Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4.5 stars
List Price
$21.24
Amazon
$20.31 (4%)
3rd Party
$15.30
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Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
3.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

The Return of the Living Dead: Collector's Edition

Street Date:
July 19th, 2016
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
July 5th, 2016
Movie Release Year:
1985
Studio:
Scream Factory
Length:
91 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Twenty years before 'Shaun of the Dead' made audiences scream and laugh at the sight of reanimated corpses, 'Return of the Living Dead' paid tribute to the horror craze surrounding George Romero's 'Dead' films. That same year would also see Romero direct his most gruesome feature in the series, 'Day of the Dead.' The title alone is a loving salute to the original drive-in feature, as is the fact that the production initially began as an adaptation of John A. Russo's book. Early on in the movie, filmmakers even take a quick minute to acknowledge the movie's inspiration, both as a "tip of the hat" to the seminal 1968 zombie classic and to cleverly get the obvious reference out of the way.

In that same scene, it's Freddy's (Thom Matthews) first day on the job at the Uneeda medical supply warehouse where he works with cadavers, and his supervisor, Frank (James Karen), wants to scare the living poop out of him. He tells the gullible kid that 'Night of the Living Dead' was based on a true story about the gas 245-Trioxin leaking in a hospital in Pittsburgh. Having Freddy within his grasp, Frank then tells him one of the corpses is in the basement below and shows it to him when they are suddenly exposed to the gas. It doesn't take long before they realize what happened and the Trioxin leaks into the cemetery next door, where Freddy's punk-rock friends are waiting for him. Soon, they barricade themselves inside a mortuary and are surrounded by hundreds of reanimated corpses.

In the hands of Dan O'Bannon, the mind behind 'Alien' and 'Total Recall,' and with permission to rewrite the script, the movie does more than simply swoon over Romero's films. Making his directorial debut, O'Bannon changes the whole of the story and takes a huge leap forward. He pummels audiences with copious amounts of hilarity and slapstick, as well as buckets of gore and bloody carnage. He also gives genre fans sentient zombies that can talk, hunt as a pack, and run at you at full speed. The only way to really get rid of these corpses is to chop them up into little pieces, put them into separate garbage bags, and cremate those suckers. That is, if you have an embalmer for a friend with an available crematorium. That, or just napalm the city and call it a day. Either way works, really.

Rather than merely chalking up 'Return of the Living Dead' as a horror comedy, this very awesome 80s gem of my youth is really all horror, full of some great freaky moments. Simply think of it as a bloodcurdling zombie feature with a twisted and ghoulish sense of humor — pathological even as the graphic violence seems endlessly hilarious. If you're not laughing at a naked, frozen cadaver sprinting towards a screeching Burt (Clu Gulager) or Freddy discovering that movies lie about how to kill zombies, then surely you'll chuckle at reanimated corpses chanting "brains" or roll your eyes when Suicide (Mark Venturini) gives his short soliloquy about his look being a lifestyle.

As a first-time helmer, O'Bannon doesn't do anything that stands out visually, but he's efficient and effective, and his talents really lay in the storytelling. His best moments behind the camera — as fans are sure to agree — are with Tarman (Allan Trautman) using a winch to break Tina (Beverly Randolph) out of a locker. Personally, I can't get enough of the cemetery scene. No, not the one with Trash (Linnea Quigley) dancing on top of a crypt. The one with the corpses rising from their graves as 45 Grave's "Partytime" suddenly blasts through the speakers. And the midget zombie is a great, bellyaching highlight. In the end, this is one of the best send-ups to Romero's 'Dead' films ever devised, and it continues to generate laughs today.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

Shout! Factory beckons 'The Return of the Living Dead' to Blu-ray as a Two-Disc Collector's Edition under the distributor's Scream Factory line. Two BD50, Region A locked discs — one containing the film, the other a brand-new set of supplements — are housed in the standard blue case on opposing panels with brand new reversible cover art and a cardboard slipcover. The folks at Scream have also thrown together another limited deluxe edition that contains two posters and a second slipcover with new artwork. At startup, the disc goes straight to the standard main menu with a static graphic on the left side and menu options along the bottom. The rest of the screen shows full motion clips while the musical score plays in the background.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

