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, Featurettes, Trailers, DVD version

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," 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 dark comedy. The result of his work is "The 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 in high definition for the first time, 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, "The 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, to be sure, quite unique. So unique, in fact that soon after its release in 1986, "The Return Of The Living Dead" became a classic in its own right, spawning a solid string of sequels.

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, even upon the umpteenth viewing.

To my surprise MGM Home Entertainment – a studio whose Blu-Ray output has been lackluster if not less – seems to take quite some pride in the film – deservedly so – as the Blu-Ray version is getting quite a few things right and even offers both the high definition and standard DVD version in one package.

The movie is presented in a 1080p high definition presentation in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. While this may be a bit of a cultish schlocker of a film, the transfer is anything but. Clean and free of defects or blemishes, the transfer also has a natural level of grain – minimal to non-existent in virtually all shots, except a few rare occasions. Colors are wonderfully reproduced in this transfer, with rich hues and vibrant tones, bringing the stylish comic book look to life like never before. Whether it's the blue of the nighttime shots or the red of the bloody mess that constantly accompanies the film, you will love how faithful the transfer renders the colors. Solid black level give the image depth and the high definition of the transfer allows you to view details and read textures in the image that have been impossible to spot before. In fact, it is so detailed that you can read the memos on the office wall and take a pretty good look at the pin-up girls in the background.

A DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track accompanies the movie that is well balanced and has a good frequency response. The 80s rock music soundtrack comes across powerfully and overall, the presentation is surprisingly balanced and rich.

All the bonus materials from the previously released Collector's Edition DVD have been brought over to this release. Though presented in standard definition, this is a surprising movie for MGM, a studio that has released notoriously dearth Blu-Ray versions of their movies in the past. Let's hope this is an indication of things to change.

Among the extras are two commentary tracks, the first of which with 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 track is well-rounded and certainly a valuable asset for all fans of the movie.
The second track features an assortment cast and crew members as they reminisce about the movie and its making.

Also included is a series of featurettes, including "Designing The Dead," which is actually not so much about designing them, but about how the movie came together as a whole. Also included are "The Decade of Darkness," and "The Dead Have Risen," both of which offer additional insight into the making of the film.

You will also find Zombie subtitles for the film on the release, along with a number of different trailers for the film.

In addition to the high definition version, the release also includes the DVD version of the film. It is, in fact, the Collector's Edition version of the movie that was released in 2007 that is included here, including all of its extras.

"The Return Of The Living Dead" is without a doubt one of the funniest 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 particular film. This 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 "The 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 Blu-Ray version that MGM Home Entertainment is serving up here, so make sure to grab your copy and hold on for the ride!