of the Living Dead
(2002) - Orion Pictures (MGM)
by Robert Smentek of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/C/B
Specs and Features
91 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, full
frame (1.33:1), dual-sided, single layered, Amaray keep case
packaging, audio commentary (by writer/director Dan O'Bannon and
production designer William Stout), Designing
the Dead featurette, theatrical trailers (R-rated &
G-rated), TV spots, film-themed menu screens, scene access (16
chapters), languages: English and Spanish (DD 2.0 mono), subtitles:
English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned
Back From The Grave and Ready To Party!"
Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead
is a film that is well deserving of the cult status it's earned
since its release. A modest hit in the summer of 1985, over the
years it's developed a loyal following, even being referenced on a
Simpsons Halloween Special.
Even with two sequels on video (and a third reportedly in the
works), the film has been out of print for several years. Now,
thanks to the ever-expanding catalog of MGM, Return
of the Living Dead finally comes to DVD.
A pseudo-sequel to George Romero's influential classic
Night of the Living Dead,
Return of the Living Dead
mixes zombies with punk rockers, creating a film that could best be
described as EC Comics meets the Ramones. Wildly funny, without
being an over-the-top parody, writer/director Dan O'Bannon deftly
mixes gore and thrills with camp humor.
According to the opening title card, Return
of the Living Dead is based on "real events"
and "real people." The movie begins in a medical supplies
storage facility, where Frank (James Karen) is showing new recruit
Freddie (Thom Matthews) the ropes. During a lull in the workday,
Frank creeps Freddie out, by telling him that Romero's
Night of the Living Dead is
inspired a true story. It seems that in the 60s, the government
experimented with reviving the dead, causing an army of zombies to
attack Pittsburgh. To prove this to Freddie, Frank takes him to the
cellar to show him one of the monsters, which is contained in a
sealed canister. Unfortunately, Frank jostles the barrel, releasing
a toxic yellow gas
and the greasy, rotting monster that was
imprisoned inside. The gas, which renders the fellas unconscious,
has the ability to raise the dead, and it isn't long before corpses
begin to rise
and crave BRRRAAAAIIINNNSSS.
Meanwhile, Freddie's punk rock pals (who all have ridiculously clichéd
names like Trash, Scuz and Suicide) continue their never-ending
search for a party. Intent on raising a little hell, the gang, which
includes a frequently naked Linnea Quigley, decide to hang out in
the run-down graveyard located behind the warehouse. At times like
this, you have to wonder if these guys watch horror movies. In these
scenes, O'Bannon cleverly parodies the intrinsic gloom associated
with "misunderstood" punk rockers.
Unlike Romero's zombie films, things move quickly in
Return of the Living Dead, and
soon Frank, Freddie, the punks and two guys named Burt and Ernie,
are facing a freshly raised army of the undead. Battalions of cops
and paramedics are given zombie-induced lobotomies in scenes loaded
and laughs. With its cutting edge production design
(by renowned illustrator William Stout), Return
of the Living Dead has great make-up and visual effects,
particularly for a low-budget, mid-80s flick. Stout's zombies are
gruesomely cartoonish, each with individual personalities and, of
course, dripping with slimy decay. Also, in what may be a first in
Hollywood, the zombies in Return of the
Living Dead are crafty and quick, unlike the drowsy,
creeping undead that haunt most zombie flicks. The film culminates
in the most unexpected cinematic denouement since
Beneath the Planet of the Apes.
The DVD presentation of Return of the
Living Dead is exceptional for a value-priced DVD. With a
MSRP of $14.95, the disc offers quality supplements and a good video
presentation. The colors are sharp and the picture has virtually no
flaws; certainly an improvement over the USA's
Up All Night version that made its way to cable over the
years. The audio is similarly good, and the film's punk rock
soundtrack, used brilliantly by O'Bannon, sounds fantastic.
The disc's extras include a funny and informative commentary by
O'Bannon and Stout. They both discuss the making of the film
in-depth, and include some interesting behind-the-scenes gossip.
O'Bannon, who was at the time an acclaimed screenwriter (Alien),
shares quite a bit about his experiences as an inaugural director on
an ambitious, low-budget film. Also included on this disc is an
all-new featurette entitled Designing the
Dead, which expounds on the behind the scenes gossip. In
fact, O'Bannon reveals a somewhat convoluted tale about the movie's
direct relationship with Romero's Dead
films. Much of the featurette revolves around William Stout's
production design, particularly his creation of the film's zombies.
The DVD also features an interactive gallery of concept drawings and
storyboards, which make an interesting companion supplement to the
featurette. Finally, Return of the Living
Dead includes the obligatory theatrical trailers and TV
Unlike many horror films from the 80s, Return
of the Living Dead holds up surprisingly well almost 20
years later. Consistently entertaining, the movie has good effects
and decent performances from the actors. The material is
intentionally campy and funny, without being an over-the-top parody.
It's clear that the filmmakers and actors respected the material,
and set out to make an entertaining monster movie. They succeed.
One warning: After viewing Return of the
Living Dead, it is inevitable that you will have 45
Grave's song Partytime ringing
in your head for days.