[Blu-ray Review] Finally…’Return of the Living Dead’ Gets High Def Treatment!

ROTLFD

Return of the Living Dead, Writer/Director Dan O’Bannon’s little 1985 horror/comedy that introduced zombies to brains, is back in UK-based Second Sight’s brand new steelbox Blu-ray release.

It’s packed to the rafters with nearly five hours of bonus features. Most importantly, the original soundtrack has been restored to its former glory!

North Americans haven’t had this luxury since back in the VHS days. Hell, I haven’t heard or seen the film in its original state in like 17 years!? It was with great pleasure that I got this opportunity to time travel back to my youth and enjoy Return of the Living Dead in the way it was meant to be experienced!

When a bumbling pair of employees at a medical supply warehouse accidentally release a deadly gas into the air, the vapors cause the dead to re-animate as they go on a rampage through Louisville, Kentucky seeking their favorite food, brains.

The Film: When Return of the Living Dead released back in 1985, I was just hoping for an entertaining splatterfest. Never in a million years did I expect this little film to be imbedded into my consciousness for the remainder of my life. It’s hard to pinpoint a single aspect that’s made Return of the Living Dead such an enduring genre classic. The film is layered with seemingly infinite treasures, heightening its rewatchability all the more. On the surface, writer/Director Dan O’Bannon gave his zombies a memorable new target to chew on; brains. Most importantly, Return of the Living Dead successfully marries horror and comedy together like very few have done in the past (come to think of it; ever since). It managed to be equally funny and scary without resorting into self-parody like most attempts often lazily succumb to. Look no further than to Return of the Living Dead’s haunting final moments for an example of its lasting effects. On a side note 1985 saw the emergence of another successful horror/comedy hybrid with Stuart Gordon’s wildly imaginative, Re-Animator.

Return of the Living Dead remains the most authentic-feeling rock n’ roll genre picture around with its groundbreaking injection of the punk subculture. The fantastic soundtrack (restored to its original state in this edition) and the likeable group of protagonists give the film a vitality that still holds up to this day. O’Bannon’s boldness doesn’t stop there; his terrific ensemble is an unusual blend of young up-and-comers and veterans. The film’s tension is amped up by the stunning chemistry of its committed cast. It’s no better exemplified than in the form of the unlikely duo of Uneeda medical supply warehouse’s foreman, Frank and his apprentice, Freddy, played pitch-perfectly by James Karen (Poltergeist’s Mr. Teague) and Thom Matthews (Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI’s Tommy Jarvis). The unconventional convergence of these people only helps to ground O’Bannon’s delightfully fun EC Comics love letter.

These attributes to name a few, makes Return of the Living Dead one of the most confident directorial debuts in genre history. After joyfully sitting through it yet again, I’m still flabbergasted by how effortless O’Bannon makes it all seem especially considering how difficult the actual production was. None of the problems leaked onto the final production. The experience of watching the deceptively simple Return of the Living Dead is the gift that keeps on giving. Hands down; my favourite horror/comedy of all time.

5/5 skulls

The A/V: When MGM released their Blu-ray of Return of the Living Dead back in 2010, many felt there was room for improvement. After closely examining Second Sight’s MPEG-4 AVC video transfer, I’m not so sure if it’s possible. Aside from being sourced from a fairly dirty print (nothing that’ll affect the experience), the colour, detail and framing are identical to MGM’s disc. I would actually give the U.S. Blu-ray an edge in the video department because of its remastered pristine print.

In the sound department, Second Sight gives us three audio tracks. The controversial remix we’ve had to settle for all these years comes in PCM Stereo 2.0 and a lossy DTS 5.1 mix. Still, I’m appreciative for its inclusion since this version was Dan O’Bannon’s final say on the film.

Easily the crown jewel of this set and the very reason why you’ll pick up this UK disc is for the original soundtrack. It is presented in a faithful PSM Dual Mono 2.0 audio. It hasn’t been available to public since Tartan’s 2001 UK DVD. Everything is as it should be; missing songs, original zombie voices and sound effects are back. I even noticed some significant differences in the mixing between both versions. To top it all off, this track is much cleaner and sharper-sounding than the remix.

3/5 skulls

The Supplements: Second Sight has added close to a whopping five hours of bonus material. Most of it comes from the inclusion of the fantastic two-hour documentary, More Brains: A Return of the Living Dead. All of the special features from that DVD (two hours’ worth) are here including Dan O’ Bannon’s moving final interview.
There are three new featurettes in this set. “The Origins of Return of the Living Dead” is a 16-minute interview with Co-Story Writer, John A. Russo which gives a detailed look at the project’s origin. “The FX of Return of the Living Dead” 22-minute featurette covers some fascinating new anecdotes about the difficulties that were happening with the special make-up effects department. The 19-minute “Party Time” focuses on the film’s killer punk soundtrack. I didn’t get the Steelbox and its content with my screener. It will come with an Exclusive Ernie’s Notepad; a 20 page replica notebook by embalmer Ernie Kaltenbrunner, featuring production notes, casting information and exclusive artwork.

If you own the MGM disc, I wouldn’t get rid of it since it has the slightly superior video, the excellent commentary tracks and its own collection of worthy featurettes. Second Sight’s Blu-ray is a total must-own for the original soundtrack which has been nicely preserved in a solid lossless audio. This is the version I grew up and fell in love with. It’s Region 2-locked but that shouldn’t stop you one bit. I purchased my Region-Free Blu-ray Player at less than $50 so it’ll hardly break the bank. One of the best investments I’ve ever made. Highly Recommended!

4/5 skulls

  • Jhanse3 (Jhanse29)

    I recieved mine last week. Bummer its region B and won’t play on most players in the US. I wanted the steelbook and the notepad. Still wish i could view with the original soundtrack.

  • Mike Pereira

    As I mentioned, uber-cheap All-Region Blu-ray players are out there. I got a Seiki and it works beautifully!

  • http://www.facebook.com/gary.kurkewich Gary Kurkewich

    Just a heads up when the wrong region screen pops up hit the menu button and it works.

    • kyldesty

      Hey Gary thanks so much man i thought i was screwed cuz of my region b return of the living dead but i’m watching it right now.

  • Christian Hartman

    Just a note to let folks in the US know that Amazon UK will NOT ship this title to the US. Sigh…