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The Return Of The Living Dead – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Return-of-the-Living-DeadWriter/director Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Lifeforce) puts an uproarious spin on the zombie apocalypse movie in 1985’s cult classicTHE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, starring Clu Gulager (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge), James Karen (Mulholland Drive) and Don Calfa (Weekend at Bernie’s). Considered one of the campiest undead romps of its time, the film helped launch the career of scream queen Linnea Quigley (Night of the Demons, Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama) and features a killer soundtrack with tracks from many songs from punk artists such as The Cramps, T.S.O.L. SSQ and 45 Grave. On July 19, 2016, SCREAM FACTORY™ is proud to present THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD Collector’s Edition Blu-ray set, which includes a brand new 2K scan of the film and over 12 hours of extras!

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Film 

At a medical supply warehouse in Louisville, Kentucky, a foreman named Frank tries to impress the company’s newest employee, Freddy, by showing him military drums that accidentally wound up in the basement of the building. The drum contains the remains of an army experiment gone wrong that inspired the film Night of the Living Dead. Frank accidentally unleashes the toxic gas inside the barrel, leaving any dead in its path to reanimate and prey upon the living, which includes Freddy’s friends who have shown up to see him after his first day of work and are hanging out at the cemetery across the street.

My uncle introduced me to a lot of horror films in my early days of lusting for blood soaked, nail biting cinema.  A lot of times they’d be in the form of a VHS tape he’d get me for my birthday.  One year, it was The Return Of The Living Dead.  And man, this was a crazy new experience.  I was on board from the moment this thing started.  Seeing this before I ever saw Dawn Of The Dead, I took it as a direct follow up to Night of the Living Dead.  Except, it had a group of kids I could more or less relate with and years enhancement in make up and gore effects.  The film really was, most importantly, its own beast.  As a zombie movie, I loved it and also as a horror-comedy I dug it because I hadn’t see much of what that angle of the genre had to offer beyond stuff like Abbott & Costello and Love at First Bite.

I wasn’t the only person struck by the film.  It really hit with a whole generation.  The film is credited with introducing the punk scene to horror and bringing it to a more mainstream level (kinda anti-punk, lol).  Instead of just your normal group of stereotypes and randoms making up the teens in a horror movie, this just focused on one subculture of youth.  All these kids really had a fun bit to them beyond just their sense of fashion and the music they listened to.  They all had attitude and a fantastic report with one another.  In that sense, it felt like maybe watching you and some of your buddies engage in a zombie apocalypse.

These zombies are probably the most influential in the pop nomenclature than many any ever.  Romero’s zombies are well known, but the attributes people know all come from this movie.  This is the movie that introduced them eating brains.  In addition, they also were the zombies that spoke “Braaaaains”.  Yes, you know that, I know that, ask any one random person to do a zombie impression and that’s what they’re going to give you 99% with their groan.  It doesn’t end there, either, this also is the first film to feature fast, running swarming zombies.  These undead brain-eaters book it when they see their prey.  My favorite though, and maybe on of my favorite jokes in movie history, is the whole “Send more cops” bit that plays in the film.

Iconography is all around in the film.  For one, the Tar Man zombie is one of the most known of all time.  But, the highlight, one in all of horror history, is Linnea Quigley as Trash.  Yes, her look and that red hair are bad ass…but its the dance scene we all remember.  Linnea had been in B-movies and horror prior, but this was her big break out.  She goes full frontal for a sexy ass dance on top of a tombstone in the cemetery.  Yes, I said its hot, if it wasn’t we wouldn’t be talking about it now.  She’s a cool character and has an incredibly memorable moment of erotica.  But, I need to give the girl credit for how crazy discomforting and tough her role must have been following that scene. She’s naked the rest of the way as a zombie, going through the rain, mud puddles, blooding eating sequences and more.  And the cool thing about Linnea…she did this film and said “What next?”  Forever she remains one of my favorite genre actors.

Dan O’Bannon came in and rescued this film from being an also ran.  This movie went into production knowing it would be competing with a highly anticipated George Romero zombie film (Day of the Dead).  O’Bannon saw this script and realized it was just trying to be a Romero film.  He knew this one needed to be its own thing, because you need to just let Romero do Romero.  He injected the wackiness, the humor and the punk angle to the script and it proved to be the right move.  Return of the Living dead outshined the third Romero entry and was for more successful both critically and financially.  It remains not only a staple in the horror genre, but a seminal piece of zombie cinema.

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Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail:  Return of the Living Dead features a new 2K transfer of the film that is indeed an improvement over the previous edition.  The image just looks a bit tighter, crisper and sharper.  Detail is much more apparent, able to better make out things on the wall in the medical supply building.  Colors also appear to be a lot richer in this new image.

Depth:  Above average and solid spacing done.  Characters move smoothly and freely between separated objects and good distance with the background.

