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Return of the Living Dead: Collectors' Edition, The

Shout Factory // R // July 19, 2016
List Price: $34.93 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 2, 2016 | E-mail the Author
"...and I know you're here because I can smell your brains!"
-Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time

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There are all sorts of life lessons you can take away from The Return of the Living Dead, although I think the main one goes something like this: if it's your first day on the job at a medical supply warehouse and the foreman asks if you wanna see the actual zombies that inspired Night of the Living Dead that are vacuum-sealed down in the basement, shake your head no. I mean, it's the Fourth of July weekend! Go out and enjoy it. Tandem bicycle. Fireworks. Barbecue. Sucking in a lungful of Trioxin 245 from a rickety, old corpse canister isn't gonna do anyone any good.

Too bad Frank (James Karen) and Freddy (Thom Mathews) didn't get CC:ed on that memo. No, Frank sets out to impress the new kid, and a faceful of putrefied zombie gut gas later, they wind up passed out on the dingy basement floor. They're sopping with sweat, all the color has drained from their faces, and...hmmm, that oversized tuna can that used to have a rotting corpse inside is now completely empty. No harm done, though, right? Spritz a little Lysol, let the place air out over the weekend, and no one'll be the wiser once Monday rolls around. Well, maybe if the Trioxin hadn't already made its way through the air ducts. The dogs on the shelf may be split down the middle but are wagging their tails and yapping merrily just the same. Corkboard-pinned butterflies flap their wings once again. ...and that naked, shaved, yellow cadaver in the freezer...? Moaning and pounding to get out. Oops. Yeah, yeah, I know it worked in that other movie, but braining the guy doesn't do jack. Even total body dismemberment just means you have oodles of little yellow parts wriggling after you. The Army has an emergency number stamped on the side of the busted container, but...c'mon, Frank and Freddy figure they'll get in all kinds of trouble if they ring up the military. Burt (Clu Gulager) -- and you know he's the boss in that Members Only jacket -- thinks the best move is to torch all the evidence. They shove the reanimated dogs and the jaundiced parts-is-parts into a bunch of garbage bags, convince Ernie (Don Calfa) from the mortuary across the way to let 'em shove it all in his crematorium, and what's left of the undead is soon spewing out the chimney. Nothing remains of 'em but ash and smoke.

Whew! Sigh of relief. Fade to black. Roll credits.

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No, wait! What I meant is that the instant the smoke from the crematorium billows up towards the heavens, it all of a sudden starts raining. Burns kinda like acid rain, even. A bunch of Freddy's punked-out pals have been killing time in the cemetery next door, waiting for him to get off work, and they dash back to their car to escape the acidic downpour. No dice. Won't start. It's dead. Hey, you know what else is dead? A hundred or so of the poor bastards buried in that cemetery. This juiced-up rain oozes into their coffins and sends them screaming back to...well, not life, exactly, but you get where I'm going with this. These hordes of the undead haven't had a nosh in decades, and as luck would have it, there's a buffet of fresh, live brains just waiting for them. What few survivors remain barricade themselves inside as best they can, but the undead never relent, and it's just a matter of time before one of 'em is gnawing through their skulls. Any attempt at escape is quickly overwhelmed. Cops and paramedics are devoured just about as soon as they unlock their doors. Frank and Freddy are fading fast. There's no chance in hell of any of them making it through the night.

All I do in my off-hours is devour movies with corpses munching on the living, and of that long, long, long list of zombie flicks, The Return of the Living Dead ranks dizzyingly high near the top. What's not to like? A zombie's wails start getting all gargled as his head is sawed off and his vocal cords are severed. A half-dog's tail wags when he's reanimated from the dead, and he whimpers when what's left of him is whacked repeatedly with a spare crutch. Linnea Quigley strips down completely naked for no reason whatsoever and stays that way for the rest of the flick, even after joining the ranks of the brain-slurping undead.

