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Dan O'Bannon
Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Beverly Hartley
Dan O'Bannon

They're back...They're Hungry...And they're NOT vegetarian.
Rated R.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Standard 1.33:1
English Digital Mono
English, Spanish, French

Runtime: 91 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 8/27/2002

• Commentary with Director/Writer Dan O'Bannon and Production Designer William Stout
• Designing the Dead Featurette
• Theatrical Trailer
• Conceptual Art by William Stout
• TV Spots


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The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Reviewed by Blake Kenny

My parents were never the kind of people who were strict about what I watched on video. Even at the tender age of about 12 years old, they didnít seem to mind me watching stuff that many parents would fight to keep their kids away from. Actually, itís kind of funny when I think back about it now. My folks were perfectly fine with me watching some maniac hack a guyís head off with a butcher knife, but as soon as there was a bare breast on the screen they would make me look away. Mass murder was okay, but for some reason scenes of natural human sexuality werenít. Try to figure out that logic! Maybe itís because they were sure I wouldnít run around the neighbourhood trying to stab people, but they werenít so sure I wouldnít start peeping onto bedroom windows trying to see someone undress. Either way, I thank them for giving me the choice. Seeing this stuff didnít mess me up too much, and to this day Iíve never gone bonkers and killed anyone. So I guess no permanent damage was done.

When my parents first bought a VCR, we must have rented a truckload of movies every week. Eventually, when I was about 14 or 15, my parents upgraded to a state of the art VHS cassette player and I happily inherited their dying - Sony Betamax machine. Not dying as in it didnít work anymore, but dying as in the format was on itís way out.

As the popularity of Beta began to dwindle it became increasingly easier to find many of my favourite - previously viewed movies at dirt cheap prices. I ended up owning Dawn of the Dead along with other horror favourites, like Sam Raimiís - The Evil Dead. I loved these movies, mainly because the gore was intense and most movies being made in the late 70ís and 80ís - with the exception of a few were pretty tame by comparison. Needless to say, movies that featured zombies quickly became one of my most loved horror genres. To this day Iíve seem every one of George A. Romeroís masterful films in the Dead Trilogy more times than I have fingers and toes to count - and naturally, I now own each and every one of them on DVD.

As it stands, Dawn of the Dead will always be my favourite Zombie flick. I donít think any other horror film has ever come close to touching my admiration of it. While watching this movie used to scare the crap out of me as a kid, making it a little difficult to sleep at night, Iíll never forgot how much I loved watching it over and over again. There was just something about it that was creepier than most horror films. Maybe it was Romeroís ability to make you feel a certain level of pity for the recently revived. Who knows? Itís really hard to pinpoint was makes that film so great, it just works of so many levels. Face it, zombies are just cool.

So when the opportunity came for me to review The Return of the Living Dead - I jumped at the chance. While I canít remember when the first time was that I saw this film, I will say that Iíve seen it at least 10 or 15 times (3 more times since I got the DVD). While Romeroís films are considered by many to be the quintessential zombie flicks, and rightfully so - The Return of the Living Dead has always been a runner up. Since itís original release in 1985, it has gone on to reach a level of cult status with many viewers - and deservingly so.

The Story revolves around a handful of key characters, but begins primarily with the introduction of Frank (James Karen) and Freddy (Thom Mathews). Freddy is a good natured young street punk, starting his first day on a new job at the Uneeda Medical Supply Warehouse. Frank is essentially his supervisor, and as the movie begins heís showing Freddy the ropes.

The Uneeda medical warehouse, as the name implies, deals in anything that local businesses could possibly need in the way of medical equipment and supplies. They deal in everything from bed pans, crutches and wheel chairs for hospitals use, to dogs, split down the center for veterinary students. This place has it all, even freshly deceased cadavers for med students to practice their craft on.

Itís during these early moments in the film that Freddy decides to ask Frank what the weirdest thing was he ever saw come through the doors of the warehouse. Itís here that homage is paid to George A. Romero as Frank goes on to explain how the classic 1968 film Night of the Living Dead was essentially a true story based in actual events. Frank goes on to explain that Romero had to change many of the facts in his film in order to avoid severe legal problems. Frank then explains that the army covered up the incident and that during a shipping mishap, several of the corpses were inadvertently sent to Uneeda - and that some of those corpses were at that very moment stored away in the basement.

As you might expect the two quickly run into the basement so Frank can gleefully show Freddy thatís these bodies do indeed exist. The corpses are sealed within huge metal canisters and when Frank raps on the side of one of them to reassure Freddy that they donít leak - wellÖ it springs a leak. (Bet you didnít see that one coming.) A thick cloud of yellow toxic gas sprays the duo right in the face, rendering then unconscious. Its only after a lengthy snooze that the two eventually recover and learn that the fumes from the tank have not only made them incredibly ill, but has also reanimated everything that was once dead within the entire building. The split veterinary dogs bark, the dead butterflies pinned to the sample board flap their wings and the fresh cadaver locked within the refrigerator - really wants to get out.

