Directed by Greydon Clark in 1980 and an obvious attempt to cash in on the UFO mania that was sweeping the country around this time, The Return takes place in a small town somewhere out in the desert where a prospector (Vincent Schiavelli) and two young kids, a boy and a girl, are mysteriously abducted by a UFO in a flurry of lights and strange noises.
Twenty-five years later, that young girl has grown into a beautiful woman named Jennifer (Cybil Shepherd) who makes a living working for her father, a scientist type named Dr. Kramer (Raymond Burr). The prospector has carried on as well, going about his life, while the young boy, Wayne (Jan-Michael Vincent), no works as a cop under Sheriff Niles Buchanan (Martin Landau). On a day more or less like any other, Jennifer heads into the area near where the abduction took place decades back to check on some strange seismic activity in the area. At the same time, it turns out that someone or something has been slaughtering cattle in the area, which means Wayne's going to have to hop into his cruiser and go check out the scene. As such, they're reunited but when the locals accuse Jennifer of being responsible for killing the cows, it's obviously a reunion occurring under less than ideal circumstances. Wayne stands his ground, however. He knows it wasn't her and isn't afraid to speak up on her behalf.
Shortly after this not-so-sweet reunion though, things get messy. Whatever is killing the cows takes things up a level and moves from bovine to human victims. Residents wind up getting slaughtered in increasingly gory ways and the only ones who are able to figure out what's really going on here are Wayne and Jennifer, because they know that UFOs are real and that the aliens have returned…
First things first, The Return is not a good movie. It's a fun movie, to be sure, and it's plenty entertaining, but it doesn't feature particularly good acting or much in the way of cohesion in regards to the story it attempts to tell. What it does offer is the rare opportunity to watch an interesting cast make a fascinating series of fumbles for just over ninety minutes, with a few weird effects set pieces thrown in for good measure. Raymond Burr is obviously reading his lines rather than delivering them with any sort of conviction (Shepherd wrote years back that he was reading from a teleprompter and Clark backs that up in the disc's supplements!) while Martin Landau can't seem to do anything but look evil. Vincent is obviously half corked if not completely lit for pretty much the entire movie and while this was made during a ‘hot' period for him, you can easily see here the onset of the alcohol abuse problems that would soon pretty much sink his career. That leaves Cybil Shepherd to save the movie, and she can't do that. Her part isn't deep enough or interesting enough, but hey, she looks completely beautiful here, so there's that. Neville Brand and Vincent Schiavelli pop up here too, they're amusing enough.
What makes the movie interesting, aside from the train wreck factor, is how it attempts to craft a scary story on a low budget by substituting goofy effects work for genuine suspense. Aliens are landing and possibly abducting small children? OK, tell that guy over there in the electrical department that we need to bath everything in strangely colored blinking lights because we don't have the budget to really make much of a flying saucer. There are multiple instances throughout the movie where Clark seems to be trying to dazzle us with genuinely bad effects presumably in an attempt to distract us from how nonsensical it all is. This might sound like the movie is awful, and on most technical levels, that's true but there some interesting oddities here. The movie works in some unexpected cult related threads and it's never a bad thing when a film features an inter-dimensional portal, right? Of course the science behind all of it is nonsense but there's no reason to let something like logic disrupt your enjoyment of a B-grade Sci-fi horror mash-up. This is fun. It's goofy, it's got massive plot holes and it wears its low budget on its sleeve, but it is entertaining and in the end, that's what we want out of a movie like The Return.
Scorpion Releasing offers up The Return in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen and in pretty nice shape. Colors are bright and bold without looking oversaturated and while there is some softness that looks to be inherent in the 80s photography used in the movie, detail is pretty strong regardless. Some of the night scenes look a little dark, but again, this looks like an issue with the source and not the transfer. There are no issues with compression artifacts or edge enhancement and all in all, the movie debuts on DVD looking very good.
The Dolby Digital Mono track, in the film's native English, is also fine. Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout and there are no problems with any audible hiss or distortion. Levels are properly balanced and the score and sound effects both sound pretty decent. Some scenes are a little bit flat but again, that's likely how the movie has always sounded. No problems here, this is a solid mix that sounds true to form.
The main extra on the disc is a fun audio commentary track with director Greydon Clark in which he dishes the dirt on what this production was like and what really happened here. He speaks quite a bit about some of the issues with Jan-Michael Vincent, who was obviously in rough shape for most of the shoot, and notes that how this is reflected in the film. He also talks about working with Raymond Burr and Cybil Shepherd in the film and offers up some fun stories about them and the other cast members. Clark also appears in a twelve minute video interview and while he covers some of the same ground here as he does in the commentary, it's also a fun watch and there's enough fresh material included that it's worth checking out.
Rounding out the extras is a trailer for the feature, trailers for a few other Scorpion Releasing properties and an optional intro/outro from Katarina Leigh Waters similar to the other bits she's filmed for titles in the Katarina's Nightmare Theater line, meaning she offers up some facts and trivia before the movie starts and then gives a reaction to it once it's all over. Amusing stuff. Menus and chapter selection are also on the disc.
Scorpion Releasing brings the turkey that is The Return to DVD in surprisingly nice shape. The transfer is a strong one and the audio pretty good as well. Throw in a couple of interesting and revelatory extra and this disc turns out to be a lot of fun. The movie is about as quirky and goofy as you'd expect but that doesn't affect its entertainment value in the least! Definitely recommended for fans of eighties horror, alien abduction stories and quirky cult oddities.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.