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Digital Dismemberment: The Return of the Living Dead Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray Review

 

Director: Dan O’Bannon
Producer: Tom Fox and Graham Henderson
Special FX: Bob McCarthy, Kevin McCarthy, Tony Gardner and Allan A. Apone
Cast: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Beverly Randolph, John Philbin, Jewel Shepard, Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Brian Peck, Linnea Quigley, Mark Venturini, Jonathan Terry and Cathleen Cordell
Released By: Scream/Shout! Factory
Release Date: 7/19/16

The Premise

On his first day on the job at a medical supply warehouse, poor Freddy (Thom Mathews) unwittingly releases toxic gas from a secret U.S. military canister, unleashing an unbelievable terror. The gas reanimates an army of corpses, who arise from their graves with a ravenous hunger… for human brains! And luckily for those carnivorous cadavers, there is a group of partying teens nearby, just waiting to be eaten!

This cult classic started as a novel by John Russo, but production had to be held up for a bit while legal matters concerning the title were worked out. When Russo and George A. Romero went their own ways after NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, Russo retained the rights to any titles featuring Living Dead while Romero went on to create his own series of sequels, beginning with DAWN OF THE DEAD.

The original plan was to make The Return of the Living Dead in 3D with Tobe Hooper directing, but due to outside projects, Hooper had to bow out and Dan O’Bannon was brought in. The original story was much more serious, but O’Bannon changed the script and injected humor into parts of it while maintaining the much needed gore.

The other thing that makes THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD stand out is the fact that it was the first zombie film where the zombies attacked people specifically for their brains. In addition to that, the zombies also talked and could run like the average person, adding a level of intelligence and movement that made the hordes that much more dangerous. The soundtrack, which is primarily punk, powers the movie along and sets the tone for the glorious acts of violence by the zombies. The acting is quite capable and believable, making you care about all those involved. While a tough shoot by all accounts in interviews, the film is warmly remembered by the cast and crew and a film that has left a mark on zombies and the horror genre overall…

The Plot

*SPOILER ALERT*

As the film opens, we see Frank (James Karen) training Freddie (Thom Mathews) inside the Uneeda Medical Supply Company right before the 4th of July. Burt (Clu Gulager), the owner, wishes the a good holiday and leaves for the evening. Frank takes Freddy around to everything, even showing him a cadaver in cold storage. Seeing that Freddy is shaken a bit, Frank asks him if he remembers the film NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and tells him that it was a true story the filmmaker had to change the real details on. He even tells Freddy that the Army accidentally shipped a couple of containers with corpses to the facility, which were in the basement.

They go down and examine the containers. But ,when Freddy questions whether or not they are safe, Frank hits a container in the side. They are both sprayed by the noxious gas, knocking them out. When they come to, they head upstairs and start to hear odd noises. A bisected dog has come to life, and they beat it with a crutch until they hear noises coming from the cooler. Realizing that the body in cold storage is now “alive”, they call Burt in a panic to help them deal with the situation. After an epic fight that includes a pick axe to the cranium and then the beheading of the corpse with a bone saw, the body and head continue to live — even though Frank is sure that destroying the brain will stop it. They then dismember the corpse and try to come up with a way to dispose of it.

Meanwhile, Freddy’s girlfriend Tina (Beverly Randolph) and their group of punk friends are looking for something to do until Freddy gets off of work.  After driving around for a bit, they find an old cemetery nearby, and they break in to hang out. Things start to get crazy as Trash (Linnea Quigley) strips and then starts dancing nude on a crypt, much to the delight of everyone there.

While they continue to wait for Freddy, Burt decides to call in a favor with the local mortician Ernie (Don Calfa), and they take the corpse over to the funeral home. Burt tries to tell Ernie that they have a bag of rabid weasels that they need to burn in the oven, but Ernie eventually convinces them to tell him what is really going on. After getting over the initial shock of seeing the dismembered corpse moving around, he agrees to burn the remains into ash. After thinking they have resolved the problem, Freddy and Frank start to become very sick and pale. Ernie calls for paramedics as it starts to storm, but little do they know that the gases from the burning body have entered the air and are now coming down in the town in the form of an acid rain.

Tina and her friends run for their car as the rain starts to burn their skin, but the car will not start. Tina leaves to get Freddy, but she can’t find him at the supply company. She heads downstairs and is confronted by the Tarman zombie, who forces her to hide in a closet. The rest of her friends make their way to the company to look for her, and they hear her screams in the basement.

