THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD
Review by Michael Jacobson
Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Matthews
Director: Dan O’Bannon
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 91 Minutes
Release Date: September 11, 2007
80s were a great decade for horror, and the perfect time for me to discover the
genre. I was in my early teens,
working in my parents’ video store, and smacking my chops over titles and
cover art to movies I wasn’t allowed to see!
despite their best efforts on my behalf, my mom and dad couldn’t keep me from
becoming a horror fanatic. Those
years brought us Freddy and Jason, a rich crop of envelope pushing films from
Italy, and even the resurrection (no pun intended) of some well-known and loved
flesh eating ghouls.
any good film with a solid lore behind it, The Return of the Living Dead both
built upon the established foundation of zombie movies and added to the
vernacular at the same time. While
cheerfully acknowledging the influence of George Romero’s classic films up
front, it also gave us the new lexicons of the dead being able to speak while
reducing their diet to a single food…brains.
story was originally conceived by Romero’s partner in crime on Night of the
Living Dead, John Russo, but remained shelved while Romero turned out his
own sequels. The picture wouldn’t
see the light of day until the mid-80s, when writer/director Dan O’Bannon was
offered the project. His main
concern: not to imitate or rehash
what Romero had created, but turn his Living Dead into something else
entirely…a horror comedy.
combination of gregarious gore and tongue-in-cheek humor made for effective
entertainment, and audiences found they loved shrieking and laughing at the same
time. O’Bannon’s film was
crafted on a manic energy that defied Romero’s more somber, contemplative
tones. These zombies were fast,
ferocious and furious. They
didn’t movie like listless beings…they swarmed, attacked, and ate with a
fury…from the first appearance of the now legendary “tar man”, fans knew
they were in for a wild ride.
tale at hand purports that the original Night of the Living Dead was
actually loosely based on a real occurrence.
This bit of information is handed down by Frank (Karen) to Freddy
(Matthews), two employees at store dealing in…well, dead things for research.
Supposedly, a chemical leak in a hospital once re-animated some corpses
in the morgue. It just so happens
that after the army was able to contain them, a few were accidentally shipped
their way, stored in big tanks in the basement!
long, a tank is compromised, the chemical is once again out, and all hell breaks
loose because of their proximity to a cemetery, where a bunch of 80s-cliched
teens (with names like Trash and Suicide) are partying.
The dead are coming back…lean, mean, and hungry for live brains.
of this leads to murder and mayhem, as our helpless living try their best not to
become either food or zombies themselves. It won’t be easy…unlike in the original series, these
zombies don’t die if you shoot them in the head or decapitate them (“You
mean the film lied??”). The
ending, which I will not reveal, has been described by some as an unnecessary
downer. Personally, I think it’s a hoot.
Like a co-worker once told me, the biggest lie of them all is “I’m
from the government, I’m here to help.”
story is told in rapid fire fashion…not many lulls…and with a maximum sense
of humor. O’Bannon liked
juxtaposing grueling horror with off-the-cuff humor.
It was a strange brew that worked…so well, in fact, that The Return
of the Living Dead earned the ultimate compliment in the horror genre…a
series of sequels and a franchise all its own.
like most horror franchises, the follow-ups never matched the spirit or energy
of the original, but at least didn’t detract from it. The Return of the Living Dead is a quintessential 80s
horror flick. You’ll squeal,
you’ll squirm, but you’ll be glad they came back.
the 80s seemingly the most problematic decade for DVD quality, MGM delivers a
quality product for this movie. Coloring
and detail level are both strong throughout, with only a few minor instances of
softness and less definition, but frankly, far fewer than I’m used to seeing
for films from the period. A bit of
grain here or there during the darkest sequences is also forgivable.
Overall, I think this is the best the Dead have looked in some time, and
fans should be quite pleased.
mono track offers serviceable sound, but nothing remarkable.
Dynamic range is fair but limited, dialogue is clear, noise is pretty
much non-existent. A plus is the
very 80s sounding score and song list, which add to the fun.
This disc boasts a good array of extras, starting
with a fun and informative commentary track by director O’Bannon and
production designer William Stout. They
seemed to have a good time making the picture, and an equally good time
reminiscing about their effects, sets, actors, and general ideas for making a
slightly different zombie picture than had been seen before.
For more fun, check out the commentary with the cast, crew, and "undead".
For more fun, check out the commentary with the cast, crew, and "undead". Great stuff!
A short featurette “Designing the Dead” gets a
little more into the visual detail of the movie.
There are also two new featurettes and zombie subtitles for the movie.