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So many of the zombie flicks from the tailend of the '70s and early '80s were shamelessly apeing George Romero, but The Return of the Living Dead veers off in an entirely different direction. For one, when they say what's dead may never die, they actually mean it. Dismemberment slows them down but doesn't stop the onslaught. Headshots just mean you're out one more bullet. You could charbroil every last trace of a zombie, but the resulting smoke will just wind up reanimating more of them. These aren't the slow, shambling corpses of eras long past either. As long as all of their tendons and such haven't rotted off, they can dart around terrifyingly quickly. Even the Tar Man, who's held together with buckets of black, decomposed goop, still manages to get around awfully well. Talking is kind of a pain, but if their decomposing tummies aren't stuffed yet, they can grab a radio and order some take-out: more cops, more paramedics, and whatever else 911 happens to have on their delivery menu. These zombies are pretty damned clever too. They lie in wait before swarming in for the kill. They'll find a way to bust clean through your barricade, through force or through careful, deliberate application of physics. The Return of the Living Dead's approach to its undead proves to be as effective as it is unconventional. Romero's zombies are more about inescapable dread -- a looming, apocalyptic menace that gradually consumes everyone and everything around it, entire civilizations at a time. These zombies instead clawed their way out of the slasher era. They scheme. They move quickly. They taunt. They prefer to attack one or two victims at a time. They're unstoppable individually, and when hunting in packs...? Forget about it. Even thirty years and change and however many thousands of other zombie flicks later, the undead here feel more unique and distinctive than just about anything else to ever come down the pike. To give you a sense of how seismic an impact it's had on pop culture at large, this was the first (and remains one of the only) zombie movie to ever put brains on the menu.

The Return of the Living Dead assembles a very impressive cast too. Everyone on the bill, down to the zombies themselves, has a hell of a lot of personality. Take Suicide (Mark Venturini), the kinda-sorta leader of Freddy's gaggle of punk friends. The guy's draped from head to toe in leather and chains, and in any other movie, he'd be some kind of raging, anti-authoritarian bad-ass. Here, he...well, tries to pull that off, but Suicide's pals snicker at all that posturing, and his frustration and insecurity about that is unmistakeable. It's not the sort of big, broad thing that grabs you by the shoulders and violently shakes you until you acknowledge it either. Subtle but effective, it's just one in a long line of examples of a playfulness here that comes across as so much more alive and convincing than '80s horror flicks could usually muster. Pretty much all of these characters are like that. Linnea Quigley, once again vamping it up in a way no other scream queen could ever hope to match. Miguel A. Núñez Jr. is even more awesome here than he was when he got skewered in the shitter in Friday V, and the endlessly adorable Beverly Randolph screams and sobs for an hour straight without coming across as anything less than endearing: no small feat. There are a pair of really great comedy teams here as well. I love how two of the fiftysomething year old men -- Clu Gulager and the bug-eyed, pistol-packing Don Calfa -- banter back and forth. James Karen and Thom Mathews are what really make the movie, though. The whole thing starts off with a pretty traditional dynamic -- the smirking vet and the wide-eyed new kid -- and from there, they perfectly balance the horror of reanimated corpses with the ridiculousness of their plight. So many of their early scenes are played as cacklingly dark comedy, but when they start to transform -- dying shrieks, noticing the massive bruises forming as their blood pools, succumbing to rigor mortis -- the stabs at drama connect too. It's no wonder that Karen and Mathews were brought back for the sequel, even though they had to play completely different characters. ...and the zombie interrogation...? Too brilliant for words.

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So, yeah: it's funny, frenetic, and sloshes around a good bit of splatter. With the torrential downpours of rain and a slew of claustrophobic setpieces, The Return of the Living Dead is unnervingly intense and suspenseful as well, and the jolts connect when they count. Not a moment of its hour and a half-flat runtime is wasted. Everything from the cinematography to the bitingly witty writing to the extensive special effects work is pitch-perfect. There's a subversive undercurrent to it all and even a little ::sniffles!:: pathos. I've probably watched The Return of the Living Dead twenty times over the past few decades, and even now, it still feels fresh and inventive to me. It's not just one of my all-time favorite zombie flicks; this is one of my all-time favorite movies of any genre, full stop. It's the sort of thing that'd come enthusiastically recommended even in a substandard release like the one MGM shat out on Blu-ray back in 2010. Scream Factory has righted every one of that disc's wrongs and assembled one of the year's most exceptional special edition releases along the way: one that more than deserves this site's highest possible rating. DVD Talk Collector Series.

