YES, there's night life after death. Your favorite zombies, and mine, are back from the grave and ready to party in "The Return of the Living Dead," a tongue- in-cheek parody of George A. Romero's horror cult classics, "Night," "Day" and "Dawn of the Living Dead."

Dan O'Bannon, who wrote "Alien" and "Blue Thunder," debuts here as the daring director of this fiendish undertaking, a zombie comedy that gradually builds from a teasing take-off to a genuine, gross-out thriller. It's definitely not for all audiences, but its visceral effects and old-fashioned scare tactics make it a real scream for chiller fans. Heh. Heh.

The zombies, created by Bill Munns and designed by Bill Stout, are resourceful, unstoppable ghouls in various states of decomposition who have an uncontrollable appetite for brains and then more brains. Sure they have bad eating habits, but they also have appealing personalities in some cases. One (actually only the upper torso) looks a little like E.T., a female who is tied to a mortician's table after biting the mohawk off a punk rocker.

The creatures are animated when a warehouseman and his assistant release a noxious chemical from a cheaply made container in the basement of a remote, medical supply company. The workers start barfing like crazy, and upstairs a cadaver comes to life. Then the hellish nightmare begins.

The excellent, aptly chosen cast is led by Clu Gulager as Burt, the pragmatic owner of the infested warehouse, and Don Calfa as Ernie, the mild-mannered mortician who becomes the real hero of this unwinnable war against the undead.

While the heroes chop up an unkillable cadaver, a convertible full of punks speeds toward an overgrown graveyard searching for a place to party. Most notable in this contingent is Linnea Quigley as the cherry-haired Trash who does a striptease on a tombstone and never does put her clothes back on, not even when her worst fears come to pass and she is nibbled to death by septuagenarian skeletons.

The droll rock score features such groups as the Cramps and the Flesheaters performing such otherworldly works as "Surfin' Dead," "Tonight (We'll Make Love Until We Die)" and "The Trioxin Theme."

The theme relates to O'Bannon's overall premise: You can't keep a good man dead, especially if the Army keeps fooling around with noxious chemicals. Additionally, the film's an anti-nuclear protest and a workaholic's metaphor. And if, as they say, "Alien" is really about cancer, then "The Return" must be about plague. Now, seriously, could you really ask for more?

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (R) -- At area theaters.