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Old 08-11-2004, 05:49 PM
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Default Return of the Living Dead, The




Reviewer: Dave
Review Date: August 1, 2002
Released by: MGM
Release date: 8/27/2002
MSRP: $14.95
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes



MGM has done horror fans right. You have to give them credit for releasing what fans want. First a Killer Klowns From Outer Space Special Edition, and now a Return of the Living Dead that mine as well be a special edition. It's true they do this to make money, as any business should. Just remember there are studios like Universal sitting on horror classics like Phantasm 2 and Phantasm 3. I give credit to MGM for giving horror fans want they want. I certainly hope they profit greatly from these releases as they deserve to.

After years of waiting, Region 1 viewers are finally getting Return of the Living Dead. Fans should be pleased with the first ever widescreen presentation of Return of the Living Dead, as well as a full frame presentation for those that believe 1.33:1 is the proper aspect ratio. It's important to note that the director, Dan O'Bannon, was involved with this DVD and has confirmed that 1.85:1 (i.e. the widescreen presentation) is indeed the proper aspect ratio, not 1.33:1.

Has the wait been worth it? The specs and extras are certainly impressive. Lets take a look and find out.

The Story

inline Image 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.

inline Image 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.

inline Image 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 pumped 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.

inline Image 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!

inline Image 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!

Image Quality

inline Image Return of the Living Dead is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer preserving its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. A 1.33:1 full frame transfer is also included on Side B. 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. All things considered this is, without a doubt, the best Return of the Living Dead has ever looked. I'm rating the transfer with a B.

Sound

Standard run of the mill mono track. The dialogue and soundtrack both sound great; they are crisp and clear with no distortion whatsoever.

Supplemental Material

inline Image First up is the commentary track with director/writer Dan O' Bannon and production designer William Stout. It's an enjoyable tracks 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.

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. Next is a still gallery of Stout's storyboards and some beautiful conceptual drawings he did.




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Wrapping up the supplements is a G-rated and R-rated theatrical trailer. Some great supplements here that fans are sure to enjoy. While not labeled a special edition, it certainly has enough content to be considered one.

Final Thoughts

This is really a no brainer - every horror fan must purchase this DVD. With a $14.95 MSRP, good quality full frame and Widescreen presentations, and a good amount of enjoyable extras, MGM's Return of the Living Dead DVD is a must own! Naysayers, go home, there's nothing to complain about here. If you haven't seen Return of the Living Dead before, here is a perfect opportunity to do so. A big thanks to MGM for a job well done.

Rating

Movie - A-
Image Quality - B
Sound - B
Supplements - A-

Technical Info.
  • Running Time - 1 hour 31 minutes
  • Color
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • 16 Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital Mono
  • English/French/Spanish Subtitles
Supplements
  • Commentary from Director/Writer Dan O' Bannon and Production Designer William Stout
  • "Designing the Dead" Featurette
  • Conceptual Art by William Stout
  • TV Spots
  • Trailer

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