The dead return to the living with a nicely improved and generally satisfying 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that was made from a new 2K scan of the interpositive. A few versions of the cult comedy have been to released over the last couple decades with slightly varying results, but the folks at Scream Factory have outdone them all, delivering the best video presentation of the movie yet. Granted, the picture quality won't compare to others of the same area, still looking very much like the product of its time. But much of that is easily chalked up to the film stock, the cinematography and the condition of the source, which actually is great, all things considered. In the end, the zombie favorite looks fantastic and should please fans.

In spite of a good chunk of it showing its age, fine object detailing is a tad stronger here with better resolution, and there's plenty of good textural definition in the several close-ups, especially in the oozing special effects of the walking dead. And some shots look softer and blurrier than others, but they seem inherent to the original photography and thus, are forgivable. Several instances make it obvious the picture has been cleaned up considerably, but a nice thin layer of grain washes over the 1.85:1 image, giving it an attractive film-like quality. Contrast in noticeably brighter and lacking the dirty yellowish hue of the previous release, allowing for great visibility of the random items all over the warehouse and the silly pictures hanging on the mortuary walls. Black levels alternate in a few spots, but overall brightness is deeper with better shadow detailing throughout. The biggest and most noticeable improvement comes by way of the color palette, providing the video with a warmer and agreeable appeal that better suits the film's fun, comedic side. Primaries definitely appear brighter and more polished than before, energizing the several actions sequences with humor while the gore also looks grislier and more goey.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Much like the video, the folks at Scream Factory try to remain as faithful as possible to the original audio recording, and they actually put the effort to fix some issues evident in the MGM release. To make the choice easier for disgruntled owners, producers provide three listening options with the first DTS-HD MA mono soundtrack being the one fans will immediately gravitate towards. The original voices of Tarman and the zombie picking up the police radio are finally back! Unfortunately, The Damned's song, "Dead Beat Dance," is still missing, likely due to some rights issue. Nevertheless, this track trumps other home video editions of the past, displaying a fuller and broader soundstage. At times, imaging feels somewhat restrained to the center, but the lossless mix exhibits a better sense of presence and excellent detailing in the mid-range, providing every manic action sequence and the music with great clarity and warmth. Low bass is accurate and responsive with appreciable weight during certain songs and scenes. 

The other two listening options are the same DTS-HD mono soundtrack heard in the previous Blu-ray and a brand-new lossless surround sound mix. To my surprise, I actually like and prefer the latter over the former, in spite of the zombie voices having been changed. But I'm only referring to how this track compares to the altered mono version, not the original recording, which, of course, will always be first choice. So, in this 5.1 track, the mid-range displays a bit more clarity and quite dynamic with clean separation of various frequencies. Just as before, the low-end is fairly deep and weighty without feeling exaggerated, and dialogue is clean and intelligible in the center. Although the design remains a front-heavy presentation, many a times, the room comes alive with the terrifying moaning sounds of the dead moving to the side speakers and across the entire soundstage. Ambient effects are discrete and precise with excellent directionality, creating an amusingly satisfying soundfield, and the music also takes advantage of the upgrade by effectively bleeding into the other channels and keeping viewers engaged.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Disc One

  • Audio Commentaries — The first two tracks are ported over from the earlier releases. First up is director Dan O'Bannon and production designer William Stout. Despite being a very scene-specific commentary, both men are talkative and crack jokes at one another as well as about the movie. O'Bannon, of course, spends more time explaining the origins of certain lines and working with the cast while Stout examines the look and prop design, offering some great anecdotes behind the production. The second audio track features Stout once more but joined by cast members Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph, and Allan Trautman. Although not as energetic as the previous selection, the group is quite chatty with nary a moment of silence. Everyone offers minor quips about the production and behind-the-scenes stories, from casting to wardrobe, and even throw in a few compliments to the crew and Stout's work.

