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Untold Tales of Hollywood #79

Dan O’Bannon and I did a lot of research together for The Return of the Living Dead. We visited several local mortuaries and crematoriums so that we could see exactly what they looked like inside. Our goal was authenticity.

It would be an understatement to say that I was shocked by what we discovered.

We were given pretty free access to the behind the scenes world of the mortuary and cremation industries. I was able to do sketches of the crematorium ovens (called “retorts”). At one place we were left alone. Dan and I found several trays full of little brown paper bags. They were marked with names like “Baby Lewis” or “Baby Jackson. I realized these bags contained the ashes of infants.

Dan picked up one of the bags.

“We might as well see what this looks like.”

Dan poured the contents of the bag onto a counter.


“Hmmm….looks just like vermiculite.”

We heard someone coming. Dan quickly scooped most of the ashes back into the bag.

I tried to include all of the nastiest and creepiest aspects of the retorts I saw into the one for our movie. There are some raised letters on the lower right hand corner. As I recall, they listed “Giler and Hill” as the oven’s manufacturer. This little dig was Dan’s doing. David Giler and Walter Hill had tried to cheat Dan out of his writing credit for Alien.

Oven interiors
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