Very few Blu-ray discs have let me down the way that MGM's The Return of the Living Dead did way back in 2010. Excessively soft, muddy, and practically devoid of any fine detail, its substandard, DVD-era master really had no business shambling onto Blu-ray. For a long while there, it sure looked like that's the release we were gonna be stuck with.

...and here comes Scream Factory. They've lavished this longtime favorite with a new 2K remaster, and it's a dramatic step up in pretty much every conceivable way. I struggled to notice any difference in color between the 2007 DVD and MGM's Blu-ray release, but the more pronounced saturation here is immediately apparent. The film grain so poorly resolved in the MGM disc is actually present and accounted for here. This presentation is so much crisper, better defined, and more richly detailed that it feels like I'm replacing an old DVD rather than a six year old Blu-ray disc. A couple of quick comparisons:

MGM BD (2010)Scream Factory BD (2016)
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For my money, anyway, it's night and day. I mean, the MGM disc is so lousy that it looks as if Chuck is wearing a plain ol' gray jacket in that second set of comparisons, but on the Scream Factory release, you can practically count the checkers. The color timing is different enough to spark some arguments -- like whether or not the scene with the punks driving around in Louisville should be tinted gold, seeing as how that sequence is set at 7:30 PM -- but I'm not walking away with any concerns on that front. Some moments are a good bit darker, particularly down in the basement, but again, nothing looks revisionist or wrong to my eyes. I didn't spot a nick, tear, or stray fleck of dust throughout the film's entire 90 minute runtime (aside from what's baked into opticals, anyway). The authoring of the disc is exactly what I'd hoped to see, and I'm thrilled that Scream Factory shelled out for a second Blu-ray disc to house the bulk of the extras so the movie could have all the room it needs to breathe. For my money, this is as essential an upgrade as they come.

Talk about a restoration! Rather than rehash the modified soundtracks that have been part and parcel of The Return of the Living Dead for right at fifteen years now, Scream Factory went back to the original elements to revive its theatrical presentation. Though "Dead Beat Dance" by The Damned is still M.I.A. -- and it's not for a lack of trying -- the punk-centric soundtrack is otherwise restored to its intended glory. Other modifications from the 2002 DVD -- such as the re-pitched zombie voices and cutting out "Burn the Flames" earlier in a particularly memorable sequence -- have been reset.

Sure, sure, the modified MGM soundtracks are on here too if you want 'em. Beyond how faithful Scream Factory's work is to the film's original theatrical release, that monaural track is honestly the best sounding of the bunch regardless. MGM's creaky, old 5.1 remix is extremely timid, and it's not remotely as clean, clear, and impactful as the Scream Factory track. MGM's two-channel mono track is onboard as well for the sake of completion, but there's no reason for you to bother with it. The punk soundtrack and dialogue alike both sound fantastic on the newly-restored monaural soundtrack, and there are never any concerns about lines getting drowned out by chugging guitars or breakneck beats. I'm beyond impressed with what Scream Factory has delivered here. It's also worth noting that all three of these tracks are presented in 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio, even MGM's mono track that got the lossy treatment last time around.

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The only things lost on this Blu-ray release are some of the other language options. Subtitles are still offered in English (SDH) -- and zombie, but I'll get into that later -- but the French dub/subs and Spanish subtitles have both been nixed. I'm pretty sure no one reading an English language Blu-ray review is losing any sleep about that, though.

There are so many extras that I'm gonna have to break this up into four distinct sections.

