The Return Of The Living Dead

The Return Of The Living Dead (1986)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Clu Gulager, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Linnea Quigley
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurette, Artwork, Trailers, TV Spots

When director/writer George A. Romero and writer John Russo parted ways after doing the infamous cult classic "Night Of The Living Dead" together in 1968, they agreed that they both could use the "Living Dead" moniker for future projects. George, as we all know, went on to continue his zombie saga with his masterpiece "Dawn Of The Dead" and "Day Of The Dead" while John Russo also went on to create his own films along those lines. He brought in "Alien"-writer Dan O’Bannon to helm a project, proposing an authentic sequel to "Night." O’Bannon however felt it would intrude too much into Gorge Romero’s territory that he had already covered in "Dawn of the Dead," and instead opted to turn the project into a comedy. The result of his work is "Return Of The Living Dead," one of the most graphic, yet also exceedingly funny zombie spoofs, that is now finally seeing the light of day on DVD courtesy of MGM Home Entertainment.

It all begins quite innocently in a warehouse for medical supplies. Skeletons, corpses and other parts for medical studies are stored and shipped from here. Freddie (Thom Mathews) is new to his job and his colleague Frank (James Karen) is giving him the run-down. He also tells Eddie the unsettling story of zombies that were accidentally created many years ago as part of an Army experiment gone awry. He goes on to tell Eddie that he actually found those corpses the Army tried to hide and rid themselves off, and he stored them in the basement. He leads the frightened Freddie down to take a look and by accident, one of the canisters is damaged. The poisonous gas that created the animated corpses many years ago escapes and soon everything that was once dead begins to walk again. Trying to cover up for their mistake, the two warehouse employees try to rid themselves of the evidence but only make matters worse, as more and more zombies are resurrected, all with only one thin on their mind… to eat live brains!

From the acting to the dialogues, "Return Of The Living Dead" is one Hell of a romp that will have you giggle from the first to the last minute. At the same time it delivers shocks and graphic violence like some of the most hardcore splatter films at the time. The viewer is constantly jerked between laughter and observing zombies eating brains out of a shattered skull, and the experience is in fact quite unique. So unique, in fact that soon after its release in 1986, "Return Of The Living Dead" became a classic in its own right, spawning a series of sequels, the latest of which is currently in production.

One other notable thing about the film – apart from its radical, almost anarchic, approach to the subject matter – is its production and cinematography. The film does indeed have a look and feel that is very reminiscent of the E.C. comics like "Tales From The Crypt." When the ghoulish creatures rise from their graves in that ominous rainy night, you can almost see the comic book imagery it relates to in your mind. The way the actors carry themselves, the way they deliver their often-minimalist dimwitted dialogues, it all resembles an animated horror comic strip so much that it’s just a pleasure to watch.

MGM Home Entertainment seems to take some pride in the film – deservedly so – as the DVD is getting quite a few things right. The video is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> presentation in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio that is mostly clean and free of defects, speckles or other mars. The material is naturally a bit grainy at time, as a result of the technical limitations of the production itself, but it never gets distracting or interferes with the presentation in any way. Colors are nicely reproduced and well saturated. Whether it’s the blue of the nighttime shots or the red of the bloody mess that constantly accompanies the film, the hues and tinges are always vibrant and free of noise. The image also has good depth as a result of the well-balanced black level of the transfer. Shadows are very well delineated, never losing detail of definition. The transfer is also free of notable edge-enhancement or compression artifacts, making this a beautiful video presentation that is certainly much better than anyone would have dared to hope for. On the flip side of the DVD you can also find a <$PS,fullframe> presentation of the movie. This is not a <$PS,pan&scan> presentation but an <$OpenMatte,open matte> transfer that reflects the original negative ratio of the movie.

The DVD contains the original mono audio track of the movie, which is surprisingly good. Filled with 80s rock music I was very pleasantly surprised at the quality of the sound track. The frequency response is natural and the audio never appears nasal, harsh or limited at all. The high ends are nicely reproduced, although it lacks the brilliance of newer track, of course. The track is free of distortion and is fully serving its purpose for the film.

To make things even better, the DVD also contains a <$commentary,commentary track> featuring writer/director Dan O’Bannon and production designer William Stout. It is a very good commentary that sheds light on many aspects of the production. But it also has a light and entertaining note as the two recall many great moments on the set, share anecdotes about the cast and crew and some of the adversities they faced. The <$commentary,commentary track> is well-rounded and certainly a valuable asset for all fans of the movie.

The DVD comes with a few extras, such as a 14-minute interview featurette called "Designing The Dead." It’s actually not so much about designing them, but about how the movie came together. The featurette contains interviews with Dan O’Bannon and William Stout as they talk about the production, their ideals and goals for the film and many other aspects. The featurette is nice and entertaining, but often lacks any real depth that would have elevated it above the standard promo fare.

The DVD is rounded out by trailers, TV Spots and an image gallery of production art that further underscores the movie’s cartoon character.

"Return Of The Living Dead" is without a doubt one of the best horror comedies created during the 80s. The clash of comedy and true splatter horror is fierce and has a no-holds-barred attitude in this film, which makes it exceptionally entertaining, especially for true horror fans who typically feel cheated by watered-down horror comedies that seem to be ashamed to be affiliated with the genre. Considering its origins and history, I think it is safe to say that "Return Of The Living Dead" is clearly a valid descendant of "Night Of The Living Dead" despite its comic nature. All fans of the movie will be delighted at the DVD that MGM Home Entertainment is serving up here, especially for it’s super-low price of only $14.95!