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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Freddy: What's the weirdest thing you ever saw in here?
Frank: Kid, I have seen weird things come, and I have seen weird things go, but the weirdest thing I ever saw just had to cap it all.
Freddy: Oh yeah? What's that?
Frank: Let me ask you a question, kid. Did you ever see that movie Night of the Living Dead?
Freddy: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That's the one where the corpses start eating the people, right? What about it?
Frank: Did you know that movie was based on a true case?

- Thom Matthews, James Karen

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: August 25, 2002

Stars: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa
Other Stars: Linnea Quigley, Thom Matthews, Beverly Hartley, John Philbin, Jewel Shepard, Brian Peck, Miguel Nunez, Mark Venturini
Director: Dan O'Bannon

MPAA Rating: R for (violence, nudity, language)
Run Time: 01h:30m:38s
Release Date: August 27, 2002
UPC: 027616878168
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AB+B+ B+

DVD Review

Dan O'Bannon has carved out a pretty successful career as a screenwriter over the years, earning credits for a number of truly memorable sci-fi classics, including Alien, Lifeforce and Total Recall. But The Return of the Living Dead, his writing/directing debut in 1985, became one of his most offbeat and infamous creations, and one that certainly made a lot of awestruck horror fans remember his name. I remember sitting in a theater in 1985, uttering O'Bannon's name silently like a mantra once the closing credits on this one rolled. O'Bannon's film, which he also wrote, successfully blended horror and comedy together, in and of itself an outright risky proposition, and he came up with a mid-1980s B-movie gem, now resurrected by MGM.

The Return of the Living Dead operates under the simple and interesting premise that George Romero's The Night of the Living Dead was based on a true story, and that the military forced him to change the facts—"or else." Cannisters of once reanimated corpses from the incident have accidently found their way to Uneeda Medical Supplies in Louisville, Kentucky, after a military shipping snafu. The cannisters have sat undisturbed for fifteen years in the basement until two slightly dim warehouse workers (the great James Karen and Thom Matthews) accidently release the reanimating chemical 245-Trioxin from one of the tanks. The toxin is still potent, and when it eventually leaks out into the neighboring cemetery, all hell breaks loose as an army of brain-hungry corpses start popping out of the ground.

The film relies on essentially three primary locations for all of the action: the warehouse, a mortuary and a cemetery. In this confined area, a small group of potential victims spend a lot of time running, hiding and fighting the undead. One of the main groups is a bunch of street tough, punk rock types, which includes B-movie dream girl Linnea Quigley. For those Quigley-philes out there, she spends a good chunk of the film undressed, and does an oh-so-memorable nude dance atop a cemetery crypt. That is, before the toxin-filled rain begins to fall...

O'Bannon mined a couple of terrific subdued comic performances from veteran character actors James Karen and Don Calfa. Karen, as boasting warehouse worker Frank (the one who accidently causes the toxin leak), owns the first half of The Return of the Living Dead. The warehouse tour he gives to Thom Matthew's Freddy, including his classic "Indian skeleton farm" chunk of dialogue, is priceless. The wide-eyed Calfa is Ernie, the gun-toting German mortician, and he has such an unusually expressive face he pretty much steals all of the scenes he is in, even the ones with Karen. His bug-eyed reactions and weird facial twitches are often funnier than any dialogue could ever be.

I have been a huge fan of this film since its brief 1985 theatrical run, and I have gone through a few VHS versions of it in the years following, as well as a soundtrack album or two. Time hasn't done much to diminish its relevancy, and while the group of tough "punks" might slightly date it, The Return of the Living Dead is still a clever, grim and unexpectedly funny horror film. MGM has done a fine thing by giving it such an impressive DVD treatment, one that it certainly deserves.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: After wearing out a few pan & scan VHS copies of The Return of the Living Dead over the years, it was great to finally see this at home, in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The source print has acquired a smattering of scratches and specks over time, but the transfer is generally a good one. This is a predominantly dark film, laden with deep reds and blacks, and the image detail is very solid across the board. Shadow delineation and depth show a dramatic improvement over my comparatively blurry old video copy, and it probably looks as good as it did when I saw it in the theater back in 1985.

A 1.33:1 full-frame transfer is available on the flipside, for those of you who despise those annoying black bars.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Spanishyes


Audio Transfer Review: MGM has included an exemplary mono track on The Return of the Living Dead. I dreamt of this disc containing the rumored 5.1 remix, but since that didn't happen I found it actually pretty easy to placate myself with the provided mono. Dialogue is clean and presented without any hiss or distortion, though the so-called punk soundtrack comes off a little flat. I'm such a fan of this film that I have to keep reminding myself that it was basically a low-budget horror movie from 1985, and not a Spielberg DTS epic.

A Spanish language track is also provided.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
10 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Dan O'Bannon, William Stout
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Conceptual Artwork by William Stout
Extras Review: The provided extras aren't the embarrassment of riches that a horror classic like this deserves, but they should suffice.

Writer/director Dan O'Bannon and production designer William Stout offer up a full-length, scene-specific commentary as the main course, and the two seem to have a pleasant enough time reminiscing about the production. While they do the occasional describe what's on-screen filler, much of their patter covers legit behind-the-scenes production info, especially with regard to set construction. O'Bannon gives the origins of the "Indian skeleton farm" exchange between Frank and Freddy, as well as the creation of an infamous piece of latex especially hastily designed for Linnea Quigley. I found it a little unsettling that O'Bannon seemed clueless to the music used in the film, which from my fan perspective was an integral piece of the whole project.

A newly created featurette entitled Designing The Dead (13m:30s) gathers up O'Bannon and Stout once again, and features them separately discussing some of the same content they touch on during the commentary. Stout shows off some of his original drawings, citing the obvious E.C. comics and Bernie Wrightson influences. It was good to put a face to the voice for the commentary, too.

The other notable extra is the set of 77 drawings and storyboards that make up the Conceptual Artwork Of William Stout section. Stout's detailed drawings are really beautiful, considering they are of corpses. If you remember Eerie and Creepy magazine, these pics will be like a trip down memory lane, admittedly in a cemetery though.

There are two theatrical trailers included, one that is G-rated (01m:08s) and one that is R-rated (02m:42s). Both are well put together, but the longer R-rated clip reveals too many of the best gore bits to recommend it to anyone who hasn't seen the film first. Ten virtually identical television spots (not playable individually) will drill the 45 Grave song Party Time into your skull, and you'll like it.

The disc is cut into sixteen chapters, and features subtitles (English, French, Spanish).

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

Dan O'Bannon's The Return of the Living Dead is a popcorn-friendly punk amalgam of zombie horror and dark comedy. Certainly an underrated film, it is one that has long been a cult favorite since its theatrical release back in the mid 1980s. This knockout DVD release from MGM features a sharp 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer and a full-length commentary from O'Bannon, all priced under $15. Is this a great world or what?

It's party time! Highly recommended.

 


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