Zombies – everybody love zombies these days, don’t they? Of course they do, that’s why there’s so many damn zombie movies out there. The trouble is that 90% of them are complete tripe and not worth the memory stick they’re saved on. It seems that you have to go back if you want to watch some quality brain-munching, but luckily Second Sight Films have seen fit to re-release 1985′s seminal Return of the Living Dead on DVD and steelbook Blu-ray with tons of extras to keep all you ghouls happy.
Starting out as a sequel to 1968′s groundbreaking Night of the Living Dead, ROTLD went through several script re-writes before landing in the hands of Dan O’Bannon, who was to give the script a makeover for director Tobe Hooper. Hooper left the project and the director’s chair went to O’Bannon, who had tweaked the script into a splatter-comedy. The film is based around the Uneeda medical supply warehouse where two workers named Frank (James Karen) and Freddy (Thom Mathews) are taking a look at some drums of military chemicals that are being stored there. Frank tells Freddy, who hasn’t worked there very long, that the movie Night of the Living Dead was based on true events and that the chemicals were responsible for the zombie outbreak. Accidentally opening one of the drums, Frank and Freddy are exposed to the toxic gas – which reanimates another cadaver in the warehouse – whilst the body that was also in the drum has escaped.
Meanwhile the gas has leaked into the atmosphere and begins to rain down in a toxic shower upon a group of punks that have congregated in the local cemetery waiting for Freddy to finish work. The burning rain seeps into the earth and before long the corpses buried there start to rise from the grave and the group of misfits try to seek shelter in the warehouse. While this is going on, Freddy and Frank have called upon their boss Burt (Clu Gulager) to help capture the reanimated corpse and have gone to the mortuary next door to ask the mortician Ernie (Don Calfa) to help burn the body parts. Naturally the rising dead start to overrun the warehouse so drastic action is called for…
Thoroughly deserving of it’s classic status, ROTLD is still as fresh today as it was back then. In part due to the excellent transfer job on the new disc, but also because of Dan O’Bannon’s sharp script and the wonderful performances from the main players, the film perfectly mixes comedy and slapstick with gory horror to absolute perfection, in a similar way that Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator did the same year (that film’s producer, Brian Yuzna, went on to direct Return of the Living Dead 3). As well as the less-than-serious nature of the script the film is also notable for introducing some traits of modern zombie folklore, most notably the craving for brains which is helpfully explained by a rotting corpse during one of the film’s key scenes.
Of course, the film is one thing but the extras are something else. The biggest treat for fans is the two hour documentary More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead, during which most of the principle cast and crew share their thoughts on the somewhat difficult shoot along with some neat production stills and behind-the-scenes footage. There is also Dan O’Bannon’s final interview before his untimely death, featurettes on Return of the Living Dead parts 2 & 3, deleted interview scenes, music videos, FX featurettes, Origins of the Living Dead featurette plus a 20-page booklet featuring exclusive artwork and production notes (Blu-ray only).
Looking and sounding as good as it’s likely to get, it goes without saying that this is the definitve release of Return of the Living Dead. If you’ve never seen this film before then now is a good time to see where a lot of the modern zombie films got their ideas from. If you’re a long-time fan then ditch those old pan-and-scan copies and go get this spanking new edition as it’s worth every penny.