Review Date: October 8, 2007
Released by: MGM/Fox
Release date: 9/11/2007
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
A double dip for horror fans? Who would have thought? It's probably no surprise when I mention this is the second DVD release for Return of the Living Dead
, leaving fans - all of whom no doubt own the first DVD - with one question on their minds: Do I double dip for this second release?
What surprised me when I started this review is that it's actually been five years since the first DVD was released. Amazing. It really does seem like only yesterday I was reviewing that. I suppose we horror fans are spoiled now, because while I once would have been excited about a new Return of the Living Dead
DVD, I'm not completely sold on the premise of this one. I am going into this review with a fresh perspective. I haven't read much about the DVD, so I don't know what's new when compared to the original release. If it is simply a rehash of the original as I suspect, then I'll be disappointed. Lets take a look at this new Return of the Living Dead
DVD from MGM, distributed by Fox, and see if it's worth the $19.98 price tag.
Freddy (Thom Matthews) has just started a new job at the Uneeda Medical Supply company, conveniently located next to the local cemetery. Frank (James Karen), a fellow co-worker, is showing Freddy the ropes on his first night. When Burt (Clu Gulager), their boss, leaves for the night, Frank starts telling this whole story about the movie Night of the Living Dead and how it was based on a true case. He goes on to explain that the government threatened the filmmakers and that they were forced to change various bits of the story so it wouldn't match what REALLY happened - a chemical spill brought the dead back to the life, which the government soon covered up.
After telling the story, Frank tells Freddy there are a few of the canisters that hold the once re-animated bodies down in the basement. The government took all the bodies, stored them in canisters, and shipped them off to a supply company. The transportation department mixed up some paperwork somewhere and accidentally shipped a few of the canisters to the Uneeda Medical Supply company instead. They go down into the basement where the canisters are stored so Freddy can get a closeup look at the dead bodies. While they're down there, Frank decides to hit one of the canisters to prove how strong they are. The cannister doesn't resist the blow however, and it ends up cracking open, spewing out a burst of chemicals into the air.
The chemicals end up re-animating a human corpse, along with a "half dog" and some butterflies that were stored in the building. Frank and Freddy, quite humorously, try to deal with the situation. Eventually Burt comes in and thinks of the perfect way to get rid of the human zombie. They hack it up into several pieces and bring it to Ernie (Don Calfa), an embalmer who works in the morgue next door. The morgue next door that has a cremation furnace! Ernie eventually agrees to cremate the pieces. As the pieces are being burned, the smoke is being released directly into the cemetery where several of Freddy's "punk" friends are partying, waiting for him to get out of work. The smoke re-animates the dead bodies that are buried in the cemetery, unleashing an army of brain hungry zombies that Freddy and his friends must escape.
Return of the Living Dead
is one of the greatest zombie movie ever made. Not only does it have loads of great looking zombies in it, it's one of the few zombie movies, besides its sequel, that has a perfect blend of humor and horror. In a way it's a nice homage to Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead
, but at the same time it pokes fun of zombie movies in general. One particular scene I enjoy is when Freddy, Frank, and Burt are trying to kill the first zombie. One of them comes up with the idea to destroy the brain, since that is how they do it in movies. Burt tries this, driving a pick into the zombies' head, only to find the zombie still thrashing about. Frank's response: "It worked in the movie!" Speaking of Frank, I have to say that I really enjoy James Karen's performance as Frank in Return of the Living Dead
. He's wonderfully funny; I really enjoyed seeing both he and Thom Mathews (Freddy) return in the sequel. It's interesting because in the sequel their characters are different, yet they end up with the same fate (though it's a bit funnier in the sequel). Some will claim lack of originality there, but I loved it!
The effects, especially the zombies, are top notch; impressive for a low budget horror movie dating back to 1984. The zombies are a bit unique here too - they're extremely fast. Most zombie movies you're sitting there thinking why the people don't just run away, without tripping, from these snail-paced zombies. That's not the case in Return of the Living Dead
, and it's a nice change for sure. The punk teenagers and their music work extremely well. You've got to love the character Trash (played by Linnea Quigley) - a punk teen who ends up taking off her clothes in the cemetery, is chased and attacked by zombies only to become one her self, all the while remaining nude!
The image quality review you are about to read is taken directly from the review of the previous Return of the Living Dead
DVD review here on the site. I'm able to do this because it's the same transfer on this new DVD. The only noteworthy exception is the removal of the 1.33:1 full frame transfer that was on Side B of the prior DVD. Initially I probably wouldn't have been too disappointed with this, since the transfer was pretty good on the original DVD. I rated it with a B, after all. Since that time, however, I have seen the movie on MonstersHD several times and I can say with no doubt that the MonstersHD broadcast is superior to the DVD. There is the obvious: more detail and sharpness due to the HD resolution. I can accept that, but what irked me the most is the huge amounts of grain that is present on both DVDs that is not present
on the MonstersHD broadcast. I haven't seen the DVD in years and have seen the MonstersHD broadcast several times. As a result, the differences between the DVDs and HD broadcast really stuck out. I'll admit I don't know a lot about the restoration process, but I've read on several occasions that grain removal can leave the image soft and lacking in detail. Comparing the two here, I just don't see that. The MonstersHD broadcast remains sharp and detailed, just without the grain! This was a big disappointment when rewatching this new DVD. So much so that I specifically rewatched the movie on MonstersHD to be certain. I'm leaving the DVD image with the same B rating, but for comparison sake, I would probably rate the MonstersHD broadcast with a B+ or A-. It's a shame MGM and Fox couldn't use the better transfer on this new DVD.
