Review: The Return of the Living Dead / Director: Dan O’Bannon / Screenplay: Dan O'Bannon / Starring: Clu Gulacher, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Matthews, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Jewell Shepard / Release Date: June 4th
Forget the recent rash of cheapo zombie flicks that have flooded our shores of late, Dan O'Bannon’s cult splatterfest The Return of the Living Dead is one of the definitive zombie movies. And it is being released on DVD and Blu-Ray in a Special Edition that is jammed with extras (five hours’ worth!) including, I am happy to confirm, the much anticipated reinstatement of the original 1985 soundtrack.
It was way back in 1982 Starburst first reported on the controversy surrounding the planned movie adaptation of John Russo’s novel Return of the Living Dead, his sequel to Night of the Living Dead (1968) (which he co-wrote with George A. Romero). Legal wrangling between Russo and Romero over the Living Dead title stalled the project for years. Originally producer Tom Fox had called in screenwriter Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Dead and Buried) to polish the script and Tobe Hooper to direct it in 3D. After Hooper eventually jumped ship to helm Lifeforce (which O’Bannon also scripted) O’Bannon was offered the job of directing and the rest is living dead history.
Completely re-writing Russo’s script in order to distance Return of the Living Dead from Romero’s sequels, O’Bannon created one of the greatest ‘splatstick’ comedy-horror films of all time.
James Karen and Thom Matthews play a pair of blundering medical supplies warehouse workers Frank and Freddy, who unwittingly set off a US military chemical that bring the dead back to life (O’Bannen asserts, cheekily, that a similar chemical spill in 1968 was the basis of the ‘true’ story behind Night of the Living Dead). Taking shelter in the nearby crematorium, along with a band of punks (including legendary scream queen Linnea Quigley as a sexy punk-zombie), Frank and Freddy try to fight off the zombie hordes, unaware that they have set off a chain of events that could lead to the end of civilisation.
From Frank and Freddy’s comedy-duo attempts to deal with the initial spill of ‘Trioxin’, to Linnea Quigley’s graveyard striptease dance, to the appearance of ‘Tar Man’, to the final zombie apocalypse, for its entire 91 minutes, Return of the Living Dead cracks along at a wicked pace. O’Bannon packs the film full of classic one-liners (“send more paramedics”) and the performances are hilarious all round. If I had to make one minor criticism of the movie, it would be that the ending seems a little rushed. But, hey, along with Re-Animator and The Fly, Return of the Living Dead remains one of the classic horror movies of the 1980s.
As part of the package distributor Second Sight are including the brilliant making of, More Brains! - a definitive two-hour documentary featuring interviews with the cast, writers and producers (including special effects artist Bill Munns who was hired two weeks into filming).
All in all, The Return of the Living Dead Special Edition is an essential purchase for any ROTLD fan. According to Scuz (Brian Peck) himself in our upcoming interview (see Issue 377, available May 18th!): “you guys in the UK are getting this great DVD that we don’t even have here in the States! We have it all in separate versions but you have to buy, like, three DVDs to get all the stuff that’s on the set that’s being released over there”.
Return of the Living Dead Special Edition has more thrills! More extras! More BRAINS!
Contains Original Soundtrack (Dolby Digital 2.0/PCM 2.0) and 2 Remixed Soundtrack Options (Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0/DTS 5.1 Digital Surround & PCM2.0) * More Brains! A Return To The Living Dead: 2 hour documentary featuring interviews with cast, writers, producers and many more, as well as previously unseen behind-the-scenes footage, storyboards, conceptual art, publicity materials and archival documents * A conversation with Dan O'Bannon: The Final Interview * The Won't Stay Dead: A Look at Return of The Living Dead Part 2 * Love Beyond The Grave: A Look at Return of The Living Dead 3 * Stacey Q Live: Exclusive 'Tonight' music video * Even More Brains: Deleted documentary interviews * Return of The Living Dead in 3 minutes * Resurrected Settings: The Filming Locations Today * The Origins Of Return Of The Living Dead: with John A. Russo * The FX of the living dead: with production designer William Stout and FX make-up artists William Munns and Tony Gardner * PARTY TIME with music consultant Steve Pross and 45 Grave singer Dinah Cancer * Exclusive to Blu Ray Steelbook – ‘Ernie’s Notepad – 20 page replica notebook by embalmer Ernie Kaltenbrunner, featuring production otes, carting information and exclusive artwork.