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

Back when I did Brandon’s Blu-ray Wishlist as a somewhat weekly piece instead of annual, Return of the Living Dead: Part II made my list for its own article. It was a pipe dream then, as it belonged to Warner Bros, who wasn’t licensing out or doing much with schlocky B-horror titles at all. And likely, we wouldn’t have it with the appropriate soundtrack/score in play (Their DVD replaced it with new music, which is available as an “Alternate Audio Track”). I received a lot of flack for “wishing” it, because, well its not that great a movie, but its part of the Return series and for some damn reason, I do return to it every now and then. I dunno, classic bad zombie movies can still be fun (Hello, Nightmare City). Wish granted, haters. And who better to put this out than Scream Factory, rubbing it in your face with a boatload of new features and restoring the original music. Go ahead, try not to pick it up on October 14th. Well, maybe you won’t, but I’m in!

Film 

The horror begins again as mysterious barrels bounce off an Army transport as it passes through a new housing development and land near an abandoned cemetery. Mischievous neighborhood boys discover the barrels and open them, unaware of the evil contained within. A deadly green vapor escapes and turns the living into flesh-eating zombies and causes the dead to rise from their graves. As these hideous living dead hunt down the fresh human brains they need, man is pitted against man, and the living against the dead. It is a macabre struggle for living human survival!

Return of the Living Dead was a blast of fresh air and complete revelation for not only zombies, but the horror genre as a whole. Its a special moment, and a seminal film that people should check out. Its a masterful blend of suspense, gore, comedy and culture all in one. Usually referred to as a punk rock horror film, that’s the perfect way to describe this event. A sequel would never be able to recapture that magic, but being a solid follow up wouldn’t be hard to ask. Unfortunately its never understands the complete scope of what worked for the first one, while fumbling around with some elements that did.

Instead of continuing the punk rock and attitude of the original, this one decides to become more suburban and tackling an almost Amblin approach to the movie. Which, okay, its interesting, but it never feels that way. The film seems to just wander around with zombies and have no focus. Luckily, this is a zombie film with some cool effects and plenty of attack scenes that never make it feel like forever to watch it. Overall, the first film is a complete standout, this movie doesn’t really feel different from many also rans. There are also sequences that feel like the American version of scenes from Italian zombie films.

There are some interesting and fun returns here. They’ve kept the comedy element that would be ditched in the next installment. Also, I do enjoy James Karen and Thom Matthews returning as similar characters facing similar fates here that are even acknowledged at one point. The Tar Man returns, but he looks more like a comic book come to life version of himself. Some of the jokes are returned to varying degrees of chuckles and eye rolls. And in one big moment, there is a Michael Jackson zombie reference which…can be amusing and can be the absolute last straw for people and this movie.

While it has many faults, the film does overall work as some trashy ‘popcorn and a beer’ zombie movie. Its still entertaining and much better than some of the lower tier zombie films like The Video Dead. There are some nice effects here which sets it above. Where would have been a better place to go after the first one? Well, the 3rd film will sort of cover the grunge/goth youth culture of the 1990s. Maybe taking the second one to a more hip hop youth culture would have been a good compliment to the first one. However, thinking about it and when it would have been made, we likely would’ve received some now-dated piece of cringeworthy stereotypically racist film make by a clueless old white guy. BUT, as is, this is some entertaining horror junk that I never have a problem revisiting and am happy has come to Blu-ray.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail:  Return of the Living Dead: Part II debuts on Blu-ray from Scream Factory with a brand new 2K scan of the interpositive. The film has an inherent kind of fuzzy softness to it, that is just the way it was lit and shot, no changing that. But, it looks really terrific and very much 1980s feel to the image. Details are pretty strong, and you get the full on gruesomeness of the gore in full effect, while also grabbing some nifty little mentionables in close up shots. Many have always claimed that Scream Factory is famous for making films look terrific that don’t deserve to, and this is definitely one of them.

Depth:  Pretty solid depth on display here with characters having pretty confident movements to go along with a nice pushback between foreground characters/objects and background. No real noticeable instances of distortions in movement seem to be present either.

Black Levels: Blacks are pretty deep and almost natural in appearance. It doesn’t have that light gray look to it that can happen. Some details in darkness, like on clothes, doesn’t really come across to strong all the time. Grain is more apparent in darker scenarios too. No crushing witnessed during this viewing.