Return of the Living Dead
is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer preserving its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. There are flaws with the transfer; considering the age and the fact it was low budget film, I'm very pleased with it overall. The image is consistently sharp with the exception of a handful of nighttime scenes in the cemetery which are soft and lacking in detail. Many of the exterior nighttime scenes contain light to heavy grain. Colors are vibrant and solid throughout the presentation. There are a handful of blemishes which consist mostly of nicks and scratches on the print. I'm rating the transfer with a B.
Included are both a Stereo and Mono track this time around. The stereo track is above average with good range. Both tracks are consistent with clear dialog and no distortion.
To MGM and Fox's credit, there are some new supplements here. While most of the supplements from the first DVD are also present here, the storyboards and still gallery didn't make it over.
First up is the commentary track with director/writer Dan O' Bannon and production designer William Stout. It's an enjoyable track that fans should enjoy. As I'm sure is the case with nearly all filmmakers, O' Bannon is still picky to this day about his work. He points out numerous spots in the film that he wish he did differently, or that he could improve on. And of course, many of these improvements and fixes didn't happen in the first place because of the budget. It's also very clear that they're both proud of the film and of its cult following. The two share numerous stories of their experiences filming Return of the Living Dead, the actors, the script, and more. O' Bannon also discusses the differences between this film and Romero's trilogy, as well as his decision to make the zombies faster than traditional zombies. I really enjoyed listening to this track.
The second commentary track, which is a new track recorded for this second DVD release, includes production designer William Stout and cast members: Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph, Allan Trautman, Linnea Quigley, and Don Calfa. Everyone has warm memories from filming and each person contributes a fair amount to the track. Excluding the time when some "zombies" intruded on the track, this is an enjoyable track that fans will enjoy.
Next is the "Designing the Dead" featurette. This features interviews with director/writer Dan O' Bannon and production designer William Stout discussing their experiences, and challenges in creating the zombies. Most of the discussion is unique and not found in the commentary. It's short at 14 minutes, but I still enjoyed watching it.
The first new featurette is titled Return of the Living Dead - The Dead Have Risen
. It runs roughly 20 minutes and features retrospective interviews with various cast and crew members. It's a great featurette that fans will love. It was great seeing the cast and crew in present day, sharing their experiences on the production. Even though Beverly Randolph had just started acting, Return of the Living Dead
was her last film. She's now in her 40s and hotter than ever. It was great to see Thom Matthews, often associated with 80s horror, in present day. He seems to have fallen out of acting, too.
Another new featurette, though not specific to Return of the Living Dead
, is called The Decade of Darkness
. It runs 23 minutes and focuses on the boom of horror movies in the 80s and some of the gems that we got during that decade. There are interviews with several popular directors and actors from the 80s, as well as people in the horror industry, such as Fangoria editor Tony Timpone. There are dozens of clips from 80s horror movies, all from the MGM library. It's a good watch and I can see it being included on all present and future MGM horror DVDs, if it hasn't been already.
The last supplement, which really does not deserve to be mentioned, is the 'zombie subtitle stream'. All it does is put up the zombies' moans and groans as a subtitle. "Ahhh-ahhh-ahhh" and "Grrrahhhh" is basically the extent of it. I only sampled the stream. I just can't see the value in it. If it's supposed to be funny, it didn't work.
Wrapping up the supplements is a G-rated and R-rated theatrical trailer, as well as various trailers to other MGM horror movies. Overall a nice special edition and a worthy upgrade from the original, at least in terms of supplements. The new stuff we got on this one: The Dead Have Risen
and The Decade of Darkness
featurettes, and an additional commentary track. We did lose still galleries and storyboards.
The $19.99 price tag, which can easily be found for $10-$15, is easy to swallow and makes the thought of double dipping a little less painful. While this DVD is a bit more than the quick rehash of the original release that I expected, that's only from the supplemental side of this DVD. The transfer is the same and while there is a stereo track included this time around, it alone won't make or break the decision to double dip. Die-hard fans don't need this review; they already purchased this for the new supplements alone, which I get. The new supplements are great and fans will eat them up. And that's really the only thing that comes into consideration if you want to double dip: Do you want the new extras?
What's most disappointing with this release is that a better transfer exists and MGM/Fox didn't take the opportunity to include it here. If that had happened, this disc would have gone from a must-upgrade for die-hards
to a must-upgrade for all
Movie - A-
Image Quality - B
Sound - B
Supplements - A
- Running Time - 1 hour 31 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- 16 Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Digital Mono
- English/French/Spanish Subtitles
- Commentary from Director/Writer Dan O' Bannon and Production Designer William Stout
- Commentary with cast and crew
- Decade of Darkness Featurette
- "Designing the Dead" Featurette
- The Dead Have Risen Featurette
- Zombie Subtitles
- TV Spots
- Chapter Insert/Booklet with production facts