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The catalyst for Return of the Living Dead is when James Karen's character slaps the side of a drum releasing some gas into the atmosphere. The result of this is that every dead organism in the building is brought to life, including a cadaver which is eventually cremated. This in turn revives everything in the nearby cemetery. It's implied that the gas within the cadaver was released by the cremation and deposited into the soil by rain. My question is, how did the amount of gas released cause all of that? Did I miss a line about Trioxin spreading or am I reading too much into this?

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    I've never seen this but judging from what I've come to expect from 80s B horror my bet is you're probably reading too much into it. Those movies usually don't ask too much of the viewer in the way of plot analysis.
    – sanpaco
    Sep 17, 2018 at 1:56

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There were two incidents that caused the zombie outbreak.

Firstly a significant amount of gas was released, filling the warehouse and 'infecting' all the specimens there.

If we refer to the screenplay, it seems that it was not intended to appear as a small amount of gas, but quite a large volume.

Scene Setup (for context)

FREDDY.
These things don't leak, do they?

FRANK.
Leak? Hell, no. These things were made by the Army Corps of Engineers.

To prove his point, Frank SLAPS the side of the tank with the palm of his hand.

With a loud CRACK, a welded seam on the tank SPLITS open, and a cloud of yellowish VAPOR squirts out, under PRESSURE hitting Frank and Freddy RIGHT IN THE FACE.

They stagger back, coughing and choking.

FRANK & FREDDY
Argh! Cough-cough-cough-cough!

Both of them fall to the floort clutching their throats. In a moment, they are unconscious.

Relevant section that follows:

CAMERA CRANES UP over the top of the tank, looking down THROUGH the little window. Inside, the corpse is beginning to DISSOLVE -- boil away to a black, nasty liquid, right in front of our eyes, as the oxygen hits it.

The gas in the tank has lost some of its pressure, and is no longer squirting out like a hose. Instead, it is FUMING UP out of the crack in the metal, rising up, and rolling along the ceiling toward the basement STAIRWELL.

The smoky gas RISES up the basement steps, and passes out into the warehouse.

INTERIOR - WAREHOUSE - AFTERNOON The GAS rises up out of the open basement door, and travels across the floor of the warehouse, rising to SATURATE EVERYTHING.

Some of the gas rolls along the floor and enters the open DOOR of the COLD LOCKER.

INTERIOR - COLD LOCKER - AFTERNOON The noxious, toxic GAS crawls in around the edge of the door, and curls up over the plastic-wrapped CADAVER, hanging like a suit in the laundry.

The cadaver starts to TWITCH.

Secondly, the burning of these specimens releasing the toxins into the atmosphere.

Again, referring to the screenplay helps to describe the situation:

EXTERIOR - CREMATORIUM - NIGHT

BLACK SMOKE pouring from the SMOKESTACKS. CAMERA PANS UP the fat column of black, oily SMOKE, following the smoke up toward the SKY, until it reaches

. . . THE CLOUDS .

When the smoke mixes with the clouds, there is a blinding EXPLOSION OF LIGHTNING -- a veritable hydra of electricity dancing all over the sky. The cloud begins to RAIN.

CAMERA FOLLOWS THE RAIN DOWN

... to the CEMETERY.

EXTERIOR - CEMETERY - NIGHT

CAMERA CRANES DOWN to the GROUND, to watch the RAIN saturate the GRAVES. Splattering on the gravestones and tombs.

The droplets running over the green grass, and down into the rich earth.

Conclusion:

So. A lot of bodies that had absorbed the Trioxin were burned during a storm. The smoke from the burning was in turn absorbed by the rainclouds in the atmosphere. Lightning then struck the clouds, fusing the gasses and the rain together thereby 'infecting' the rain. Which then fell to earth across the city, further infecting anyone and anything it touched.

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