The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
Director: Dan O’Bannon
Starring: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Beverly Randolph, John Philbin, Jewel Shepard, Miguel Núñez, Brian Peck, Linnea Quigley & Mark Venturini
Released by: Scream Factory
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
When an employee’s rookie mistake at a medical supply warehouse releases a toxic gas, The Return of the Living Dead finds corpses reanimating from a nearby cemetery with an undying hunger for human brains. While a hard-partying pack of punks rage the night away, the ravenously deceased intend to make the tough-looking teens their main course. Featuring a diverse cast from Clu Gulager (The Last Picture Show) and James Karen (Wall Street) to Thom Mathews (Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives) and scream queen Linnea Quigley (Night of the Demons), this beloved horror-comedy proudly declares it’s party time!
Cheekily proclaiming itself to be based on true events, The Return of the Living Dead is a brain-chomping romp that seamlessly blends the frightening takeover of zombies with the comedic knee-jerk reactions of those caught within its grasp. Shortly after warehouse foreman Frank (Karen) introduces new employee Freddy (Mathews) to a decrepit military tank containing a reanimated corpse, faulty craftsmanship unloads a toxic gas into the air jumpstarting their Fourth of July weekend for the worse. Uncontrollably hacking from the fumes and panicking over the disappearance of the bottled body, the two nervous nellies call warehouse superior Burt (Gulager) after a previously frozen cadaver grows energetically impatient in the meat locker. While the trio attempt to hack and slash their problems to pieces, Freddy’s girlfriend Tina and his gang of leather-clad punker pals kill time in the graffiti-laden cemetery near the medical supply warehouse. After several failed attempts to return the cadaver to its quieter state, the blue-collar workers swing by the local mortuary hoping to coax undertaker Ernie (Calfa) to incinerate the chopped up limbs, unknowingly unleashing the fumes into the rainy exterior to bring life to the cemeteries longterm residents who return with an appetite for brains. Surrounded by hundreds of flesh-eating zombies, the middle-aged adults and punks find themselves combining their efforts to keep the undead far from their noggins.
From a story co-conceived by John Russo (Night of the Living Dead), Dan O’Bannon’s directorial debut aptly separates itself from George A. Romero’s groundbreaking, if not grimmer, series of zombie features with a refreshing take that keeps its tongue steadfast to its cheek. Featuring two universally different groups of characters that work hard for the money while, partying and zero responsibility define the younger rebels, The Return of the Living Dead, exemplified by its teased hairstyles and punktastic soundtrack featuring such acts as 45 Grave, The Cramps and The Flesh Eaters affirms itself as the definitive zombie feature for the 80s. Showered with knee-slapping one liners, topnotch makeup effects and a career making striptease atop a tombstone from the vivacious Linnea Quigley who remains in her birthday suit for the duration of the film, The Return of the Living Dead has endured and entertainingly corrupted more brains than imagined proving this genre-blending cocktail is more than a statement, it’s a bloody fun lifestyle!
Boasting a new 2K scan from the inter-positive, Scream Factory presents The Return of the Living Dead with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Supporting a noticeable boost in contrast with skin tones appearing more natural than ever before, colors found in the punks’ loud ensembles and the gooey zombie designs are of particular mention, easily trumping previous releases more subdued appearances. Meanwhile, black levels are strongly handled crowning Scream Factory’s presentation as the definitive go-to transfer for the cult feature. Equipped with the film’s Original DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono mix, fans will be pleased to hear the zombies original dialogue on the track while, The Damned’s “Dead Beat Dance” remains MIA but not for the lack of trying on Scream Factory’s behalf. Joined by a sizably impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that relays dialogue with ease and ups the ante on the film’s punk soundtrack, an additional DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo mix has also been included for your listening pleasure. Easily Scream Factory’s most packed Collector’s Edition release to date, the multitude of bonus content spans two discs with Disc 1 featuring a new Audio Commentary with Author Gary Smart and Chris Griffiths, along with a second newly-produced Audio Commentary with Actors Thom Mathews, John Philbin & Make-Up Effects Artist Tony Gardner. Furthermore, two vintage Audio Commentaries featuring Director Dan O’Bannon and Production Designer William Stout along with a Cast and Crew edition hosting Production Designer William Stout and Actors Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph & Allan Trautman are also included. Ported over from the previous MGM release, The Decade of Darkness (23:23) is a thoroughly impressive featurette on ‘80s horror cinema with such talking heads as Joe Dante (The Howling), Stuart Gordon (Dolls), Elvira, John Landis (An American Werewolf in London) and others featured plus, Theatrical Trailers (8:31), TV Spots (5:22), a Still Gallery (86 in total) showcasing Posters, Lobby Cards, Movie Stills and other Behind-the-Scenes materials whereas a second Still Gallery (23 in total) displays photos from Special Make-Up Effects Artist Kenny Myers’ personal collection. Finally, Zombie Subtitles for the film and In Their Own Words - The Zombies Speak where onscreen descriptions for what the brain eaters are thinking round out the disc’s supplements.
Continuing the onslaught of special features, Disc 2 hosts the phenomenal More Brains: A Return to the Living Dead (1:59:43) documentary from 2011, The FX of the Living Dead (32:49) where Production Designer William Stout, Special Effects Make-Up Artists William Munns, Tony Gardner, Actor Brian Peck and others discuss the development and designs of the film’s undead characters while, Party Time!: The Music of Return of the Living Dead (29:31) catches up with Music Consultants Budd Carr, Steve Pross, Dinah Cancer of 45 Grave, Chris D of The Flesh Eaters, Greg Hetson of The Circle Jerks and many more on how the building of the soundtrack on a limited budget was achieved. Next up, Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (10:15) finds host Sean Clark as he revisits many of the film’s shooting locations today, A Conversation with Dan O’Bannon: The Final Interview (28:32) is a candid and at times tearjerking sit-down with the film’s writer/director as he discusses the many challenges and rewards that came with making the film while, The Origins of Return of the Living Dead (15:12) interviews John A. Russo. In addition, The Dead Have Risen (20:34) interviews the cast of the film in this vintage yet, highly entertaining featurette, Designing the Dead (13:39) hosts Writer/Director Dan O’Bannon and Production Designer William Stout as they chart their early beginnings in the industry and their eventual collaboration. Lastly, although appearing in rough shape and SD sourced, the Workprint Version of The Return of the Living Dead (1:48:05) offers fans an early, 20 extra minute cut of the film for preservations sake. Advertised with Graham Humphreys exceptional new cover design, the Reversible Cover Art features the film’s original 1-sheet poster imagery as well.
Darkly hilarious and carnivorously campy, The Return of the Living Dead remains one of the zombie genres greatest efforts with its party-like atmosphere and punk rock attitude loudly making itself known as the most fun you’ll have evading the undead. A cult classic in the truest sense, Scream Factory has stepped up to the plate to salute the brain-eating feature with a glorious new 2K transfer, several audio options and their most impressive output of bonus features yet amounting to over 12 whopping hours of content. As definitive as can be, more brains won’t be necessary as Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition of The Return of the Living Dead will surely quench the appetites for both the living and the reanimated. It’s party time!!!