Color Reproduction: Colors are pretty solid, with a mostly natural looks, but some of those colors, like a teal sweater and oranges present really do pop out a bit. Red vests, hair and blue denim all come on pretty strong. Any time there are lights, like on a cop car for instance, they have a strong glow to them.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from start to finish of the film. Your normal, wrinkles, make-up, stubble and the like are pretty good in close-ups and most medium shots. The faces on the zombies reveal some good textures and other little decrepit details.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 DTS-HD MA, Alternate Audio Track

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: Relief, the original score and songs are back in the film for the first time since the VHS release. BUT, just because Scream Factory is one of the most comprehensive distributors in the business, you’re given the DVD’s alternate audio track as well (The one with the dumb voice over at the beginning). The restored track is pretty solid, though it sounds a little dated, with some muffled bits (Not horrible, but they are what they are). The score and music in the film do sound very clear and crisp though and are probably the highlight of this thing. Overall, remember, its Return of the Living Dead: Part II on Blu-ray. This is likely the best it can be (Or ever will be), and its more than solid to deliver.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension:  N/A

Surround Sound Presentation:  N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are pretty solid, if not a tad muffled during some scenes. There are also some moments with peaking during some characters yelling. This is probably in the source, but its still apparent.

Extras 

Return of the Living Dead: Part II – Collector’s Edition comes with a reversible cover featuring the original theatrical poster artwork.

Audio Commentary

  • With Actress Suzanne Snyder
  • With Gary Smart (co-author of The Complete History of the Return of the Living Dead) and filmmaker Christopher Griffiths
  • With writer/director Ken Wiederhorn and co-star Thor Van Lingen

Back to the Dead: The Effects of “Return of the Living Dead Part II” (HD, 25:01) – A history of making the film and its legacy from the perspective of the special effects/makeup team. This is plenty honest about the lack of confidence they had in the direction of the film, but they put forth their best efforts regardless as they weren’t the ones steering. Includes interviews with Special Make-up Effects creator Kenny Myers and Special Make-up Effects artists Andy Schoneberg and Mike Smithson.

The Laughing Dead (HD, 19:22) – An interview with writer/director Ken Wiederhorn. He begins with his apprehension on doing it because his last film got retitled as Meatballs 2 when the film he made had nothing to do with that “predecessor”.  Widerhorn is pretty candid about his experience and even has little anecdotes about stuff like sending Dana Ashbrook to a dermatologist weeks before shooting to help clear up his heavy acne.

Undead Melodies (HD, 12:48) – An interview with composer J. Peter Robinson. He discusses being brought in to replace the original score the creators were left unhappy with and explains how he just did what he did and any comedically timed moments were purely unintentional.

Interview With Actor Troy Fromin (HD, 2:10) – This super brief interview has the actor talking about how he landed his brief role as the pot smoking military truck driver at the beginning of the movie.

They Won’t Stay Dead: A Look at Return Of The Living Dead II (HD, 29:45) – This was a bonus feature on the More Brains! Documentary from a few years ago. Really, this inclusion’s retrospective look at the film could have sufficed as the sole bonus interviews and that’s it. Its terrific and incredibly, BRUTALLY honest (Its made by the Never Sleep Again and Crystal Lake Memories crew). Includes interviews with James Karen, Thom Matthews, Brian Peck, Kenny Myers, Susan Snyder, Michael Kenworthy as well as some members of cast/crew from the first film

Vintage Featurette: Live From The Set (SD, 5:35) – Director Ken Widerhorn talks wanting to make the “Police Academy of horror movies” and there are also interviews with James Karen, Thom Matthews on this little EPK. It also features interviews with Kenny Myers and zombie actors.

Vintage Interviews (SD, 2:36) – Features Ken Wiederhorn, James Karen, Thom Matthews and Kenny Myers. This is just leftoever stuff from the “Live From The Set” Featurette.

Behind The Scenes Footage (SD, 4:14) – 

Teaser Trailer (HD, 1:44) 

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 1:41)

TV Spots (SD, 2:10) 

Still Gallery: Special Effects Makeup (HD, 5:59) 

Still Gallery-Posters and Lobby Cards (HD, 1:46)

Summary 

Return of the Living Dead: Part II is both a bad sequel and a bad movie. But damnit, I’m someone who can enjoy a trashy zombie movie if its…well done? I’ve been wanting it to have a good Blu-ray release for some time now, and its been answered with Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition. The film looks better than it deserves to and features a solid returned audio track missing since VHS. This thing is stacked with great bonus materials new and old. Quality of the film aside, there is no question Scream Factory has put together the ultimate, definitive release for Return Of The Living Dead: Part II.

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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).

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