The summer of 1985 was a banner year for zombie cinema fans. Around 4th of July weekend, George Romero arrived with Day of the Dead, his third zombie installment. The film had the survivors of the zombie apocalypse holding up in an underground missile base. A month later came the film that flipped the zombie genre around with a punk rock attitude. The Return of the Living Dead was spearheaded by producer John Russo who had made Night of the Living Dead with Romero. He had a contract that let him also make a sequel to the iconic horror flick. The Return of the Living Dead was doing more than cashing in on the world that Romero created in the original and Dawn of the Dead. Russo’s film made you believe zombies could slam dance. Now The Return of the Living Dead: The Collector’s Edition allows the sequel to stand alone.
Freddy (Thom Mathews) is having his first day at a scientific supply company that provides skeletons and cadavers to medical schools. He’s a young goofy guy that’s ready to learn the ropes from older foreman Frank (James Karen). The owner (Tapeheads’ Clu Gulager) is skipping out early because it’s the start of the 4th of July weekend. During a break, Freddy informs Frank that The Night of the Living Dead is a true story and the reanimated zombie corpses are stored in the basement because of a military mix up. Frank doesn’t believe him so they go downstairs and see the containers. Trapped inside is a real zombie. Trouble ensues when the security drum has a malfunction and the gas inside escapes. This leads to things around the warehouse coming to life including a few medical cadavers and a split dog. Outside the warehouse, Freddy’s punk rock friends arrive in a cool convertible. While waiting for their pal to clock out, they head to the next door cemetery for little wild fun. This includes Trash (Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama’s Linnea Quigley) stripping down on a tombstone. Her friends have seen it before. Unbeknownst to the punks, Freddy and the guys at the supply warehouse have to destroy the reanimated remains. They sneak over to the cemetery’s nearby funeral home to borrow the crematorium. The idea is that charred remains will fix the problem. What they don’t count on is the fumes from the burning zombie bodies would go up and a rainstorm would allow the fumes to soak into the ground at the graveyard and thus creating even more zombies. That’s exactly what happens. Can the punks survive the decomposing bodies clawing their way through six feet of dirt in order to eat brains?
The film was Dan O’Bannon’s directorial debut after working as special effects on Dark Star and Jardosky’s unrealized Dune and screenplays for Aliens and Heavy Metal. He doesn’t merely rip off the zombie films of George Romeo and Lucio Fulci. This film creates its own undead realm by giving us bodies that aren’t slow with guts falling all over the floor. O’Bannon finds the humor in a completely grotesque situation.
The Return of the Living Dead became a sensation in the VHS era since it offered more than just scares and gross scenes of zombies eating the living. There was great comic moments and a bit of gratuitous nudity. The movie pioneered the zombies demanding brains of the living. This was the undead movie that became of life of a VCR party night in 1987. The movie had a little something for everyone packed in 90 minutes. Return was a brainy zombie feast in so many ways.
The video is 1.78:1 anamorphic. The transfer brings out the detail in the undead and the punks. The audio is DTS-MA 5.1 and stereo. There’s one minor song by The Damned that couldn’t get clearance. But as long as 45 Grave’s “Partytime” is on the soundtrack, all is good. The movie is subtitled.
Audio Commentaries include four different tracks. First up is Gary Smart (Co-author Of The Complete History Of The Return Of The Living Dead) and Chris Griffiths. Second tracks features actors Thom Mathews, John Philbin And Make-up Effects Artist Tony Gardner. The third track gives Director Dan O’Bannon and Production Designer William Stout a chance to expand upon their visions for the film. The final track allows the Cast And Crew a chance to give their say. Included on the audio is Production Designer William Stout And Actors Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph, Allan Trautman.
The Decade Of Darkness – Featurette On ’80s Horror Films (23:23) is a documentary about varous horror films made during the decade that MGM controlled in home video including Silence of the Lambs, Child’s Play and Motel Hell. Joe Dante points out that the Reagan era made livig scary.
Theatrical Trailers (8:31) warns us that the zombies are coming back to life and are hungry for brains.
TV Spots (5:22) reminds kids to don’t party in the graveyards.
Still Gallery (7:21) includes Posters, Lobby Cards, Movie Stills And Behind-The-Scenes Photos.
Still Gallery (2:06) includes the Behind-The-Scenes Photos From Special Make-up Effects Artist Kenny Myers’ Personal Collection. He shows off the artistry that went into the zombie masks.
Zombie Subtitles is fun.
In Their Own Words – The Zombies Speak lets them get their say.
The FX Of The Living Dead (32:49) features Production Designer William Stout, FX Make-up Artists William Munns, Tony Gardner, Kenny Myers And Craig Caton-Largnet, Visual Effects Artists Bret Mixon And Gene Warren Jr. and actor Brian Peck. Stout tells how he approached creating zombies outside the Romeo creations. Stout had already made a mark in undead illustrations with one of his legendary bootleg covers.
Party Time: The Music Of The Return Of The Living Dead (29:31) includes Music Consultants Budd Carr And Steve Pross and Soundtrack Artists Dinah Cancer (45 Grave), Chris D (The Flesh Eaters), Roky Erickson, Karl Moet (SSQ), Joe Wood (T.S.O.L.), Mark Robertson (Tall Boys) Plus Musicians Greg Hetson (Circle Jerks) And John Sox (The F.U.’s, Straw Dogs). They delivered the sound that the punky kids would have played on their boom box.
HORROR’S HALLOWED GROUNDS – Revisiting The Locations Of The Film (10:15) is another fun installment of Sean Clark taking us to see what places look like now. The graveyard is gone. Kinda good that he went there to find out that the Los Angeles neighborhood has been changed.
The Return Of The Living Dead Workprint (108 minutes) includes 20 minutes Of additional footage. Sadly this was taken off a well worn standard definition tape that’s rather dark. It’s a great example of a bootleg tape.
More Brains: A Return To The Living Dead (120 minutes) is the definitive documentary On The Return Of The Living Dead. Pretty much everything wanted to know about the film is here. Cast and crew tell all in a film that’s 30 minutes longer than the film.
A Conversation With Dan O’Bannon (28:32) tuns out to be his final interview. He admits he didn’t let people do their jobs like he should have. He’s in a reflective mood. Check out what’s sitting on his Saturn Award.
The Origins Of The Living Dead (15:12) is more time with John A. Russo. He never thought zombie movies were that scary. Him making them flesh eaters made them more frightening.
The Return Of The Living Dead – The Dead Have Risen (20:34) interviews With actors Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Brian Peck, Thom Mathews, Beverly Randolph, Linnea Quigley about their time with brains. This was from the 20th anniversary edition.
Designing The Dead (13:39) interviews Writer/Director Dan O’Bannon And Production Designer William Stout about how they made their zombies.
Scream Factory presents The Return of the Living Dead. Directed by: Dan O’Bannon. Screenplay by: Dan O’Bannon. Starring: Thom Mathews, Clu Gulager, John Philbin, Jewel Shepard & Linnea Quigley. Running Time: 91 minutes. Rated: R. Released: July 19, 2016.
Tags: Scream Factory, The Return of the Living Dead