Return of the Living Dead

 

Return of the Living Dead

Written and Directed by Dan O’Bannon

1985


Studio:

Theatrical:  Fox Films

Video: MGM Home Entertainment


Video:

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Codec: AVC @ 24 Mbps

Disc Size: 25 GB

Runtime: 91 minutes

Chapters: 24

Region: A


Audio:

English DTS-HD MA 5.1

English Dolby Digital 2.0

French Dub Dolby Digital 2.0


Subtitles:

English, English SDH, Spanish, Zombie & none


Extras:

• Commentary with Director Dan O’Bannon & Production Designer William Stout

• Commentary with Cast, Crew & Undead

• The Dead Have Risen (20:34) LBX

• Decade of Darkness (23:23) LBX

• Designing the Dead (13:39) 4:3

• Trailers

• In their own words: The Zombies Speak

• DVD of the feature film and selected bonus features


Presentation:

Blu-ray Amaray case

BRD + DVD

Release Date: September 14, 2010

Introduction:

I had never been very big on zombie and ghoul movies. It seemed like what could be said was already said by the silent film masters.  I saw Night of the Living Dead when it first arrived in theaters in 1968 and, while I responded to the intended metaphor, I couldn’t quite work up the kind of enthusiasm that many felt about it and that would lead to its cult status and undeniable influence in the genre. I think it was the fact that zombies struck me as so easily outrun and outthought.  The idea that people would be transfixed by the sheer incredulity of their existence, which would have been sufficient explanation, wasn’t communicated to me (which may have said more about me than Romero at the time.)


     


It would be many years before I would revisit the genre – not until high-def video, in fact.  And by now I think I have seen most of the zombie movies spawned by Romero’s original.  I liked both Romero’s 1978 Dawn of the Dead and Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake.   But most zombie movies strike me as little more than an excuse for mindless mayhem and gore.  One exception are the spoofs and wry, but respectful, fantasies like Zombieland and my personal favorite, Shaun of the Dead, which somehow manages social commentary, LOL gags, and suspenseful terror.  Add to this list a movie that had slipped entirely past my radar, Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 Return of the Living Dead, a satire that quotes Night of the Living Dead in much the same self-amused, self-observant way as Wes Craven’s Scream.  And like Scream, Return of the Living Dead enjoys playing with the genre, teasing us in increasingly outrageous ways.  I think the movie’s a riot, even if it enjoys gore more than scare.  The line, “Send more cops” probably has immortal status.


     


The Movie: 8

Freddy (Thom Mathews), a sweet, but pretty much empty headed young man has a new job at the Uneeda Medical Supply Warehouse run by Frank (James Karen).  In addition to the requisite prosthetic devices, Uneeda also has a few skeletons, a slit dog or two and a fresh cadaver enjoying purgatory in the refrigerator. Frank teases Freddy with the “truth” about the movie, Night of the Living Dead, and how that connects with what he has stored in the basement: several metal barrels delivered by the U.S. Army by mistake.


     


Needles to say, one of the mysterious canisters breaks due to Frank’s (not Freddy’s!) carelessness and a toxic gas fills the building, and Frank and Freddy along with it.  As they try to dispose of one re-animated corpse with the help of Ernie, the local mortician (Don Calfa), the two bumbling caretakers themselves start to take on a dire pallor.  One thing leads to another as the nearby graveyard comes to life seeking brain food, much to the chagrin of a group of young semi-adult punkers that are holding an impromptu party on the premises.  Linnea Quigley does a nude dance that makes effective and seamless use of a Barbie-like prosthesis.  Hot stuff.


     


Image: 6/8

Return of the Living Dead takes place at night, as we would expect, and in the dark recesses of the Uneeda basement.  The outdoor scenes fare better in respect to noise, which can get pretty hairy for fleeting moments: Check out Frank and Freddy’s first trip down the stairs to the basement.  Black levels are increased to pump up the contrast - to reduce noise and in an attempt to make things a bit spookier, I suspect. Despite these missteps, color is true and surprisingly subtle (note Freddy’s gradual transition to ghoul), with clean whites and proper flesh tones (while they last.)  Reds, quite properly, get a nice boost.


     


Audio & Music: 7/7

Mostly front-directed, despite the 5.1.  Surrounds are activated by rain, which pours in from your entire ceiling.  This effect is not done especially seamlessly, so it’s probably a good thing that the rest of the audio mix didn’t get the same treatment.  The punk rock soundtrack livens up the proceedings with sufficient punch.


     


Extras: 6

Director Dan O’Bannon & Production Designer William Stout trade informative remarks about the making of their movie during the feature audio commentary.  The Dead Have Risen and Decade of Darkness, though presented in letterboxed standard definition, are worthy pieces.  The latter presents the likes of John Landis, Stuart Gordon and Joe Dante commenting on their own work in the genre during 1980s.  The Dead Have Risen discusses the background to making the movie and the expectations for its success, and the lack thereof.


     


Recommendation: 8

As must be evident I really enjoyed this romp of a movie, as did the critics twenty-five years ago.  Its “B”-ness is not only evident, it is reveled in.  Image quality is good; audio is acceptable, and the extra features, while underwhelming to look at, cover the graveyard.  The movie is rated “R” for good reason.


Leonard Norwitz

LensViews

September 20, 2010



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