MGM Extras

Everything from the 2010 MGM Blu-ray release is on here. Unless you're a completist, there's no reason to hold onto that older disc at all.
  • Audio Commentaries: First to bat is the cast/crew/um, undead commentary. This track is headed up by production designer William Stout, and cramming into the recording booth with him are actors Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Allan Trautman, and Beverly Randolph. Oh yeah! And a zombie. I really, really, really love this track...or most of it, at least, but I'll bitch about that a little later. Stout plays the role of moderator, and being involved with the movie from pretty much word one, he's able to speak about the precise budget, when and where things were filmed, and even the fact that a TV-friendly version of the movie was being shot side-by-side for a while there. There are entirely too many highlights to rattle off here, but I particularly enjoyed hearing how Quigley wound up in the movie even after LegsTrash had already been cast, filming also being underway before Clu Gulager was brought in, the endless make-up and effects headaches early on in production, what exactly was in the garbage bags of writhing body parts, necrophilia chatter, stumbling onto bags of baby ashes, and splicing in actual news footage about a chemical explosion in Louisville. Someone at MGM thought it'd be hysterical to shove a zombie in the recording booth too, and he starts throwing out agonizingly painful one-liners, interrupting the cast when they try to speak, groaning endlessly in the background, and then indulging this dumb gimmick where he attacks the actors when they die on-screen. That whole zombie thing is abandoned after a while, thankfully. Despite being dragged down by that laughless gimmick, this still stands strong as a really terrific commentary.

    The older of these two commentary tracks also features William Stout, only this time writer/director Dan O'Bannon gets to take point. It's not that great, to be honest. For obvious reasons, it doesn't deliver nearly the same sense of personality as the cast commentary, and there's so much dead air that the pace is quite a bit slower too. There are still some notes I was glad to hear -- Alien influencing the dialogue in the medical warehouse, what the Trioxin smoke was made out of, how the crematorium was put together, way more about rain machines than you ever wanted to know, and the original concept for the end credits -- but it's best left playing in the background.

  • The Return of the Living Dead - The Dead Have Risen (21 min.; SD): Pretty much every surviving member of the cast is interviewed for this one. Geysers of blood, Ernie picking out just the right German pistol to tote around, Tar Man's held-together-with-goop-y gait, picking up a legless zombie on Hollywood Blvd., oodles of casting notes: it's extremely personable, ridiculously fun, and covers a hell of a lot of ground. There's not too much overlap with the cast commentary, and it doesn't hurt that a lot more folks are featured here than are on that track, among them Clu Gulager and James Karen.

  • Designing the Dead (14 min.; SD): The only of these extras to feature Dan O'Bannon in front of the camera, "Designing the Dead" starts by touching on how O'Bannon landed the gig as director in the first place. After discussing how the project came together and his disinterest in John Russo's much-too-serious original script, the featurette delves into crafting the look of the flick. Anchored around extensive zombie research, EC's horror comics, the design of the Tar Man suit, and quite a bit of original artwork by production designer William Stout, this is a really solid look into how the visuals roared to life.

  • The Decade of Darkness (23 min.; SD): The last of these three featurettes isn't really about The Return of the Living Dead itself so much. No, this '80s horror retrospective focuses on plenty of other movies too, among them Motel Hell, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, Child's Play, The Howling, The Fog, and...well, even though it was released in the summer of '79 which makes it a not-an-'80s movie, The Brood. Oh, and the long list of interviewees includes the likes of Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, John Landis, Tom Holland, Fango's Tony Timpone, Elvira, Catherine Hicks, and Dee Wallace. They discuss the allure of horror in the '80s, both from the studios' and audiences' perspectives, along with how the looming menace of the Cold War influenced the genre. There's also some chatter about comedy creeping in halfway through the decade, and that's right about the time they decide to dive into The Return of the Living Dead. The rise of make-up effects, slashers, ghosties, werewolves: it covers a respectable amount of ground, and I like that there's a focus on less obvious titles like Motel Hell. They're clearly just picking stuff MGM was shoving out on DVD at the time, but they have such a great selection of films that it doesn't bog the whole thing down anyway. Well, maybe they go a little too overboard with Pumpkinhead, but other than that...

