The Film (4/5)
I was introduced to Return of the Living Dead on an episode of Monstervision with Joe Bob Briggs in the 90's. On that episode Joe Bob did his usual redneck schtick, and discussed everything from violence to the nudity in the film. The latter of which obviously could not be seen on TNT. He even brought the primary source of that nudity scream queen extraordinaire Linnea Quigley on the show for an interview. I remember having my young mind blown instantly by the film, and within a week had a VHS copy of it on my shelf, that quickly became a well worn VHS copy.
That VHS copy was quickly replaced by the DVD as soon as MGM released their SE in the early 2000's, then the Second Sight Blu-ray which included the original audio track as an alternative listening option (RotLD utilizes tracks from some of the 80's finest punk artists, some of whose songs have become difficult to secure rights for song in recent years). Now, we have another stellar release of the film through genre label Scream Factory who have done a number of things to make their package the near definitive Return of the Living Dead experience.
The film is only 1 of a pair that genre stalwart Dan O'Bannon directed in his lifetime (the other being the highly underrated, The Resurrected). Return of the Living Dead is a pseudo-sequel to George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead. The film's title comes from a book John Russo published in the 70's as the follow up to Night of the Living Dead. O'Bannon was offered a script based based on this version, but deemed it too serious, and close to what Romero was doing, with his zombie films. O’Bannon compromised with the film’s producers, and came to create an anarchic cinematic vision that blends punk rock with gore and comedy to create a potent horror cinematic cocktail that is as effective today as it was in 1985.
Return of the Living Dead follows Freddy and Frank a couple of employees at Uneeda Medical Supply. It's Freddy's first day on the job, and I guess as a bit of first day initiation, Frank introduces him to the canned up military corpses downstairs. It turns out that these corpses provided George A. Romero with the inspiration for Night of the Living Dead, and due to a freak mishap during the viewing the corpse is freed, and Frank and Freddy are doused with the chemical it was submerged in, 245 Trioxin.
Meanwhile, at Resurrection Cemetery across the street from Uneeda are Freddy's girlfriend, and a group of their friends. The friends are waiting for Freddy to get off work, because "Freddy always knows where a party is." In the mean time they start a party of their own complete with awesome punk rock soundtrack, and scream queen striptease.
Well it turns out that the chemical that Frank and Freddy released, has caused a single corpse to become a zombie. They call in their boss, who decides to dismember the creature when nothing else works. They then take the zombie to the crematorium across the street in an attempt to burn it. The zombie becomes ash, but the 245 trioxin mixes with the rain, which causes the dead to rise in Resurrection Cemetery, and the zombie mayhem to begin!
Return of the Living Dead is a hard film to analyze for me. It is one of those films that I stumbled on at a young age, and has always represented what fun in cinema is all about. It is a violent, loud, and brash film. It is funny without being stupid, and is one of very few films I find infinitely rewatchable.
The direction by Dan O'Bannon has a great kinetic feel to it, and gives the film a special life of it's own. He also keeps a really excellent pacing never allowing the film to ever become boring. I have always considered it a disservice that O'Bannon didn't end up directing more than the 2 features that he did, because they are both fantastic genre entries.
The cast while not the most stellar of thespians really give it their all. You can pretty much tell that these guys are having a lot of fun in these parts, and are really getting into it. The soundtrack has to be one of my favorite film soundtracks of all time, but lets me just say it has the Cramps on it (Surfin' Dead). I was never not going to like a soundtrack that features the Cramps in some capacity.
Return of the Living Dead is one of the best zombie films of the 80's, and probably of all-time. It is a non-stop barrage of violent comedic fun, and deserves a watch whether it's your first time or your 91st.
Prior Blu-ray editions of Return of the Living Dead were solid upgrades from their DVD counterpart, but nothing more than that. Both the MGM studio release, and the Second Sight Blu-ray appeared to be from the same source. Scream Factory in an effort to separate themselves from the pack have gone, and done a 2K scan from the interpositive, the results look much better than prior editions, though I would like to give readers a warning to keep expectations in check, as Return of the Living Dead is a very soft, natural looking film at times, and that certainly comes across in the transfer here.
Scream Factory presents Return of the Living Dead in it's native 1:85:1 aspect ratio in a 1080p AVC encoded transfer. The transfer has a very natural look and feel to it, with upgraded detail from prior editions, deeper blacks, and a more well rendered grain structure. There are still soft spots, and areas where damage from the source is noticed.
OK, so now for the audio. There are 2 audio options present on the disc a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that presents the more recent soundtrack of the film with replacement audio. We also get a DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo track that is ALMOST the original audio. In this case Scream Factory tried (Thanks guys!), but managed to get every track besides The Damned's Dead Beat Dance. Both tracks sound quite good with soundtrack, score, ambient FX, and dialogue all coming through clearly, and nothing to complain about.
I thought the Second Sight Blu-ray was stacked, but Scream Factory have REALLY gone all out for their Blu-ray release of Return of the Living Dead. The Blu-ray has multiple commentary tracks, interviews, documentaries on 80's horror films, featurettes on various aspects of the film including FX, Music, and location. There are also trailers, TV spots, still galleries, a workprint of the film, and MORE.
A wonderful A/V overhaul, and an almost complete original soundtrack, coupled with an avalanche of extra features make this the definitive version of Return of the Living Dead for the Blu-ray generation (see you again in UHD). HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.