    The third track features author Gary Smart chatting with filmmaker Chris Griffiths, where the two immediately jump to their love adoration for the film. With affable, friendly personalities, the two men provide an incredibly informative conversation, like listening in on a discussion between two very knowledgeable men, swapping various tidbits about the production. The fourth and final commentary comes with cast members Thom Mathews and John Philbin talking to makeup effects artist Tony Gardner. Like the previous track, the conversation is energetic and informative giving fans insight into the production from the perspective of actors and sharing memories from the set.
  • The Decade of Darkness (SD, 23 min) — Made up mostly of interviews with various filmmakers, including a few funny bits with Elvira, this piece is an awesome look back at the 1980s, a booming decade of some of the wildest and creative horror movies that has yet to be matched.
  • Zombie Subtitle Stream — This is much like a separate subtitle track for when zombies scream. And all we see is the words "aaarrrgghh!!" every once in a while on the screen. It's nothing wholly exciting.
  • In Their Own Words: The Zombies Speak — This is a pretty weak attempt at comedy, pretending like zombies are making random comments at the movie.
  • Still Galleries (HD)
  • Trailers (HD)

Disc Two

  • More Brains (HD, 120 min) — An awesome full-length retrospective with new cast and crew interviews reminiscing on the production and sharing a various memories of working with each other and director Dan O'Bannon. As would be expected, the documentary commences with a recap on the story's origins and how the whole thing came together, but more surprising is learning of the many challenges and obstacles the filmmakers had to overcome.
  • The Return of the Living Dead Workprint (HD, 108 min) — Although of poor quality, this workprint, pillarboxed version of the movie makes for an excellent bonus, allowing fans the opportunity to compare and enjoy.
  • The FX of the Living Dead (HD, 33 min) — Essentially, a collection of interviews with various crew members talking about the look and design of the zombies with awesome concept art.
  • Party Time (HD, 30 min) — A great piece on the music and song selections with the highlight being interviews with Dinah Cancer of 45 Grave and Greg Hetson of Circle Jerks.
  • A Conversation with Dan O'Bannon (HD, 29 min) — A final interview with the filmmaker sharing his thoughts on the production.
  • The Dead Have Risen (SD, 21 min) — A short retrospective with cast members sharing their experiences working on the movie. Although it's mostly a whole lot of praising, there is the occasional comment about the characters and preparation that makes it worth a look.
  • The Origins of the Living Dead (HD, 15 min) — An interview with John A. Russo on the origins of the story.
  • Designing the Dead (SD, 14 min) — Director Dan O'Bannon talks about how he came to work in the film industry and how the script for this movie landed on his lap. Along with William Stout providing a historical setting, O'Bannon also shares his reasons for changing the original concept into a comedy.
  • Horror's Hallowed Grounds (HD, 10 min) — Sean Clark of Horror Hound magazine returns for another awesome tour of various shooting locations.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no high-def exclusives.

Final Thoughts

'Return of the Living Dead' is one of the best zombie features balancing a perfect mix of comedy and horror. With Dan O'Bannon's rewrites and direction, the movie pays tribute to Romero's 'Dead' films for starting the genre craze, but suddenly leaps forward to do its own thing as a wild and crazy gorefest. The Blu-ray from Scream Factory arrives with improved picture quality and an even better audio presentation that was made from the original recording. Offering new, recently-recorded set of supplemental material, this high-def package is definitely one hardcore fanatics and completists will want it for their collection.

Technical Specs

  • Two-Disc Collector's Edition
  • 2 BD-50 Dual-Layer Discs
  • Region A Locked

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Stereo

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • Zombie

Supplements

  • Audio Commentaries
  • Featurettes
  • Trailers

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List Price
$21.24
Amazon
$20.31 (4%)
3rd Party
$15.30
Usually ships in 24 hours Buy Now»

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