  • Zombie Subtitles: Why not? There are two zombie-fried subtitle streams. The regular zombie subtitles just caption stuff like "Aaarrrr! Brains!", so it's a straightahead novelty thing. "In Their Own Words: The Zombies Speak" dives into the rotting heads of these walking corpses, and it's all lame puns. "You guys can kiss my reanimated yellow ass!" "Mmmmm...tastes like chicken!" "My arm came off. Somebody give me a hand." It's obviously trying to go for a hack comic feel, but...yeah. Not even a little bit funny. Don't waste your time.
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Second Sight Extras

Scream Factory's loaded Blu-ray set carries over the bulk of the extras from Second Sight's BD release in the UK. The Second Sight set was one of those collections where the extras had extras, and not all of the special features from More Brains! made it on here, such as the "Even More Brains" outtakes, the live performance of "Tonight", the featurettes about the sequels, and their equivalent of Horror's Hallowed Grounds with the cast. The key features all made it, and apparently the effects and music featurettes have been expanded considerably here beyond what was originally on the Second Sight release. Because those aren't quite the same, they score their own heading in this review as well!
  • More Brains!: A Return to the Living Dead (120 min.; HD): Clocking in at two hours -- considerably longer than The Return of the Living Dead itself! -- More Brains! assembles practically every surviving member of the cast and key crew. Contributing to this feature-length-and-then-some retrospective are writer John A. Russo, production designer William Stout, co-producer Graham Henderson, Orion marketing exec Paul M. Sammon, special makeup effects artists Bill Munns, Tony Gardner, and Kenny Myers, casting director Stanzi Stokes, musician Stacey Q, director of photography Jules Brenner, second assistant editor John Penney, and actors Brian Peck, Linnea Quigley, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, James Karen, Clu Gulager, Beverly Randolph, John Philbin, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Jewel Shepherd, Allan Trautman, James Dalesandro, and Drew Deighan. O'Bannon sadly had passed away by this point but appears briefly in an excerpt from "A Conversation with Dan O'Bannon" elsewhere on this disc.

    This outstanding documentary charts every step of The Return of the Living Dead's difficult birthing process, from different screenwriters to unrecognizably different tones to different directors to a studio that sneered at it as being as distasteful as pornography. Its deft blend of horror and comedy, the film's enduring punk soundtrack, O'Bannon tormenting the actors he cast and the ones forced on him alike, the many iterations of Quigley's pubic region on-camera, the drastic repivoting of the makeup effects work halfway through production, wardrobe, hair styling, and...hell, even an explanation about why consuming brains takes away the pain of being dead: it's all here.

    If I were to try to list all the highlights, this already wordy review would wind up being twice as long. It turns out that Burt was written as an exhibitionist. Brian Peck's agent refused to send him out to read for The Return of the Living Dead but still got his 10% after Peck took it upon himself to make it happen. Then-19 year old Beverly Randolph was a little squicked out about reading lines at Dan O'Bannon's house, and that was before she saw guns scattered all over the place and porn on his TV. Miguel A. Núñez Jr. was homeless when he was cast. Jewel Shepherd was once caught ranting about her co-stars, forgetting that her mic pack was still hot. Scott Brady and Leslie Nielsen were in line to play Burt before Clu Gulager was brought onboard at the last possible minute.

    More Brains! isn't just an extra; it's a film in its own right, one that deservedly scored a release all its own on DVD shortly after it was completed. This already impressive release by Scream Factory is strengthened even further with More Brains! a part of it, and it's wonderful to see it on these shores in high definition.

  • A Conversation with Dan O'Bannon (29 min.; HD): This appears to be O'Bannon's final on-camera interview before his passing in 2009, and it seems as if he's all too aware how near the end is. He acknowledges how difficult a presence he was on the set and how he mistreated some of his cast and crew. It closes with an "if I were to die tomorrow..." heartfelt message that would be powerful in any event but carries a particular punch given what would soon follow. There are a slew of tremendous comments in here beyond that, of course, including why he cast Linnea Quigley (no one else who read for the part could act!), how he hated it when actors would come into auditions decked out in-character, the one effect in the movie that still makes him cringe, and how surprised he was that the audience for The Return of the Living Dead's premiere wasn't just a bunch of twentysomething-year-old dudes. Well-worth setting aside the time to watch.

