Return of the Living Dead: Collector's Edition – DVD Review

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Directed by:
Dan O’Bannon

Clu Gulager… Burt Wilson
James Karen… Frank
Don Calfa… Ernie Kaltenbrunner
Thom Mathews… Freddy
Beverly Randolph… Tina

Release Date: September 11, 2007
Running time: 91 minutes

Back in the 1970s George Romero and John Russo couldn’t decide how best to handle a follow up to Night of the Living Dead. So they decided to divide the franchise in two. All of George Romero’s movies were to be called ‘Something Of the Dead’ and John Russo’s got to use ‘Living Dead’. The result is two franchises that start with Night of the Living Dead but exist in entirely different universes.

In Return of the Living Dead, Night of the Living Dead is a movie, but one that is loosely based on a real events. One of the characters, Frank, knows this because the zombie corpses were mistakenly shipped to his warehouse fourteen years ago.

While showing off the barrels full of zombies, Frank foolishly bangs the side of one of the barrels. The barrel is breached and a substantial amount of the corpse animating gas is released into the atmosphere. As you might well imagine, mayhem ensues.

Return of the Living Dead‘s greatest strength is that it refuses to take itself seriously. There are some hilarious moments in the film (like the random nakedness or the split dogs [so cute!]), but there’s more of an emphasis on horror than comedy. Even in the movie’s most serious moments, however, the move is still a lot of fun. It makes it far easier to forgive a movie’s problems – problems I’ll get into a little later – when the movie obviously isn’t taking itself seriously.

The movie also has what was (at the time) a somewhat innovative take on zombies. Night of the Living Dead was, according to the special features, the first movie to have zombies who can run. (Personally I’ve always preferred the shambling zombie myself, but it’s still an innovation). The zombies are also retain their human intelligence, enabling them to set traps, use tools and even speak; their improved skillset makes them far more dangerous than your standard mindless zombie. Probably the most refreshing change is that because the zombies are being reanimated by a gas, being bitten no longer means a one way trip to zombie-town.

Unfortunately, Return of the Living Dead is rather inconsistent with its zombies. In some scenes, we see them laying ambushes, operating radios and jury rigging levers to open doors. But then at other times they are stymied by simple barricades, much like the more traditional zombie. The personality of the recently deceased varies greatly as well. Sometimes they retain their humanity and have to deal with the ever increasing desire for tasty brains. Other times, as soon as they go from human to zombie their former personality evaporates completely and they are only interested in feasting on as many brains as they can. There’s no reason given as to why some zombies are different than others in that respect; it’s annoyingly inconsistent.

While the inconsistencies keep Return of the Living Dead from reaching true zombie greatness, it is still a fun and very enjoyable movie.

The Video and the Audio

The video is presented at 1.85:1 ratio and the quality is pretty good. It’s an older movie, and there’s a bit of graininess from time to time, but it’s perfectly watchable. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo and it has no real issues.

The Extras

Commentary by Cast, Crew and Undead – Commentary with many of the secondary cast, crew members and even the occasional zombie. The commentary is pretty interesting but the commentators often ignore what’s happening on-screen (especially during scenes that none of them appear in) to talk about other aspects of the movie.

Commentary by Director Dan O’Bannon and Production Designer William Stout – This one is more focused on the movie itself and is generally more informative than the other commentary.

Zombie Subtitle Stream – This feature is kind of disappointing. It sounds like either it’s going to supply subtitles to translate zombie moans into English, or possibly provide subtitles translating English into zombie moans and groans. In actuality, it just covers zombie moans and groans so you get subtitles of zombies moaning. Yeah, the first few ‘Argh!’s are amusing, but it gets old fast and doesn’t really add anything to the movie.

Return of the Living Dead – The Dead Have Risen – Virtually the entire cast and several crew members talking about various aspects of the movie.

The Decade of Darkness – This thirty minute documentary covers the rise in horror movies in the 70s and 80s, and how horror movies adapted to the changing culture of the 80s. The documentary deals with the rise of the comedy horror genre, new issues for horror movies to deal with and the vast strides forward made in the special effects field. There are contributions from all corners of the 80s horror industry including John Kenneth Muir Stuart Gordon, Elvira, John Landis, Tony Timpone, Bill Moseley, Tom Holland, and Catherine Hicks.

Designing the Dead – Dan O’Bannon talks about how he made Return of the Living Dead, why he took Return in a more comedic direction, etc (making of stuff, with production sketches and the like). William Stout, the Production Designer, contributes as well.

Trailers – There are a couple trailers for Return of the Living Dead. For some reason there is also trailers for each of the Jeepers Creepers movies and a general MGM horror one.

The Inside Pulse

If you aren’t a fan of zombie movies, chances are that Return of the Living Dead isn’t going to change your mind. But if zombies movies are your thing, you can’t go wrong here. Return of the Living Dead is a fun movie, with lots of replay value and the DVD comes with a nice assortment of extras.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for
The Return Of The Living Dead
(OUT OF 10)