Return of the Living Dead, The

Director - Dan O’Bannon

Cast - Thom Matthews, Clu Gulager, Linnea Quigley

Country of Origin - U.S.

Discs - 1

MSRP - 12.99

Distributor - Second Sight

Reviewer - Scott MacDonald

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 films nudity, 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, but something was a little bit off about this one.  It turns out that due to copyright issues with some of the bands used on the original soundtrack MGM had to alter the soundtrack to issue the film on DVD, and since that time we have a slightly different Return of the Living Dead experience on home video. 

     When MGM released the film on Blu-ray I waited, as long as the original soundtrack was not included I would hold out.   That day has finally come, not via MGM, but U.K. label Second Sight, so you can now bask in the 1080p glory of Return of the Living Dead in all of it's punk rock gory glory, and rock out with it's original soundtrack in place!

     The film is only 1 of a pair that the genre stalwart Dan O'Bannon directed in his lifetime (the other being the highly underrated, and currently unreleased The Resurrected).  Return of the Living Dead is a pseudo-sequel to George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead.  The films 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, and the compromise we got resulted in comedic punk-rock zombiefest released just shy of Romero's third Dead film Day of the Dead 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 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 stripteases.

   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.

 

Audio/Video (3.5/5)

     Return of the Living Dead is never going to win accolades as reference quality high definition material, but what we have here definitely looks great and film like. Second Sight presents the film in a 1080p AVC encoded transfer that is quite the improvement from my DVD copy.  The film has some minor print damage and softness.  Aside from that very minor issue black levels are solid, flesh tones are largely accurate, and the film has a very nice and natural grain structure. The level of detail is quite nice as well, and colors are excellent. 

   Second Sight has presented 2 Audio Options for Return of the Living Dead. LPCM 2.0 Stereo Remix, a DTS 5.1 Remix track, and the Holy Grail of soundtrack Options an LPCM 2.0 Mono track restoring the films original soundtrack.  I'll be completely honest, and say that I went straight to the original track for this viewing, as with this film I am a nostalgic purist, and was not disappointed.  The dialogue, music, and effects are mixed well.  There is a bit of cracking on the track, but it does not really take away from the film.  Overall, it's great to have it back, and it's a good track pretty much all around.

 

Extras (5/5)

   Second Sight have pretty much created Return of the Living Dead : The Criterion Collection.  The slate of extras on this release is just that freaking good! Not only did we get a high definition Return of the Living Dead, and then a whole other documentary feature the excellent MORE BRAINS! A Return to the Living Dead This documentary pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the film. On top of that we get the extras from the release of More Brains! (As of this writing More Brains! has already had a stateside release on DVD with the full slate of extras listed below).

Here are the Extras for More Brains!

 

More Brains! Bonus Features:

  • · A Conversation with Dan O’Bannon: The Final Interview (1.78:1; SD/PAL; 00:28:32)
  • · They Won’t Stay Dead: A Look at Return of the Living Dead Part II (1.78:1; SD/PAL; 00:28:32) – The actors and filmmakers discuss their impressions and, on the part of the filmmakers, refusal to work on the sequel to Return of the Living Dead.
  • · Love Beyond the Grave: A Look at Return of the Living Dead 3 (1.78:1; SD/PAL; 00:19:59) – A look at yet another sequel in this franchise.
  • · Stacey Q Live! “Tonight” Music Video (1.78:1; SD/PAL)
  • · Deleted Documentary Scenes (1.78:1; SD/PAL; 00:15:08)
  • · Return of the Living Dead in 3 Minutes (1.78:1; SD/PAL; 00:02:55) – The cast members recite some of their standout one-liners in outtakes from the documentary during this condensed synopsis of Return of the Living Dead.
  • · Resurrected Settings: The Filming Locations Today (1.78:1; SD/PAL; 00:09:37)                                                                          If that wasn't enough to make this package worthy of your hard earned dollars than get this. You get a 16 minute docu-short The Origins of Return of the Living Dead, a 21 minute Featurette called the FX of Return of the Living Dead, and Party Time a 20 Minute interview with Punk Rock Singer Dinah Cancer (45 Grave/Penis Flytrap) who discusses the films music. You also get the films trailers in HD.       
  • Overall

    One of the greatest and most fun zombie films of all time is released to Blu-ray with it's original soundtrack as an option.  A slate of extras that would make Criterion blush, and well restored A/V. I can pretty easily say EXTREMELY RECOMMENDED!