Review Date: October 9, 2004
Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 10/5/2004
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
At long last Return of the Living Dead Part II
hits DVD, ending the long wait to have the entire Return of the Living Dead
trilogy available on DVD. Considering that each of the three Return of the Living Dead
movies has been released onto DVD by separate companies, fans can count their blessings that each movie received some extras. Part II, released by Warner Brothers, features a commentary track by director Ken Wiederhorn and co-star Thor van Lingen.
Sadly, as soon as the disc hit the streets, fans had some complaints. Lets take a look at the DVD and find out if there's any merit to those complaints.
Jesse Wilson (Michael Kenworthy) could be labeled as a typical 10-year old boy. He likes to collect comics and, like many kids his age, has a few local bullies to deal with. In Jesse's case, the local bullies are Billy (Thor Van Lingen) and Johnny (Jason Hogan). After Jesse gives them a spiderman comic, Billy - the leader of the two bullies - tells him he's now part of their club. Jesse tries to get out of it but there's no use arguing - the two bullies have voted; Jesse is in. They bring him to their clubhouse, which is actually a crypt in the local cemetery. Jesses refuses to go inside and runs away, finding a place to hide in a nearby drain tunnel. The two catch up with him, however, but before they can give him a beating, Johnny points out a sealed barrel on the floor. Billy and Johnny drag the barrel outside and start playing around with it, despite Jesse's objections. When Billy turns a valve on the top of the barrel, a dead face is revealed inside. The three run off, scared by the face. Billy and Johnny aren't going to let Jesse tell anyone about their discovery, though. They lock him in the crypt and head home.
Meanwhile, graverobber Ed (James Karen), Joey (Thom Mathews) - Ed's assistant for the night, and Joey's girlfriend Brenda (Suzanne Snyder) arrive at the cemetery. The plan is for Ed and Joey to go inside the crypt to loot some jewelry and skulls while Brenda waits in the van. When they enter the crypt they discover Jesse, who quickly runs home before Ed can catch him. Elsewhere, Billy and Johnny decide to return to the drain tunnel and start playing around with the barrel some more. Billy starts pushing a few buttons on it, which causes gases to start spewing from the container and into the air. When the gases hit the cemetery, the dead begin to rise up from their graves, hungry for brains of the living.
Jesse returns to the cemetery, suspicious of what Billy and Johnny may have done, and to get the army's phone number off the barrel. He's dressed in protective gear so he won't breathe in any of the toxic gases. After writing down the phone number he looks up to discover a zombie right in front of him. He manages to escape, but when he returns home and tries to tell his sister Lucy (Marsha Dietlein) - who's busy with the cable installer Tom (Dana Ashbrook) - what happened, she locks him in his room. Back at the cemetery, Ed, Joey and Brenda are having their own difficulties with the living dead. They also manage to escape the cemetery, eventually arriving in front of Jesse's house where they have to fight off a group of zombies. The two groups become one and try to get out of town. They soon discover that they're stuck - the town has been sealed off by the military and there's no way out. With the dead closing in, they must find a way to escape town or destroy the dead before it's too late.
Everyone repeat after me - "Return of the Living Dead Part II
is an unappreciated movie that is put down WAYYYYYY too often!!!" Do it? Good! I think the problem is that everybody compared it to the original, which is, of course, a true horror classic with a nice touch of humor added. Don't get me wrong, it's expected that people are going to compare a sequel to the original. That's fine. The problem is that people bash ROTLD2
way too much, simply because it isn't as good as the original. That may be true, but it's still a damn good movie in my book. It has great effects, and to me it's funny as hell. James Karen, who plays Ed in Part II and also has a role as Frank in the original, is a great comedic actor and I think his role in ROTLD2 is a big part of the reason why I found the movie so enjoyable. All of his scenes are hilarious; seeing him go through his own personal torture as he deals with the zombies around him and his own transformation from graverobber to one of the living dead is a real blast.
Of course there are bad aspects to the "story". The two bullies, especially Billy, are quite annoying. Even Jesse, the kid hero of sorts, I found to be annoying. The acting all around, minus Ed's group (Ed, Joey and Brenda), wasn't all that good either. But hey, I can name lots of classic horror movies that have bad acting. Are you going to tell me that The Evil Dead
has great acting? I don't think so. So why don't people like the sequel? Too much humor when compared to the original? Ummm, speaking of The Evil Dead
, what about Evil Dead 2
? The sequel has tons of humor whereas the original was mostly a straight horror movie. Sure, comparing Evil Dead 2
may be a bit blasphemous. All I'm trying to get at is that ROTLD2 is blasted way too much, and really for no good reasons in my opinion. What other movie has a Michael Jackson zombie getting electrocuted?
If you haven't seen ROTLD2
, definitely see it and decide for yourself whether it's a good movie. If you don't like it, fine. But don't NOT see it just because so many people bash it. That's just dumb. In my book, it's a classic and I recommend it to all zombie lovers out there. Image Quality
Return of the Living Dead Part II
has never looked so good. Warner has delivered the goods here with a beautiful 16x9 widescreen presentation in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The image is sharp and relatively grain free, with only a handful of scenes containing minor grain. I saw no obvious print damage; while colors were somewhat faded, they're far superior to that or the laserdisc release from over a decade ago.