Black Levels:  Blacks are solid and pretty deep.  Grain can appear heavier on very dark lit scenes.  Detail still shows very good on dark/black objects and hair.  No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  Colors look perfectly bold, on the verge of a burst, but holding in control to just give strong normal appearance.  Reds look grand in many different tints.  Greens are also pretty impressive.

Flesh Tones:  Skin tones are natural with a consistent appearance from scene to scene for the entirety of the film’s duration.  Facial details are very impressive at medium and close up shots.  You can really see the details of make-up, scarring/blemishes, lip texture, wrinkle and stubble.

Noise/Artifacts:  Pretty clean, there are some specs/dirt, but all in all this print looks good.  I didn’t really catch any sort of noise or artifacts in the transfer either.

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Audio 

Audio Format(s): Original Mono 2.0 DTS-HD MA, English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English 2.0 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH, Zombie Subtitles, In Their Words-The Zombies Speak

Dynamics:  For this review, I checked out the original mono track included.  I’m pretty certain the 5.1 and 2.0 are based off the previous Blu-ray release of the film.  One reason to be super excited for the mono is that includes all the original music for the film with no replacements.  It also sounds fantastic.  The film is loud, in your face and does plenty of great work with jumps scars and action sequences.  Effects sound well rounded and layered.  The balance of the score, vocals and effects work really well too.  All in all THIS is the track you want to listen to the film for, purist or not.

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction:  Dialogue is loud, with a analog sound feel, but still having plenty of clarity.

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Extras 

The Return of the Living Dead – Collector’s Edition is a 2-disc set that comes with reversible cover art showcasing the iconic original poster.

Disc 1

Audio Commentary 

  • With Gary Smart (Co-author of The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead) & Chris Griffiths
  • With Actors Thom Mathews, John Philbin & Make-Up Effects Artist Tony Gardner
  • With Director Dan O’Bannon & Production Designer William Stout
  • The Cast & Crew 

The Decade Of Darkness (HD, 23:23) – Featurette on 80’s horror films.

Theatrical Trailers (HD, 8:31)

TV Spots (HD, 5:22) 

Still Gallery (HD, 7:21) – Posters, lobby cards, movie stills and behind-the-scenes photos.

Still Gallery (HD, 2:06) – Behind-the-scenes photos from special make-up effects artist Kenny Myers’ personal collection.

Disc 2

More Brains: A Return To The Living Dead (HD, 1:59:43) – This is the full on documentary from the folks that brought you Never Sleep Again and Crystal Lake Memories.  Such a grand thing to have included with this film that it makes for 5 stars on the bonus material just on itself alone.

The FX of The Return of the Living Dead (HD, 32:49) – William Stout, Bill Munns, Kenny Myers, Craig Caton, Tony Gardner, Gene Warren Jr, Bret Mixon and actor Brian Peck give an incredibly detailed account of the making of this film from the effects perspective.  Each creature, gore effect and even the rotoscoping, model work and such is laid out with every nook and cranny polished over.  This is a fascinating adventure from a different angle of production.

Part Time: The Music of The Return of the Living Dead (HD, 29:31) – Many of the artists involved with the soundtrack share their stories about the songs they provided and the drama with working in tandem with the studio in getting it all done.  Some get pretty personal about where they found their songs in themselves.

Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (HD, 10:15) – I kinda sorta love these.  Sean Clark takes to the locations for the film to see what they look like today.

A Conversation With Dan O’Bannon (HD, 28:32) – This is the final interview with Dan O’Bannon, who directed the film as well as being on the original writers of Alien.

The Origins of The Return of the Living Dead (HD, 15:12) – An interview with John Russo discussing his work with the original Night of the Living Dead and where he decided to go with Return.

The Return of the the Living Dead: The Dead Have Risen (HD, 20:34) – Here’s an archival featurette from one of the previous releases that is your basic “Making of”.  If you don’t have the time for More Brains, then check out this one.

Designing The Dead (HD, 13:39) – Another archival featurette.  This one features director Dan O’Bannon and his approach to creating his unique zombies for the film. William Stout also is here to chime in on his work in the film.

Return of the Living Dead Workprint (HD, 1:48:05) – Appears to be sourced from a VHS tape.  There is a warning about the quality being the best that could be found and that having it available for fans to see was the most important factor in the end.  And yeah, this is super cool, thanks Scream Factory!

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Summary 

Well, to no surprise, Scream Factory unleashes the greatest release of The Return Of The Living Dead, but also one of the most complete and satisfying releases for a movie ever.  And for them, this sorta thing has become business as usual.  Everything you want is here, complete with a great new transfer and the stellar original mono audio track included (Something fans were hoping was included).  Buy this movie, really, this release will keep you busy for hours and hours and deliver everything you’ve ever wanted, needed or felt you deserved with one of the greatest zombie film of all time.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

2 Responses to “The Return Of The Living Dead – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    Sold!

  2. Anthony

    Wonderful review!

    But even though the original Mono track IS the original, the song “Dead Beat Dance” by The Damned is still not included, it was the one song Shout! wasn’t able to clear rights to.