Blu-ray Review: The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

The Return of the Living Dead BR CoverDistributor: Second Sight Films

BBFC Classification: 15

Director: Dan O’Bannon

Starring: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Brian Peck, Linnea Quigley, Beverly Randolph

Zombies – everybody love zombies these days, don’t they? Of course they do, that’s why there are so many damn zombie movies out there. The trouble is that 90% of them are complete tripe and not worth investing too much time in as you’ll only be disappointed by the CGI filling up most of the screen. It seems that you have to go back if you want to watch some quality brain-munching and Second Sight Films are happy to oblige in bringing a zombie classic back from the grave.

Starting out as a sequel to 1968’s groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead, The Return of the Living Dead went through several script re-writes before landing in the hands of Dan O’Bannon, who was to give the script a makeover for director Tobe Hooper. Hooper left the project and the director’s chair went to O’Bannon, who had tweaked the script into a splatter-comedy. The film is based around the Uneeda medical supply warehouse where two workers named Frank (James Karen) and Freddy (Thom Mathews) are taking a look at some drums of military chemicals that are being stored there. Frank tells Freddy, who hasn’t worked there very long, that the movie Night of the Living Dead was based on true events and that the chemicals were responsible for the zombie outbreak. Accidentally opening one of the drums, Frank and Freddy are exposed to the toxic gas, which reanimates another cadaver in the warehouse whilst the body that was also in the drum escapes.

Meanwhile, the gas has leaked into the atmosphere and begins to rain down in a toxic shower upon a group of punks that have congregated in the local cemetery waiting for Freddy to finish work. The burning rain seeps into the earth and before long the corpses buried there start to rise from the grave and the group of misfits try to seek shelter in the warehouse. While this is going on, Freddy and Frank have called upon their boss Burt (Clu Gulager) to help capture the reanimated corpse and have gone to the mortuary next door to ask the mortician Ernie (Don Calfa) to help burn the body parts. Naturally the rising dead start to overrun the warehouse so drastic action is called for…

Thoroughly deserving of its classic status, The Return of the Living Dead is still as fresh today as it was back in 1985. In part due to the excellent transfer job on the Blu-ray disc but also because of Dan O’Bannon’s sharp script and the wonderful performances from the main players, the film perfectly mixes comedy and slapstick with gory horror to absolute perfection, in a similar way that Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator did the same year (coincidentally, that film’s producer, Brian Yuzna, went on to direct Return of the Living Dead III). As well as the less-than-serious nature of the script the film is also notable for introducing some traits of modern zombie folklore, most notably the craving for brains which is helpfully explained by a rotting corpse during one of the film’s key scenes.

Of course, the film is one thing but the extras are something else. The biggest treat for fans is the two-hour documentary More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead, during which most of the principle cast and crew share their thoughts on the somewhat difficult shoot along with some neat production stills and behind-the-scenes footage. There is also Dan O’Bannon’s final interview before his untimely death, featurettes on Return of the Living Dead 2 & 3, deleted interview scenes, music videos, FX featurettes, Origins of the Living Dead featurette plus a 20-page booklet featuring exclusive artwork and production notes.

Looking and sounding as good as it is ever likely to get, it goes without saying that this is the definitive release of The Return of the Living Dead. If you’ve never seen this film before then now is a good time to see where a lot of the modern zombie films got their ideas from. If you’re a long-time fan then ditch those old pan-and-scan copies and go get this sparkling HD edition as it is worth every penny.

The Return of the Living Dead

Special Features: More Brains! A Return To The Living Dead – The definitive 2-hour documentary featuring interviews with cast, writers, producers and previously unseen behind-the-scenes footage, storyboards, conceptual art, publicity materials and archival documents, A conversation with Dan O’Bannon: The Final Interview, They Won’t Stay Dead: A look at Return Of The Living Dead Part II, Love Beyond The Grave: A look at Return Of The Living Dead III, Stacey Q Live: Exclusive ‘Tonight’ music video, deleted documentary interviews, Return of the Living Dead in 3 Minutes, Resurrected Settings: The Filming Locations Today, The Origins of Return Of The Living Dead with John A. Russo, The FX Of The Living Dead with production designer William Stout and FX make-up artists William Munns and Tony Gardner, Party Time with music consultant Steve Pross and 45 Grave singer Dinah Cancer, Ernie’s Notepad 20-page replica notebook by embalmer Ernie Kaltenbrunner, featuring production notes, casting information and exclusive artwork (Steelbook Blu-ray only).

UK Release Date: 4th June 2012

Second Sight Films – Website

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3 thoughts on “Blu-ray Review: The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

  1. Pingback: Blu-ray Review: Re-Animator (1985) | Ancient Slumber

  2. Pingback: Blu-ray Review: Lifeforce (1985) | Ancient Slumber

  3. Pingback: Blu-ray Review: Night of the Comet (1984) | Ancient Slumber

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