Since its original mid-’80s release, Return Of The Living Dead has been an evergreen of home video for horror fans. First VHS, then a couple of DVD’s, then a blu-ray with a passable transfer and supplements from the DVD special edition. However, U.S. fans felt underserved in the hi-def arena because the U.K. got a jumbo special edition with a better transfer and new extras, including the feature-length Return documentary, More Brains. Luckily for those U.S. fans, Scream Factory has added the title to their “Collector’s Edition” line, creating a 2 blu-ray set with a new transfer, a new mix and a “greatest hits” collection of extras.
That new transfer is a strong one, offering a fresh 2K scan that improves on the old 2010 MGM blu-ray in a huge way: the details really leap off the screen, bringing a new depth to the frequent night scenes and dark interiors. There’s also a new richness to the film’s naturally muted color scheme.
Sound options are also improved: Return has had a difficult history in the U.S. on disc, with altered voice work and different music popping up on different transfers. On this set, the listener gets a choice of mono, 2.0 stereo and and a newly-created 5.1 sound mix, all in lossless form. One song by the Damned (“Dead Beat Dance”) had to be dropped due to licensing issues but the original voice work is back. The 5.1 mix was used for this review and it’s a tastefully done remix, with subtle but effective surround-sound touches and a nice spreading-around of the rock score.
Better yet, there is a jumbo stack of extras stacked across both discs that fans can spend hours going through. A breakdown by disc follows…
DISC 1 EXTRAS:
Commentaries: these are the primary extras of disc one and there are four of them. The first features horror documentarians Gary Smart and Chris Griffith: Smart wrote a book on the entire Return series so he’s super-informed on all the particulars of the production. He and Griffith create a track that mixes copious behind-the-scenes info with fan-level appreciations of different elements of the film. Next up is a track with actors Thom Mathews and John Philbin plus FX designer Tony Gardner, with Sean Clark moderating. The cast members give lots of fun little details on their performances, as well as those of their castmates, and Gardner discusses all the FX he created.
The third track is devoted to the comments of director Dan O’Bannon and production designer William Stout. O’Bannon gives a running scene-by-scene analysis of his work, revealing the inspirations behind particular scenes and critiquing his own directorial choices. Stout is able to offer a rich level of detail on the production design plus both men point out a bunch of in-jokes in the visuals. This track is a treat for fans. The final track is actor-driven, featuring Don Calfa, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph, Linnea Quigley and Allan Trautman, with Stout returning to moderate. The actors all tell fun casting tales, expand on anecdotes they touch on elsewhere in this set and even share a few set stories you don’t hear anywhere else. If you’re a hardcore fan, it’s worth the listen.
Additional Disc 1 Extras: Several trailers and t.v. spots, some with a fun music video-style approach, and two image galleries, including one devoted to behind-the-scenes FX material. There is a vault featurette from an MGM DVD about ’80s horror films that intersperses clips from MGM horror properties with comments from directors and critics.
DISC 2 EXTRAS:
More Brains (1:59:43): This is a popular documentary on The Return Of The Living Dead that was released as a stand-alone DVD a few years back. It covers the entire film from genesis to its modern-day classic status, with loads of cool stories laid out along the way. Many of those tales are told by the cast and several crew members (even the deposed original FX artist Bill Munns pops up here).
You’ll learn about the complex legal issues that both made the project possible and almost kept it from being made, a frank account of the makeup FX troubles and casting tales from each actor involved. O’Bannon passed away before this doc was made but his influence is felt around every corner, with cast and crew talking about how he could be difficult but was also a genius who earned their respect. It’s fun, informative and occasionally touching, the latter really kicking in during the final tributes to O’Bannon.
The FX (32:49): a nice in-depth featurette with Stout, Munns, Gardner and Kenny Myers all weighing in on the complex saga of how the makeup FX were produced quickly and under great pressure. You get both sides of the tale behind Munn’s early departure from the film and info on each major special effect, including Gene Warren popping up to talk about the visual effects at the end of the film. Peck reveals how he made multiple zombie cameos and Myers has funny tales about being thrown in at the deep end on this production. A great segment for your inner Fangoria-reading horror kid.
Party Time (29:31): this segment is devoted to how the film’s amazing punk rock score was put together, including input from both musicians and music supervisors. You get tales on each song, including how “Party Time” was re-recorded with modified lyrics and a more metallic sound. Dinah Cancer and Joe Wood, who does an acoustic version of his song on the soundtrack, are highlights here, plus you even get moments with Chris D. and Roky Erickson. If you love the film’s song score, this is the segment you’ve been waiting for.
Horror’s Hallowed Grounds (10:15): Clark returns for this shorter-than-usual installment of this ongoing series, showing us just how much of the L.A. locations have changed in the last thirty years as well as sharing some interesting details on which sets were built.
Dan O’Bannon interview (28:32): the final interview with the film’s writer/director is bluntly honest and frequently funny. He talks about the challenges of following in George Romero’s wake and is also frank about his mistakes a filmmaker and a manager of talent. He’s not afraid to throw the occasional zinger but is charmingly humble, particularly on the touching outro to the piece.
Origins (15:12): author John Russo, who developed the project long before it was made, gets to speak his piece here. He gets into the thorny rights issues surrounding Night Of The Living Dead and how they led to this non-sequel sequel, discusses his original, religion-oriented premise for Return and offers his thoughts on O’Bannon’s work. Romero fans will find this segment particularly illuminating.
The Dead Have Risen (20:34): a featurette from the old MGM special edition DVD about the making of the film with much of the cast and crew you see in the other featurettes. It offers a bullet points version of stuff covered elsewhere on the disc but it’s always fun to watch these people share their tales.
Designing The Dead (13:39): another MGM special edition-era featurette. Again, it deals with material covered elsewhere in this set but O’Bannon is involved on-camera here. Fans might want to give it another look for that and it’s nice to have it here for the sake of the completists.
Workprint (1:48:05): an early edit of the film taken from an old VHS source. Thus, the visual details are fuzzy and the colors are muted but fans will enjoy having this rarity because of all the alternative material it includes. You get alternate takes and versions of scenes, several extensions to existing scenes and a different, extended coda to the film.
To read Schlockmania’s film review of The Return Of The Living Dead, click here.