I'll be honest with everyone and admit I had no idea this documentary existed until September 2013. That's a sad admission from someone that runs a horror site, as well as someone who loves the Return of the Living Dead series. I discovered it on the Crystal Lake Memories bluray that was recently released. I quickly searched online and realized that yes, it did exist and it was actually released in 2011. I quickly ordered the DVD and discovered that a bluray had been released in Germany. I ordered that, too, since I always prefers high-def over standard def. I wasn't sure if this was an actual HD sourced bluray or an upconvert. I'll take more about that in image quality.
Anyone that has read my reviews of Parts II and III knows that I'm a big fan of the series. After soaking up several hours of the Crystal Lake documentary, I was just as excited to pop this disc in and have a look at the making of the Return of the Living Dead movies. Lets have a look and see how the documentary is.
It starts off with filmmakers John Russo, Paul Sammon, and William Stout discussing the challenges of getting the film made. Not just with typical funding and what not, but legal issues relating back to the original Night of the Living Dead. A deal was struck where Romero could make his sequel (Dawn) to Night and Russo can make his own sequel, which became Return of the Living Dead. From there we begin learning about the actors and how each obtained their parts. Most of the stories were told directly from the actors themselves.
After casting discussion, the cast and crew share various behind-the-scenes stories. The most noteworthy are some insight on many of the effects - including Tarman, the half dog, how they got the butterflies to move, and more. It's all enjoyable though with this type of film you can't help but enjoy the effects stories more than anything else. The last noteworthy item was people discussing some of the difficulties working with director Dan O'Bannon.
While the main two hour documentary focuses entirely on the first film, there are two supplements that look at the Part 2 and Part 3. I'm including my discussion of them here instead of the extras section. I feel as if they should have been included in the main documentary and not in the extras.
The look at Part 2 runs about 30 minutes in length. It starts off with how most people on the original, including director Dan O'Bannon, wanted absolutely nothing to do with the sequel. There were two cast members from the original that returned - Thom Mathews and James Karen - albeit as different characters. It was great seeing Suzanne Snyder - she has aged wonderfully and comes across with passion and vitality. As for the feature, I was disappointed how things started off. I enjoy the sequel very much and rate it up there with the original. I know I'm in the minority but regardless, I couldn't help feeling let down with the feature starting off with everyone trashing Part 2. Things briefly turn around and, like the first one, cast and crew reminisce on their experiences of the production. There are some good behind-the-scenes tidbits shared during the middle of the feature. When the end arrives, things turn negative again as the cast and crew start berating director Ken Wiederhorn. I can appreciate their honesty and I can respect the value of their opinions and insight. We learn the director was not a fan of the horror genre. As a fan of the movie, I can't help being disappointed with the negativity. Yes, Part 2 is a horror comedy - a lot more so than the first one. There's lots of cheese. They recycled characters and actors. It's a silly story. I get it. It's still a fun flick and that's not just nostalgia speaking. I digress, though. Read my review of Part 2 for more of my thoughts on the movie.
I kind of prepared myself for the Part 3 feature to start off by kicking Part 2 while it was down. That happened but it was brief enough. The feature runs 18 minutes long and goes straight into interviews with cast and crew, including director Brian Yuzna. They discuss how Part 3 came to be and share stories of the production, all of which I enjoyed. I was disappointed Melinda Clarke wasn't on the feature. She participated in the Part 3 commentary track so it's not like she's trying to hide from having been in the movie. An enjoyable segment, albeit the shortest one, clocking in at 18 minutes.
With the Part 1 feature clocking in at 2 hours, Part 2 at 30 minutes, and Part 3 at 18 minutes, this is a fairly extensive documentary on the Return of the Living Dead series. The focus is on Part 1, as it should be. That's the classic and that is what fans will want. I'll never be happy with any negative coverage Part 2 receives, and I think my complaints are justified with the Part 2 feature. It is a shame Part 3 has the shortest runtime, but at least it was all positive. Fans are going to enjoy all the interviews and behind-the-scenes footage included here. There are some quality extras, too, which I'll discuss in the Supplements section.
When I discovered the documentary, the first thing I checked for is a high definition release. As it turns out, it was released on bluray in Germany in August 2013. A quick order from Amazon.de and I had this in my hands a few days later. I'm always skeptical of foreign releases that aren't on bluray anywhere else. I was concerned this would simply be an upconvert of the 480p DVD. While I have yet to find any concrete evidence one way or the other, I can state that it does not look upconverted. The interview footage is gorgeous and certainly looks like it is true high definition. The image is razor sharp with great colors and natural looking flesh tones. The archival footage is a mixed bag, of course. Much of it is VHS quality with dirt and scratches present. That's to be expected, especially on the behind-the-scene footage. In rating the image quality I'm focusing on interview footage and that is excellent. I'm rating it an A-.
There is a DTS-HD 5.1 track, though on a disc where I'm mostly concerned with dialogue, it is somewhat irrelevant. Dialogue is crisp and clear in all the interviews - no complaints. Stock footage with audio is bland and VHS quality. I'm rating it with a B.
Perhaps the true gem is a 26 minute long 'final interview' from director/writer Dan O'Bannon. It was filmed shortly before his passing. He covers a variety of Return topics, including his own reasons for giving the film its comedic tone in hopes of not stepping on Romero's toes. He also discusses casting, the punk angle, his reputation for having a temper, and more. It's informative. Dan wasn't the most engaging speaker but anyone who enjoys his works should get some enjoyment from it.
There are some deleted scenes included. These are deleted scenes from the documentary, not the movies. There's nothing substantial and it's easy to see why they were cut. Next is a segment titled Return of the Living Dead in 3 minutes. It's a pointless 3 minutes of cast members reenacting some of their lines from the movie. A music video by Stacey Q is included. It's a song from the movie and the video features some half assed zombies. Closing out the supplements is the trailer to the documentary.
Some decent supplements, particularly the O'Bannon interview, that I'm sure most will enjoy watching at least once.
If you're a fan of the series, it's worth owning and there's no doubt you will enjoy the interviews, including Dan O'Bannon's final. While the focus and time are spent on Part 1, Parts 2 and 3 get brief segments as well. Part 2 was a bit too negative for my tastes but I still enjoyed seeing the actors. Visually, the interview footage is excellent. The HD is gorgeous, minus stock footage or anything older. The entire disc is really an extra, yet there are a few additional extras that serve as icing on the cake. For a scant $20.00 (plus shipping), you can import that from Germany and add it to your collection. It is Region B locked so make sure you have region free capabilities. Recommended for Living Dead fans.
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