More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead: The Definitive Return of the Living Dead Documentary:
Just in time for Halloween, this little treat for your creepy stocking, or something. (I get my holidays a little mixed up.) Jam-packed onto one disk is the latest and greatest in zombibilia, this two-hour documentary covering nearly every aspect of the movie that you could possibly want, (and some you might not want) as well as another two-hours worth of extras. Yeah, you know you wanna party, and guess what? It's party time!
Rising like a slimy creature from the grave, this documentary follows the long dead documentary formula - not that I'm complaining or anything - it's just that there's not too much newness going on with the format. But if you're new, this is what you'll get, a bunch of stylishly dressed interview sequences mixed with clips, photos, and behind the scenes brouhaha. Nothing new, but these bones are nonetheless heartfelt, funny, casual, frank, and thoroughly entertaining for fans of the film.
Writer/ director Dan O'Bannon (R.I.P.) doesn't make an appearance, I believe having passed away just before these interviews were filmed, but his presence looms large. As you'll learn, this was a troubled production, and first-time helmer O'Bannon wasn't always able to handle things. Nonetheless he managed to squeeze out a movie both legendary and revolutionary, a horror-comedy that's neither one type of film pretending, nor the other in disguise; it's something that still feels effortless and new.
But as pretty much every member of the cast testifies, it wasn't all that effortless, and each actor still seems to be toting around one type of axe to grind, or another - though none actually bear any enmity to anyone. From last-minute cast addition Clu Gulager (Gull-uh-grrr) down to the make-up effects guy who got canned halfway into the shoot, there are many stories to tell, nearly all of them interesting and scandalous. Learn all you'd like to know about Linnea Quigley's famous crypt-topping striptease. Dig James Karen's urbane bemusement. Observe with curiosity Don Calfa's transmitted-from-Mars (with a little bit of malice) performance, and so much more.
What's great about all of these revelations - aside from the ghoulishly garish backdrops for each - is the form of silly acceptance everyone seems to have adopted. Many of the actors and crew would probably be forgiven if they either didn't want to appear in this doc, or still carried some ill will. What's revealed, however, can't be overlooked as one of the reasons ROTLD is still so successful: this is a great bunch of people. What's a little less successful is the clips-to-interviews ratio. Maybe it's down to the hefty length of this doc, but it seems as though there might have been a few more, or longer, behind the scenes clips; there might have been a deeper look into technical aspects, too, for this to truly be considered a 'definitive documentary'.
As documentaries go, this one shambles down the same type of path all the others do. Subject choice is everything, and this one scores by focusing on one of the most beloved zombie films of all time. It's even beloved by everyone who worked on it - they recognize it as a great, groundbreaking movie, even as it tried to break their backs and their spirits. The fact that everyone works out his or her feelings with such good-natured irreverence means that while everything you're treated to is intriguing, it's thoroughly entertaining as well. Run, don't shamble, to your video store today!
1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen isn't a term that was bandied about casually when this movie came out in 1985, but now you DVD heads know what I mean when I say that's what this DVD presents. As per usual, archival clips, photos and footage vary in quality, but are usually fairly scrappy due to age and treatment. The body of the movie looks great; crisp and detailed, with rich colors. I wasn't catching any compression problems, either, which is pretty great since all four hours are crammed on one disc!
Dolby Digital Stereo has a fairly easy job to do with this largely dialog-driven documentary. (For those of you who are - like me - both brain-dead as well as body dead, this means that pretty much all you're getting here is people talking.) For that, it does fine, everything is mixed well, as far as incidental music and interviews, and everything's easy to understand.
Wow, two hours of extras. English SDH Subtitles are there if needed, but that's not all! First is a 30-minute mini-doc called They Won't Stay Dead: A Look At Return of the Living Dead Part II which was filmed concurrently with the main feature. Expect more of the same good stuff, just less of it. Following is Love Beyond the Grave: A Look At Return of the Living Dead 3. Third verse, same as the first, only this time the featurette is limited to 20-minutes of material in the same style as the feature. (Fans will note that as the movies go, these first two sequels were radically different than the original film.)
A Conversation with Dan O'Bannon: The Final Interview allows the man his preemptive rebuttal. Throughout the course of this 29-minute interview you'll find O'Bannon was basically on the same page as everyone else; only his status as a newly minted, inexperienced wunderkind made interfacing with cast and crew difficult. But maybe that's just O'Bannon looking back fondly. You'll look at this interview fondly - if not with mild shock - as well. Fourteen Deleted Scenes from the doc burn about 15 minutes or so. Sadly, they don't come with a 'play all' option, so you'll need to keep remote in hand. Stacey Q Live! Exclusive "Tonight" Music Video is there for those in love with this song from the movie. Hell, Stacey Q even appears in the main feature!
Resurrected Settings: The Filming Locations Today is, frankly, a stupid ten minutes rescued by our charming tour guides Beverly Randolph and Brian Peck. I mean, when you're revisiting a location that is impossible to see because there's a huge fake cemetery wall concealing the actual location, you might as well be revisiting a sound stage, right? Return of the Living Dead in 3 Minutes is a little bit more silliness, with cast members reciting lines both memorable and not-so, which take us quickly through the arc of the movie. A Trailer for the documentary, and a Teaser for that Elm Street Legacy thing everyone loves so much finish off the package of extras.
This two-hour documentary comes chock-full of funny, revealing, and often exhilarating interviews with basically every living person involved with making this iconic zombie movie. You'll learn more than you think you want to know about its troubled production and ultimate transformation into a piece of landmark horror cinema. The documentary doesn't dig up any new graves as far as any particular documentary template goes. In fact - amongst those voluminous and voluble interviews - you'll find not-exactly-enough in the way of BTS footage or technical discussion. Yet the quality of information presented, and the good-natured attitude of everyone filmed, make this a miraculous documentary indeed. (Troubled productions such as this rarely bask in so much glowing goodwill.) Fans of ROTLD and horror movies in general will find this bulky, unpretentious documentary Highly Recommended.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com