  • The Origins of The Return of the Living Dead (15 min.; HD): Without John A. Russo, zombies as we know them may never have existed. It was his idea to introduce flesh-eating ghouls to a story idea that George Romero was kicking around, and the rest is history. Russo charts the gestation of The Return of the Living Dead from the time when he and Romero were both working on their own gutmunching successors. His story of zombie-inspired religious exploitation in the countryside bears zero resemblance to the film that was ultimately produced, but it's fascinating just the same to hear about what could have been. Russo also does a marvelous job exploring how and why the handoff to financier/producer Tom Fox was eventually made. The interview doesn't stop there, though, also delving into the competition with Day of the Dead that wound up working in his favor and what he thinks about O'Bannon's screenplay.

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Originally on the Second Sight Release; Expanded for Scream Factory
  • The FX of The Return of the Living Dead (33 min.; HD): I don't have the Second Sight release handy to do a direct comparison, but it looks as if this effects featurette runs eleven minutes longer than what made the rounds in the UK a few years back. Interviewed here are production designer William Stout, visual effects supervisor Gene Warren, Jr., rotoscoper Bret Mixon, jack of all trades Brian Peck, and practical effects artists Bill Munns, Kenny Myers, Craig Caton, and Tony Gardner. There are peeks at stacks of storyboards, conceptual art, and behind the scenes photos along the way as well. We're treated to stories about how extras were paid a few bucks more if they'd scarf down calf brains on-set, lightning by way of The Terminator by way of James Whale's Frankenstein, and why you should never say "no problem!" when speaking with Dan O'Bannon. The nitty-gritty of the effects work gets explored in great detail, and the folks interviewed here are candid enough to point out what doesn't work and even why there had to be a changing of the effects guard halfway through production. On a Blu-ray set that's practically wall-to-wall highlights, this still stands out as one of the very best extras.

  • Party Time: The Music of The Return of the Living Dead (30 min.; HD): Again, I don't have the Second Sight set within arm's reach to say for sure, but it looks like "Party Time" also runs eleven minutes longer than it did on the other side of the Atlantic. Many of the bands whose music is featured throughout The Return of the Living Dead are represented here, including interviews with Roky Erickson, Tall Boys' Mark Robertson, Straw Dogs' John Sox, The Flesh Eaters' Chris D., SSQ's Karl Moet, T.S.O.L.'s Joe Wood, and 45 Grave's Dinah Cancer. Also on the bill here are legendary punk guitarist Greg Hetson, ...Return... music director Budd Carr, and music consultant Steve Pross. I can't get over how outstanding "Party Time" is, from the solo acoustic version of "Nothin' for You" that Wood performs to Sox noting how the movie makes punks and the military alike look dumb. The stories about how quickly the soundtrack was assembled -- with pocket change in a couple of weeks -- are as outstanding as the music itself. Each band gets plenty of time in the spotlight, there are tons of terrific notes about the influence of horror on their music as well as these specific recordings, and I love its snapshot of the punk scene in L.A. during the mid-'80s. Tremendous work as ever by Severin Films here.
Scream Factory Extras
  • Workprint (108 min.; SD): One of the most widely circulated boots the world over is this workprint cut of The Return of the Living Dead. I was miffed when none of this footage made it onto any of MGM's releases, but Scream Factory has included the whole thing, lock, stock, and tar man. The only downside is that...well:
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    This workprint cut has been sourced from VHS and is on the brink of being unwatchable and unlistenable. It's included as a curiosity more than anything else, and that works since that's really what this very early version of the movie is all about. There are entire scenes nowhere to be found in the theatrical cut, and even a lot of the sequences that do overlap use alternate takes and showcase different dialogue. The pacing is an unavoidably clumsy (I mean, it's a workprint), storyboards are used in place of bits that hadn't been completed yet, and anyone aching for more splatter or brain-munching havoc is gonna walk away disappointed. It's the sort of thing that's not for me, I gotta admit, but I'm still really glad this cut found its way onto Scream Factory's Blu-ray collection just the same. Heck, and by the time an Ultra HD Blu-ray release rolls around, maybe some film elements will surface...! Like the lady says, dreaming is free.

