I can get real here for a moment, characters aside, Clu Gulager as a person absolutely gets my utmost respect. A true gentleman, a fine actor, a loving father & friend and all around cinema lover, if you’ve been lucky enough to spend some time with him, which is quite possible if you’ve ever attended the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles where you can usually find him sitting in the front row on most nights, then you’d understand what a lovely man and living legend he truly is. It was his birthday earlier this week, so on behalf of the entire crew, we also dedicate this hashtag to not just the character, but the man who played him.


*Special thanks to Michael Felsher


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