The Return Of The Living Dead Review
The FilmThe late Dan O'Bannon wrote rather infrequently for the silver screen and had his fair share of screenplays ruined by other writers at the behest of producers. Yet even with such experiences, he can count bona fide genre classics like Alien, and Total Recall amongst his work as well as guilty pleasures like Lifeforce and unsung mini-masterpieces like Dead and Buried. I am sure he left this world wondering what he could have achieved if he'd been graced with more opportunities and more control.In fact, he claimed that of all those to direct his work Tobe Hooper was "Bozo the clown", Paul Verhoeven had "grand moments" and only Ridley Scott realised it in a completely satisfactory way. So I imagine that when the chance came to direct his own effort, he presumably leapt upon it. The result was the film on review, an affectionate horror comedy with zombies, a bucket-load of homage and 80's college rock.
The story goes that a young man has to pay his bills and secures work at a medical supplies warehouse, only to find that what has been left in the cellar is not as well contained as he may have hoped. A leak is sprung and soon the air is filled with pollution that brings the dead back to life to feast on the livings brains. A siege soon develops at the warehouse and the unfortunately close local cemetery, and despite the efforts of the police and a strong knowledge of zombie films all attempts at rescue prove fruitless until the army are called.One great thing about knowing horror films is that they don't reheat old plots and monsters without giving you a sizeable nudge in the ribs and an emphatic wink. Now this can get awfully tiresome, the Scream movies are not allowed in the White household for exactly that reason, but the best homages are not ashamed of themselves and Return of the Living Dead is flagrantly unapologetic for all its nods to the films of the undead in particular and the horror genre as a whole.
The way the recently re-animated cadavers run at full pelt screaming "Brains" when they see the living, the way true love breaks down when one lover becomes another's lunch, and the way ironies pile up as the young gang find that their gothic posing leads them into the very terrors they celebrate...Return of the Living Dead takes nothing seriously except an exhilarating nihilism and its mission to entertainThe film points out the silly genre staples without insulting the films that inspired it, and it has enough integrity to make its zombies different and its heroes rather pathetic. The gore is relatively mild, special effects enjoy their ropeyness and the cast are encouraged to have a lark rather than aim for awards. It's fun, leftfield, and rather charming.
Tech SpecsSome of the scenes within the film are of lower grade than the majority of the presentation here. Contrast is particularly problematic in those moments and generally the whole transfer doesn't possess astonishing levels of detail. Still, edges don't seem to have been over-enhanced and the basic colour palette seems very faithful. This isn't a transfer to show off to your friends with but it does a solid enough job.Now the original mono of the film is offered here in a nice dual mono lossless track, alongside lossless stereo and 5.1 options as well. Personally, I didn’t like the 5.1 mix and found it rather too artificial in its mixing of effects and music and far preferred the lo-fi dual mono mix for being truer if less modern.
Special featuresSecond sight's Blu-ray serves up lots of content for fans of the film and the whole series. Nearly all of it is cast and crew interviews from the surviving participants who are generally rather pleased with the attention they are getting. The film itself gets a two hour making of in HD which explains the genesis of the project from John Russo's original writing on Night of the Living dead to contractual disputes over the Dead legacy, and then talks through O'Bannon's somewhat cussed approach to the film's positive redemption and ensuing sequels. I do find myself twitching when a making of documentary is longer than the film and despite the warmth of all involved this does drag a tad.
More featurettes follow looking at the development of each of the sequels with Ken Wiederhorn getting flak for losing the scares in part two, Brian Yuzna getting some praise for the dark romance of part 3 and well the last two parts are thankfully skipped over. Music videos, a music featurette, a 3 minute summary of the film, and even deleted scenes for the documentary follow.
Most interesting for me was an interview shot before O'Bannon's death in 2009. He is quite cutting about his abilities and weaknesses with directing people, and tells the sad story of his second feature, The Resurrected, which was recut by producers and dumped to video. Irascible and great fun whilst he holds court, this is a fitting testament to a particular talent.
A replica notebook is included in the retail version which was not offered for review here.
SummaryA goodish transfer and a bounty of extras mean this is a great purchase for fans of the film.
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