  • Audio Commentaries: Why settle for two audio commentaries when you can have four? The first of the new batch is headed by Gary Smart (The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead; 245 Trioxin: The Story of The Return of the Living Dead) and Chris Griffiths. With essentially every surviving member of the cast and key crew already represented somewhere on this disc, it's a nice change of pace to hear ...Return... analyzed from a fan perspective. Their knowledge of the film is encyclopediac, and they're a joy to listen to even though many of the points of conversation have already been addressed in the countless hours of other extras. Their analysis is fantastic, especially the small background details they point out. They run through the aural differences between MGM's home video releases and what Scream Factory has delivered here, the reception to the SoCal punk-heavy soundtrack in the UK, and debate how various ratings boards reacted to ...Return.... Plus I'm always game for a good James Mason impression. Worth a listen, but maybe space things out. I think I would've enjoyed it more if I hadn't just mainlined so many other extras.

    Horror Hound's Sean Clark moderates the set's fourth and final commentary with make-up effects artist Tony Gardner and actors Thom Mathews and John Philbin. Again, when you're on a disc with something like 18,000 hours of extras, overlap is unavoidable, but this is such a fun hangout commentary that I can't say I mind. Mathews touches on how his hair was so short that he had to wear a hat on-screen for a couple of weeks to give it time to grow out. Philbin delves into the L.A. punk scene back in those days where you might say he was a "mad cunt". Severing a head on camera at 6 AM, getting drenched with ice-cold water over and over and over for the sake of continuity, Freddy's jacket saying straight-up saying "TV Version" instead of "Fuck You" to appease broadcast/cable S&P folks: I'd list more highlights, but this is already the longest review I've written in five years, so I guess I should leave it at that.

  • Horror's Hallowed Grounds (10 min.; HD): It wasn't easy, especially with as dramatically different as a lot of these places look thirty years later, but Sean Clark tracked down where just about every last frame of film from The Return of the Living Dead was shot. You'd hope for a guided tour around the Uneeda warehouse and a peek at the general's palatial cliffside estate -- and, yup, you get 'em! -- but that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are around ten different stops at all, from the no-longer-graffiti-stained sidewalk where we're first introduced to Suicide and the gang all the way to a loading dock that made for a passable insert stage. Horror's Hallowed Grounds always makes for a great time, and this one's just as much of a blast as ever.

  • Still Galleries: 85 images deep, the first gallery heaps on posters from all across the globe, lobby cards, production stills, newspaper ads, scans of home video and soundtrack releases, and oodles of behind the scenes shots. Special make-up effects artist Kenny Myers also contributes a couple dozen behind the scenes photos in a gallery all his own.

  • Trailers and TV Spots (14 min.): Four teasers/trailers and ten TV spots round out the extras.

The extras for The Return of the Living Dead span two Blu-ray discs. This isn't a combo pack, but...c'mon, you already have the flick on DVD, so you're not out anything. The cover is reversible, so I can finally get the original theatrical poster art for the first time on home video in nearly fifteen years! The new art produced exclusively for Scream Factory does look nice, though, and it also appears on the set's slipcover.

The Final Word
I acknowledge that George Romero's Dawn of the Dead is the greatest zombie movie ever made. I would even go so far as to say that it changed my life; in a lot of ways, my deep and profound love for cinema as a whole dates back the first time I caught Dawn... on VHS.

At the same time, who cares? When I'm aching to watch the undead feast upon the living, the first movie I go to is The Return of the Living Dead. Maybe it's not the best, but it's far and away my favorite. Sometimes excessive rewatching of a movie brings out its flaws, but the more I watch ...Return..., the more impressed I am. Nothing about the film feels clumsy or dated-in-a-bad-way to my mind. It screams ahead at a breakneck pace, is lugging around a cacklingly demented sense of humor, piles together one of the greatest us-versus-them zombie holocaust ensembles, slops around plenty of splatter, and...yeah, Linnea Quigley is bare-assed naked pretty much the entire time. Boobs, brain-munching, and barrel drums of the red stuff: what's not to like? Even if you've already ponied up for The Return of the Living Dead on Blu-ray, this is such an essential upgrade, with many hours of extras never before available on this side of the pond, a vastly improved presentation, and a near-perfect restoration of the original soundtrack. DVD Talk Collector Series.
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