The Return of the Living Dead (1985)
By: J.R. McNamara on October 10, 2007  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
MGM (USA). Region 1 (NTSC). 1.85:1, (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0, English DD 1.0, Spanish DD 2.0, French DD 2.0. English, Spanish, and Zombie Subtitles. 91 minutes
The Movie
Director: Dan O'Bannon
Starring: Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, Beverly Randolph, Linnea Quigley
Screenplay: Dan O'Bannon
Music: Matt Clifford
Tagline: "They're Back From The Grave and Ready To Party!"
Country: USA
I have a very personal relationship with this film, The Return of the Living Dead, more so than with any other film: As a young teen, it was the first film I ever took a girl to… and that girl never spoke to me again, such is its power, and the course of young love.

The Return of the Living Dead was written and directed by Dan O'Bannon, the writer of Alien, based on a novel and story idea by John Russo with some amazing production design by the outstanding artist William Stout. Producer Tom Fox originally purchased the rights to Russo's story, and when O'Bannon was hired to direct, he also decided to rewrite it less serious and a bit more fun, so as not to receive too much comparison to George Romero's Dawn of the Dead, and the result is this spectacular film in the zombie genre. And let me tell you, there were running zombies well before 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead (03), and this film has them…in spades!!

The Return of the Living Dead tells of new worker at the U-Need-a Medical Supply Company, Freddy (Thom Mathews) who is learning his new job from superior Frank (James Karen). The big boss, Bert (Clu Gulager) leaves early for a long weekend, allowing Frank to run through a few final things with Freddy, but Frank reveals to Freddy the horrible secret kept in the basement: corpses, now in barrels, that had once been resurrected by a chemical spill, the same corpses that the film The Night of the Living Dead was based on!! Going downstairs to investigate, Freddy and Frank accidentally expose themselves to the toxic chemicals, and the chemical re-animates many of the dead things the company sell, including a corpse kept in a 'cool room'.

Freddy and Frank panic, and get Ernie to return to the warehouse to figure out to do with the screaming, hungry corpse in the cool room. They release it, and cut it into smaller pieces, so they can transport it across the street to a mortuary, run by Bert's friend, Ernie (get it? Bert…and Ernie?), where they hope to cremate the dismembered corpse. They convince Ernie to do so, but what they don't realize is, is that the smoke from the burning reanimated corpse seeds the clouds, and contaminated rain falls into the graveyard surrounding the mortuary.

Meantime, Freddy's girlfriend Tina (Beverly Randolph) convinces his punk friends (including Jewel Shepard, Brian Peck, John Phillbin, Miguel Nunez Jr, Mark Venturini and Linnea Quigley) to go and pick Freddy up from work, and when the realize they are far to early to get Freddy, they decide to find somewhere to hang out, and the graveyard across the street seems to be the perfect place. Perfect, until the rain starts to fall….

This is one of those films where almost every set-piece strikes a memorable chord: Trash's (Linnea Quigley's) naked dance, the Tar Man (Allan Trautman), the naked, screaming yellow corpse getting its head sawn off…. Director Dan O'Bannon just provides hit after hit of stunning scenes. The entire production is run with a wry sense of humour, with even some obscure background elements joining in (there is a Coke machine in the background of the warehouse that has a sign on it that exclaims 'Caution: Caustic Soda). The entire cast plays the story completely straight, which seems to make the movie even more bizarre and the comedy completely black. Now I am no real fan of the 'horror comedy' but The Return of the Living Dead is so subtle and clever in its presentation that it all plays perfectly. Heaps of gory, bloody fun!
This film is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and is a clear image with only the occasional imperfection.
Straight off it has to be said that this film has one of the great horror soundtracks of all time: The Cramps, Roky Erickson, 45 Grave, TSOL, The Damned and others: a must have soundtrack if EVER there was one. As for the audio in this film, it is presented in Stereo, but is a nice sound regardless.
Extra Features
There are two commentaries on this disc. The first is a more technical one with screenwriter/director Dan O'Bannon and Production Designer William Stout. This covers more of the making of the film, than the personalities behind it. The second commentary, or the 'Cast, Crew and Zombies' commentary is more a round table chat while the movie is running with William Stout, Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph and Allan Trautman. This bunch discuss many aspects of the crew including the casting process, the locations etc, and is fairly lighthearted and amusing, well, amusing until 2 'real' zombies turn up to provide lame 'brains' jokes.

The Zombie Subtitle Stream has subtitles for all the zombies moans and groans, this leads to the 'Easter egg' of 'Zombie Thoughts', which has what the moans and groans mean (try and find it). It is supposed to be funny, but is a little hokey.

The Return of the Living Dead: The Dead Have Risen has the actors talking about the making of the film. Comments come from actors Clu Gulager, James Karen, Linnea Quigley, Don Calfa, Brian Peck, Thom Mathews, Beverly Randolph and Allan Trautman. Lots of interesting anecdotes, but it is a shame that Jewel Shepard and some of the others couldn't have been involved as well.

The Decade of Darkness is probably one of my favourite extras of all time. This is a documentary talking about horror films, and how so many popular ones came from the eighties, which is probably my favourite decade for them. Comments on this doco come from Stuart Gordon , Joe Dante, John Landis, Fangoria's Tony Timpone, Bill Moseley (TCM 2's Chop Top), Allan Trautman (The Return of the Living Dead's Tar man), Tom Holland, Catherine Hick (from Child's Play), Dee Wallace, and with some retrospective comments from horror historian John Kenneth Muir and of course, the lovely Elvira, Mistress of the Bust…er…Dark.

Designing the Dead has Dan O'Bannon, who reminds me of a kindly, yet kooky English teacher and William Stout talking about all aspects of the look of the film, and the characters within, with a touch on its origins!

There are also 2 trailers for The Return of the Living Dead (the Bloody version and the Even Bloodier version), Jeepers Creepers 1 and 2 and a generic MGM 'horror' one, advertising their available horror output.
The Verdict
Another win from this little spate of MGM films that have been released in mid 2007, which has included From Beyond and The Burning, The Return of the Living Dead is yet another 'MUST HAVE' for a respectable horror DVD collection, and this is a wonderful release to be sure! Be quick though, to get the limited glow in the dark outer sleeve!
Movie Score
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