Franks and Freddy realize that theyíve really screwed up and try desperately to think of a plan to cover their butts. Their only solution is to call in the companyís owner and their boss - Burt (Played by Clu Gulager). Naturally when Burt arrives heís seriously pissed at the pair, not only that, but heís worried that if news of this incident were to get out, his business might suffer for it and he could end up in jail. Eventually the three men decide that the best thing to do is remove all the evidence of what happened and try to avoid any unnecessary publicity that could hurt Uneedaís reputation. Their first course of action is to dispose of the frozen corpse thatís been pounding away at the refrigerator door since his return to the living. The only question is: How do you kill something thatís already dead?

ďIn that movie they destroyed the brain to killíem, is that what they did?Ē

Unfortunately this plan fails miserably, as even the perfectly square placement of a pickaxe through the zombies head seems to have little effect on its desire to live.

ďIt worked in the movie!Ē (More kudos to RomeroÖ)

Hysteria ensues as the group has no choice but to completely dismember the body, but even this has little effect as each individual part still trembles and quivers with life. Burt decides that they should take the body to the mortuary next door and completely burn the corpse away in the crematorium.

Itís over at the mortuary that we meet Ernie Kaltenbrunner, (Don Calfa) a long time friends of Burtís. After presenting Ernie with a hilarious cover-up story involving a botched shipment and a bunch of rabid weasels, the group eventually decides to comes clean and tell him the truth. Burt explains to Ernie that the bags they have brought over donít contain rabid weasels at all, but re-animated body parts. After seeing some proof first hand, Ernie reluctantly decides to help them do away with their problem and operate the crematorium for them. He assures them that the body will burn up completely and that nothing will remains but a harmless pile of ashes.

All their problems would seem to be over, if it were not for the fact that the smoke, rising from the chimney contains the same toxins that started this whole mess in the first place. The toxins are then rained down from the sky and seep into the earth of the cemetery next door. Itís in this graveyard that another group of primary characters are found. A rebellious bunch of teenage punk rockers who are partying and killing time some while they wait for the pal Freddy to get off of work at Uneeda.

As you have probably guess, the fun has just begun, since even a fool knows that the toxic rains are about to re-animate every corpse in the entire cemetery. Up to this point the movie has been far more humorous than horrific, and while the film continues to have many funny moments, this is where the carnage really begins. With that in mind, Iíll keep the rest of the film secret for those of you who have yet to see it.

Overall the acting in the film in great, especially considering the subject matter. James Karen and Thom Mathews as Franks and Freddy are absolutely genius. These guys manage to portray a level of urgency and panic that keeps the viewer not only panicking along with them, but laughing at the absurdity of their situation. This guys are like Abbot and Costello; they work wonderfully together. Ernie the mortician and Burt the owner of Uneeda ( Don Calfa and Clu Gulager) are also fantastic and display a level of acting skill thatís seen in only the most seasoned of professionals.

The only actor who didnít really seem to pull their weight was Beverly Hartley who plays Freddyís girlfriend - Tina. She unfortunately seems to prattle off her lines with little regard of either timing or tact. Her dialogue seems forced and unconvincing, which is a shame since everyone else in the film managed to make their cheesy lines work rather nicely. Another, not so stellar acting job comes to us via scream queen - Linnea Quigley. However, since her character: Trash, strips down to nothing but her cherry red hair-do and leg warmers for the entirety of the film, Iím willing to let it slide.

When it comes to my final opinion of the movie it, I think Iíve already made it abundantly clear that I love it. The movie blends together just the right amount of graphics violence and comedic elements to differentiate itself from Romeroís work. Itís obvious where the film makerís inspiration came from, in fact the director admits to it, yet somehow he manages to avoid making this feel like a blatant rip-off.

My only complaint with the film is that Iíve always felt it comes to a rather sudden ending. Youíre just getting into it and waiting to see a few more of the principal characters get munched - then suddenly itís over. Itís not that itís a bad ending, in fact itís a great ending, it just sneaks up on you a little sooner than youíd expect. Regardless of my small, critical observation, The Return of the Living Dead is an enjoyable horror/comedy, and one that is certainly worth seeing.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+ / Audio C+ / Bonus B-

For a film that came out over 17 years ago and had a budget of about 20 bucks, Iíd have to say that Iím extremely satisfied with how the digital transfer turned out. The Return of the Living Dead is presented in both a full frame 4x3 version as well as a 1.85:1 version on a double sided disc. The film has also been enhanced for 16x9 wide screen televisions.

For the most part the pictures remained crisp and detailed throughout. The colours were also very bright and vibrant. The worst picture defects occur during wide angled exterior shots, in particular the night time shots. These scenes show a moderate to heavy level of grain, but fortunately, the number of wide shots in the film are minimal. The film also contains a lot of speckling, but after a while I found myself hardly noticing them anymore.

While the image quality in this film could never be classified as perfect, it easily surpasses even the best VHS copy. Iíve rented this movie a dozen times - and itís never looked this good. Fans of the film are sure to be pleased, despite some imperfections.

