The Return of the Living Dead: Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Combo
Directed by Dan O'Bannon
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 91 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 mono English, French
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Zombie
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: September 14, 2010
Review Date: September 17, 2010
Dan O'Bannon’s The Return of the Living Dead is a zombie comedy that starts off great, coasts in neutral for much of its length, and then sadly runs out of gas before it sputters to a halt. After George Romero’s two serious zombie pictures, The Return of the Living Dead is both a loving tribute to Romero’s work and a nutty comic take on the genre. In its day, it was likely viewed more heartily than it is now. More modern audiences have probably seen the masterful Shaun of the Dead which earns its laughs far more uproariously and consistently than this film does. So, while The Return of the Living Dead got there first, in the case of zombie comedy, first doesn’t equal best.
After mistakenly unleashing a poisonous gas from an Army container holding a corpse who then comes to life (Allan Trautman) and later dispensing the gas through a crematorium where a sudden rainstorm causes the now toxic liquid to revive corpses from a nearby cemetery, medical supply warehouse owner Burt (Clu Gulager), office manager Frank (James Karen), intern Freddy (Thom Mathews), and mortician Ernie (Don Calfa) find themselves trapped inside while the zombies attack. What’s more, Frank and Freddy were exposed to the gas and find themselves slowly transforming into something hideous. More potential victims include a group of teenagers who had stopped by Freddy’s workplace and now find themselves trapped including girl friend Tina (Beverly Randolph), punk rockers Suicide (Mark Venturini) and Scuz (Brian Peck), and Trash (Linnea Quigley) who’s fond of dancing nude in cemeteries.
The film’s terrific beginning is due to some bright writing by scripter/director Dan O'Bannon and the tremendous sense of fun in the whole project infused in it by actor James Karen. He sets up the satire almost immediately by asking his new intern if he’s familiar with Night of the Living Dead, and for the next three quarters of an hour, his humor and then his dismay at what he’s done are the source of continual amusement. The teenagers partying in the cemetery aren’t nearly as much fun and rather let their extreme hairstyles and “rad” attitudes do much of the work for their lack of inventiveness in their performances. The low budget of the piece isn’t really a liability when you’ve got zombies screaming at the camera that they “need more brains” and using the radio to call additional medics and police to the scene to satisfy their insatiable hunger. Some of the special effects and make-up designs are impressive (the Tarman is a real treat), but at other points, the filmmakers drop the ball as when Tina hugs Freddy right before his final transformation into a zombie, and his pale yellowish makeup rubs noticeably onto her cheek.
The three experienced actors in the three leading roles (Clu Gulager, Don Calfa, and especially James Karen) really expose the pitiful inexperience and glaring lack of talent in many of the younger players. Of them, Thom Mathews especially and also Beverly Randolph manage not to embarrass themselves. Most impressive of the other performers is actor/dancer Allan Trautman whose discombobulated body movements are amazing to watch, all portions of his torso seeming to have minds of their own.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully replicated in 1080p using the AVC codec. Sharpness is rather average in quality, and while color saturation is acceptable and flesh tones look pretty decent, the film’s solidity varies depending on the light sources used during filming. Interior scenes in lower light levels bring the grain levels up appreciably with the images taking on a more digitized appearance. Long shots also seem noticeably soft. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The film has been fitted with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, but taken from mono sources, this new surround track really has a very limited amount of ambiance. Most of the sound is spread across the front three channels with very, very little use being made of the rear channels or the subwoofer. A lossy (and louder) mono track is also provided.
There are two audio commentaries offered. Director Dan O'Bannon and production designer William Stout provide comments on one chat while Stout along with cast members Don Calfa, Beverly Randolph, Allan Trautman, Linnea Quigley, and Brian Peck provide the other discussion. Stout does a good bit of talking on both tracks (and repeats information, of course), but fans of the film will want to hear the comments of both groups about the making of the movie and their pride in its now cult status.
Unless otherwise noted, the featurettes are presented in 480i.
“Return of the Living Dead: The Dead Have Risen” is a 20 ½-minute reminiscence by the stars of the film looking back on its fame and success.
“The Decade of Darkness” is a 23 ½-minute discussion of the horror movie explosion of the 1980s with film historians, directors like John Landis and Joe Dante, and Elvira (cracking wise) offering opinions on their favorite films, directors, and stars.
“Designing the Dead” finds director Dan O'Bannon and production designer William Stout discussing their careers and in particular their work on this film. The featurette runs 13 ½ minutes.
Two theatrical trailers are available for viewing, both in 1080p. The “bloody” one runs 1 ¼ minutes while the “bloodier” one runs 2 ¾ minutes.
For a bit of fun, the viewer can turn on the zombie subtitle stream which offers translations of the zombies’ moans and groans and growls when they appear on the screen.
The second disc in the set is the DVD version of the movie.
3/5 (not an average)
Dan O'Bannon’s The Return of the Living Dead isn’t consistent fun, and better acting from its young cast might have made it more palatable today, but it’s a fanciful idea for a horror comedy and reasonably well done even when viewed in retrospect.