It’s not often that filmmakers strive to set themselves apart from what’s been widely embraced by the horror community and manage to properly redefine a subgenre. Before “Return of the Living Dead” fans accepted the walking dead shambled slowly toward you and ate flesh, but Dan O’Bannon transformed his zombies in to undead crack heads. Said undead crack heads bolted toward their prey like lightning, were devilishly clever, and craved human brains as a source of nourishment. Though “Return of the Living Dead” has a remarkable sense of humor and will inspire a lot of uneasy laughs from the audience, it’s through and through a creepy horror thriller about groups of people fending off undead monsters from every corner while trying to escape Kentucky as it’s ravaged by brain eating ghouls.
O’Bannon further sets the movie apart by depicting zombies that seem pulled right out of the pages of EC Comics, resembling decrepit fiends, rather than walking corpses. This adds to the novelty of the horror and comedy, depicting some truly original and now iconic movie monsters like the enigmatic Tarman, Trash, and the half corpse. O’Bannon works toward drifting from “Return of the Living Dead” feeling like a Romero clone and it’s a very successful launch of a unique formula, where our monsters have reason, drive, wit, and a reason for existing beyond mere social and political subtext that Romero injected in his own films.
These zombies just want to eat brains, and you’d better run as fast as you can, because nothing is going to stop them. Along with a brilliant cast of genre veterans like Linnea Quigley and Clu Culager, “Return of the Living Dead” moves quick and fierce with a pulse that is the mesmerizing soundtrack that O’Bannon enlists. Bands and singers like 45 Grave and Stacey Q will leave a mark on the viewers long after the film has ended, making O’Bannons masterpiece a sensory experience for the eyes, ears, and brain.
I’m very proud of myself for holding out when MGM released their grubby DVD and Blu-Ray versions of “Return of…” back in 2010 to placate the fans. I saved my money hoping someone better would give the movie the deluxe treatment it deserved, and lo and behold, Scream! Factory came along six years later. Scream Factory alters “Return of…” to their liking offering a new bolder print that compliments the film’s horror comedy aesthetic, along with doing their best to offer the original audio. There’s also a new slip cover with fantastic new art for this edition, as well as a reverse cover for vintage collectors. Along with these perks, fans get two discs worth of hours of entertainment that dig in to the brilliance of the film. Among the wealth of audio commentaries, there are two tracks ported over from earlier releases.
The first is with director Dan O’Bannon and production designer William Stout, both of whom have a good time examining the production specific scenes, and their experience working on the film, all the while having a good time with jokes and raucous conversation. The second commentary is with Stout once again as he contributes with cast members Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph, and Allan Trautman, respectively. The group has a good time with the commentary even if they aren’t as bouncy as Stout and O’Bannon are. They compensate with a lot of conversation and there’s rarely a moment of silence. The third commentary meets author Gary Smart who talks with filmmaker Chris Griffiths. Both men discuss their love and adoration for “Return of…” offering an energetic, enthusiastic, and informative track that fans will be interested to hear since both men love the movie as much as we do.
“The Decade of Darkness” is a twenty three minute look at the amazing decade of the eighties where horror flourished and was bolder and much more creative. “Zombie Subtitle Stream” is a separate subtitle track to view when the zombies are groaning; it’s odd but a novelty. “In Their Own Words: The Zombies Speak” is another attempt at comedy with the zombies offering some of their own commentary for the movie. There are still galleries, and a collection of trailers. Scream! Wisely collects “More Brains! The Return of the Living Dead” a wonderful full length documentary released years ago, which details the making of the movie, the history and influence of the film, and how it all came together to create one of the best horror movies ever made.
There’s a fun work print version of “The Return Of…” that’s admittedly poor quality, but is a nice bonus to compare to the final film. “The FX of the Living Dead” is a half hour collection of interviews with cast and crew, all of whom discusses the look of the zombies, and the concepts of the walking dead. “Party Time” is a great half hour look at the excellent soundtrack for the film offering interviews with Dinah Cancer of 45 Grave, and Greg Hetson of Circle Jerks. There’s a final interview with Dan O’Bannon clocking in at a half hour; the filmmaker shares his thoughts on the production of the film.
“The Dead Have Risen” is a twenty minute short retrospective with the cast members, “The Origins of the Living Dead” is a fifteen minute interview with John A. Russo who helped invent the premise for the film, there’s “Designing the Dead” a fourteen minute interview with Dan O’Bannon who talks about how he started in the industry, how he came across the script, and why he changed the movie in to a comedy. Finally, there’s “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” with Sean Clark of Horrorhound Magazine, who takes on a tour of the various shooting locations for the film and how they look today.