The Return of the Living Dead is presented with itís original mono soundtrack. The sound throughout the film was surprisingly good and at no time did I find myself troubled with the fact that it didnít receive some sort of 5.1 upgrade.

The voices were clear and concise and the sound effects, including the music were equally well executed, although occasionally tinny. While this movie certainly wonít be used as a tool to show off your surround sound system, it is none the less a great sounding film. The DVD also includes English, French and Spanish subtitles.

The Return of the Living Dead comes complete with a few nice little extras. In all honesty I would have picked up this DVD if it came with no special features at all, so quite frankly, this is a real bonus. First up we have a feature length audio commentary by director Dan OíBannon and production designer William Stout.

As you might have guessed the commentary runs the entire duration of the film. OíBannon and Stout provide a huge array of insider information on the production of the film and are chalk full of nostalgic little stories about their experiences. They talk about everything from their satisfaction with the actors, the creation of the sets, how some of the visual effects where accomplished, and how they managed to get the film done considering the limited budget.

For the most part I found their commentary interesting, but unfortunately these guys arenít the most exciting people. Theyíre very subdued, and while the do crack the occasional joke, they seem content to remain serious as they talk about the film. Maybe a couple highballs before they began could have breathed a little more life into them. Still, these guys are film makers, not comedians, so one can hardly blame them for being a little dull.

If itís behind the scenes info you want, these guys will give you plenty of that and thankfully theyíre very active. Thereís only a few brief moments when neither one of them seems to have anything to say.

Next we have a short featurette entitled Designing the Dead. This segment run for approximately 13 minutes and 37 seconds. As with the audio commentary - we once again hear from Director Dan OíBannon and production designer William Stout. Fortunately for us, this isnít just a condensed version of the commentary.

In this featurette OíBannon discusses everything from his early career in film to his desire to direct. He also talks about how the opportunity to work on The Return of the Living Dead was presented to him and how he tried to avoid stepping on Romeroís toes by making his own film more of a comedy. Itís also very interesting to listen to OíBannon talk about how he managed to legally make this film, in light of Romero being heralded as the king of zombie films.

Stout talks a lot about his role designing the film and the sort of look he was shooting for. He shows off a lot of his fantastic artwork and goes on to explain how comics book like Tales of the Crypt not only influenced the look of the zombies, but the comedic elements of the show as well. Stout also goes on to talk about the creation and portrayal of the filmís most famous zombie - the Tarman.

Overall this segment was very informative and interesting, all be it a little short.

Conceptual Artwork by William Stout gives us a little peak at the pre-production work that went into the making of the film. Throughout the segments 77 screenshot we get to view everything from some of the original story boards to some of the production artwork that Stout showed us in the previous segment. The nice thing is we get to look at his artwork at out own speed. Being a little artistic and handy with the pencil myself, I really enjoyed looking at his fabulous designs. Itís great stuff.

Next we get TV Spots. This section was a little bit of a disappointment, as it show the same two, 30 seconds TV commercials about 4 times each. The only difference being that some of the commercials end with the line ďStarts August 16 at a theatre near youĒ and others end with ďNow playing at a theatre near youĒ. You get the idea. Sure, from a technical standpoint all the commercials were different, but from a visual standpoint, it was just the same thing over and over again for about 5 minutes of my life.

Last but not least we get the original Theatrical Trailers. There are 2 versions of this trailer, the G-Rated and R-Rated. The 2 trailers vary quite a bit in what they show of the film. They were very interesting to see since I donít recall seeing either one of them during the films initial release.

As I mentioned in my introduction, The Return of the Living Dead is simply one of the finest zombie flicks ever made. Surely Romeroís work will always be considered the best, but this is certainly a close 2nd. The film has a nice level of blood and guts to keep horror fans happy, but thereís also just enough light hearted and morbid humour to make sure it stays fun and lively.

Rejoice fans! This film has never looked better. It does have a few visual defects, primarily in the grainy exterior shots, but thatís fairly easy to overlook. Chances are most viewers will be so wrapped up in the excitement of the film that they wonít even notice. The DVD also includes decent sound and a nice set of supplements. While I personally would have enjoyed seeing some behind the scenes footage, what we do get is for the most part - satisfying. The simple fact is, most fans will be so happy to finally own a copy of this movie on DVD that theyíre unlikely to find much to complain about. I for one am thrilled to have this comedy/horror masterpiece as a part of my library. After all these years itís hard to argue with the filmís cult status. Iíve seen it many times, and enjoy it more and more with each viewing.

Still, because I donít want to come across as completely biased, I will say this. Zombie movies tend to be a ďlove itĒ or ďhate itĒ affair. Chances are you already know if this sorta movie is up your alley or not. If you havenít enjoyed any of Romeroís zombie films, you probably wonít enjoy this either.

I can remain unbiased when it come to evaluating a filmís picture and sound quality, but when it comes to the movie itself, Iím just like you. I love some films and hate others. For me, this one is a gem.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3012 Stars Number of Votes: 83
4 3:
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