Here is where most of the complaints are coming from. As soon as this disc hit the streets, fans started complaining about an altered soundtrack. Initially I didn't think much of this and was prepared to tell people to calm down and not worry so much. I've always stated that I'm generally not big on music and that scores generally don't mean much to me, except, perhaps, on movies like Halloween
, where the score completely sets the mood. As a competent reviewer, I had to confirm whether or not these changes actually existed. First I popped in my laserdisc and checked the music in a few key spots - the zombies rising from their graves and the ending scenes/closing credits. Next I popped in the new DVD from Warner and checked the same scenes. It is absolutely true - the music is completely different. Making matters worse is that the French audio track on the DVD has the correct music (also initially reported by fans)! I took the comparison a step further and simply switched back and fourth between audio tracks on the DVD. WOW! What a difference the music can make. I admit my initial feelings were wrong; I'm now quite upset at this mistake (?) by Warner Brothers. Is it a mistake? Or was there a rights issue with the music? But if it were a rights issue, why is the correct music present on the French track? One has to surmise that Warner simply goofed and used the wrong track for the English audio. It's very disappointing.
If there's any good news, it's that there are only a handful of scenes where the music is all that prevalent. The key scene where the new, altered music is just plain awful is at the graveyard when the zombies are rising from their graves. Since there is little to no dialogue during this scene, one could just switch over to the French audio track to hear the original music. The original music in this scene is great, by the way. It really sets the mood for the emerging zombies.
The sound itself is fine overall; music and effects are very clear and consistently strong. Dialogue is clear; no background noise or distortion of any sort was present. However, there is one point in the film where dialogue is out of sync for a few seconds.
When Joey is about to dig into Brenda's skull with his teeth, the dialogue is completely out of sync. She says, "Take me, baby", or something to that effect - a line that isn't even present on the laserdisc. The crunching sound and her subsequent moans are all out of sync.
Between the minor sync problem and the big music problems, I'm rating sound with a D.
I was excited to hear that a commentary track was going to be included on the DVD. Part 2 is generally considered to be the weakest of the series, not to mention it was being released by Warner Brothers, who has a habit of releasing most of their lesser known catalog titles onto barebones DVD. For me, any extra is a welcome extra. The track here consists of director Ken Wiederhorn and co-star Thor van Lingen. The two recorded separate tracks and you hear segments of each throughout playback. The track turned out to be a real letdown for me. Lets start with the director. Ken is fairly negative in his comments on the movie. He complains that horror comedies simply don't work; that there's no real market for them. He's under the impression that people who like horror don't want comedy mixed in with it. I guess Ken hasn't heard of Evil Dead 2
or Idle Hands
. He does mention Fearless Vampire Killers
, but claims that most Polanski fans don't even bother with that one. I understand there's a business aspect to a film, which is where Ken is coming from, and then there is the fan aspect, which is where I'm coming from. But, to put it simply, he's wrong in his assertion - most horror fans will gladly take some horror comedy, if done right. Return of the Living Dead 2
was done right, so it's disappointing to hear him talk in such a manner. Ken does speak of some of the challenges involved in making the film, which I enjoyed, but he often puts a damper on the comments by throwing in more negativity towards the movie.
Next up is Thor van Lingen, who plays the roll of Billy. Billy's roll is fairly small, but I'm all for commentary from any of the talent involved. It's easy to tell that Thor is really jazzed up about his role in the movie, and that he's happy to discuss it. He throws out several bits of trivia and provides various behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the film. What I disliked about Thor's commentary is his constant narration of the movie - i.e. throughout much of the track he's simply telling you what you're seeing on the screen. Is that really necessary? Narration aside, Thor's comments save the track from being a complete waste of space, and he's far more enjoyable than the director.
While both the Ken and Thor throw out several interesting bits of information, it's tough wading through the rest of the commentary to hear them. I'm not about to clamor for a fully blown 2-disc special edition, because I know it's unjustified with this movie, but I would have liked a decent commentary track.
The only other extra is a trailer, which is 16x9 widescreen.
Return of the Living Dead Part II
is an underated gem that is often overlooked by fans. For those that haven't seen it, give it a spin - I know you'll enjoy it immensely. Sadly, this new DVD is not without problems. While the movie has never looked so good - thanks to Warner's beautiful new 16x9 transfer - inferior music has replaced the original music, at least on the English track. The French track actually has the correct music. The commentary track is lackluster, thanks to a director that clearly has no interest or pride in this movie. But I can overlook a weak commentary; it's optional and can never be played again if I so choose. The wrong music is something I will always have to listen to (though I suggest a switch to the French track during key scenes - like the zombies rising from their graves). Warner Brothers really dropped the ball here. It's up to fans to decide if they can overlook this mistake and justify the low $19.99 pricetag. I for one have no choice; this 16x9 presentation is gorgeous and my laserdisc will most likely never get spun again.
Movie – B
Image Quality – B+
Sound – D
Supplements – D
- Running Time - 1 hour 29 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English/French Dolby Digital Stereo
- English/French/Spanish Subtitles