Upon arriving, Suicide (Mark Venturini) has his skull bitten into by the Tarman, and the rest of the group runs back into the cemetery to try and get away. They become separated, and Trash is attacked by a group of zombies and devoured. Tina, Spider (Miguel A. Núñez Jr.,) and Scuz (Brian Peck) make their way to the funeral home and tell everyone there what is happening outside, while Casey and Chuck hide out in the medical supply company.

Meanwhile, the zombies have attacked the paramedics and lay in wait for the police that are on the way. Freddy and Frank continue to turn into zombies, with Freddy eventually trying to chase Tina down and eat her brains. Bert and Spider try to make a run for the car to try and get everyone out, but they cannot make it back to them.

Bert eventually decides to call the number on the side of one of the cannisters. Once the call goes in, the military decides to handle the situation the only way they can: a tactical nuclear strike to try and contain the outbreak to one location. Things become even more dire as Ernie and Tina hide in a crawlspace — even as Freddy, now blinded by acid, tries to attack them both.

Does anybody survive and is the outbreak contained? You will have to watch and see!

*END SPOILER*

Blu Ray Features

Bonus Features

DISC 1:

NEW 2K Scan Of The Interpositive

NEW Audio Commentary With Gary Smart (Co-author Of The Complete History Of The Return Of The Living Dead) And Chris Griffiths

  • NEW Audio Commentary With Actors Thom Mathews, John Philbin And Make-up Effects Artist Tony Gardner
  • Audio Commentary With Director Dan O’Bannon And Production Designer William Stout
  • Audio Commentary With The Cast And Crew Featuring Production Designer William Stout And Actors Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph, Allan Trautman
  • The Decade Of Darkness – Featurette On ’80s Horror Films (23 minutes)
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • TV Spots
  • Still Gallery – Posters, Lobby Cards, Movie Stills And Behind-The-Scenes Photos
  • Still Gallery – Behind-The-Scenes Photos From Special Make-up Effects Artist Kenny Myers’ Personal Collection
  • Zombie Subtitles For The Film
  • In Their Own Words – The Zombies Speak

DISC 2:

  • The FX Of The Living Dead With Production Designer William Stout, FX Make-up Artists William Munns, Tony Gardner, Kenny Myers And Craig Caton-Largnet, Visual Effects Artists Bret Mixon And Gene Warren Jr. And Actor Brian Peck (Expanded Version) (30 minutes)
  • Party Time: The Music Of The Return Of The Living Dead With Music Consultants Budd Carr And Steve Pross And Soundtrack Artists Dinah Cancer (45 Grave), Chris D (The Flesh Eaters), Roky Erickson, Karl Moet (SSQ), Joe Wood (T.S.O.L.), Mark Robertson (Tall Boys) Plus Musicians Greg Hetson (Circle Jerks) And John Sox (The F.U.’s, Straw Dogs) (Expanded Version) (30 minutes)
  • HORROR’S HALLOWED GROUNDS – Revisiting The Locations Of The Film
  • The Return Of The Living Dead Workprint – Includes 20 minutes Of Additional Footage (In Standard Definition)
  • More Brains: A Return To The Living Dead – The Definitive Documentary On The Return Of The Living Dead (120 minutes)
  • A Conversation With Dan O’Bannon – His Final Interview (28 minutes)
  • The Origins Of The Living Dead – An Interview With John A. Russo (16 minutes)
  • The Return Of The Living Dead – The Dead Have Risen – Interviews With Cast Members Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Brian Peck, Thom Mathews, Beverly Randolph, Linnea Quigley And More… (21 minutes)
  • Designing The Dead – Interviews With Writer/Director Dan O’Bannon And Production Designer William Stout (15 minutes)

Discs: 2
Format: NTSC
Color: Color
Rating: R
Aspect Ratio: 1080p High Definition Widescreen (1.85:1)
Language: English

The Verdict

Scream/Shout! Factory has once again given us the definitive version of a cult classic. The 2K transfer is stunning, with very little grain or wear on the print and boasting the rich colors that I always associated with this film. The audio is also top notch, with the punk soundtrack blasting through the speakers with precision. The flip cover artwork is stunning as well, with both the original artwork as well as a new cover for this release (personally, I love the new artwork).

With well over 4 hours of Bonus Features that includes several featurettes, interviews (including an interview with Dan O’Bannon, who passed away several years before this release), trailers, TV spots and photo galleries, you will be hard pressed to find not only another version of this film with this many goodies, but a Blu-Ray in general that holds up to a strict collector’s eye.

A film that changed how we view humor and horror, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD is a must own for any genre fan as well as anyone who loves zombies!  Once again, a must own film!

Movie Rating: 4/5
Blu-Ray Rating: 10/10


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