Return of the Living Dead appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Given the low-budget nature of the film, the source suffered from inherent drawbacks. Still, the Blu-ray appeared to replicate the original flick in an acceptable manner.
The biggest concern on display related to sharpness. While most of the movie provided acceptable to good clarity, more than a few exceptions occurred, especially in wider shots; those could appear downright soft at times. These did seem to stem from the original photography, though, so I couldn’t fault the transfer.
I witnessed no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and no signs of edge enhancement occurred. I didn’t sense the use of digital noise reduction, as the flick featured ample – but natural – grain, and source flaws weren’t a factor. A speck or two cropped up, but nothing more than that.
Colors were decent to good. Much of the film took place in murky nighttime settings, and that diminished the impact of the hues. During brighter scenes, however, the tones tended to work pretty well; though they occasionally were a bit messy, they could be pretty solid. Blacks seemed okay, with decent depth, but they weren’t better than average. Shadows showed the same issues; low-light shots tended to appear somewhat muddy. Again, these issues related to the source material, not the transfer. I felt the image deserved a “C+“.
In addition to the film’s 1985 monaural soundtrack, the Blu-ray boasted a DTS-HD MA 5.1 remix. Don’t expect the latter to reinvent the wheel, however, as it often remained essentially monaural. On the positive side, the rain that poured during significant sections of the movie spread across the front and rear well. That element managed to open up the environment in a pleasing manner.
Otherwise, the soundfield wasn’t particularly memorable. A few decent examples of localized audio or movement occurred, but a lot of the track stayed either centered or spread to the sides in a general way. The music worked worst in this regard, as the songs and score didn’t feature very good stereo imaging.
Audio quality was dated but decent. Though speech could be reedy, the lines were acceptably natural most of the time, and they showed good intelligibility. Music varied but was usually disappointing. While a few musical elements displayed good punch, most were somewhat flat and bland.
Effects were also fine given the movie’s age and budget. Again, the rain sounded the best, and other bits lacked the same depth. Still, they seemed fairly concise and didn’t cause problems. While I’d probably recommend that fans stay with the original monaural track, the multichannel remix wasn’t bad.
Quite a few extras flesh out this set. We find two separate audio commentaries, the first of which comes from director Dan O’Bannon and production designer William Stout. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at cast and performances, sets, locations and production design, cinematography, effects, and makeup.
Though it occasionally sags, this still becomes a generally enjoyable chat. The two men cover the appropriate areas and do so with reasonable panache. In particular, I like the fact that O’Bannon seems happy to criticize various aspects of the film; we don’t get nearly the usual level of happy talk. All of this means we end up with a pretty likable commentary.
For the second commentary, we hear from Stout and actors Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph and Allan Trautman. All of them sit together for their running, screen-specific view of sets and locations, casting, characters and performances, makeup and effects, hair and costumes, and other production stories.
With Stout in tow, some inevitable repetition occurs. Nonetheless, the others help makes things fresh and fun. They throw in interesting perspectives, and some zombies even show up for a while to deliver comic relief. While never a great commentary, this track manages to become likeable and informative.
The movie boasts two quirky subtitle features. A basic “Zombie” option simply gives us text for what the zombies say during the film. On the other hand, In Their Own Words: The Zombies Speak offers the same material along with comic “explanations” of their thoughts and moans. These aren’t the most amusing lines I’ve seen, but they offer a witty way to watch the film.
Three featurettes ensue. The Dead Have Risen goes for 20 minutes, 34 seconds and includes notes from Calfa, Peck, Randolph, Quigley, Trautman and actors Clu Gulager, James Karen, and Thom Mathews. “Risen” looks at rehearsal and shooting schedule, cast and performances, and various notes from the production. Some of the material repeats from the commentaries, but the presence of additional actors makes it a good exploration of the issues they faced.
The Decade of Darkness lasts 23 minutes, 23 seconds and features Trautman, Horror Films of the 1980s author John Kenneth Muir, Dolls director Stuart Gordon, The Howling director Joe Dante, “Mistress of the Dark” Elvira, American Werewolf in London director John Landis, Fangoria editor Tony Timpone, actors Dee Wallace, Catherine Hicks and Bill Mosely, and Child’s Play director Tom Holland. “Decade” examines horror trends during the 1980s. It’s not the most coherent piece – it tends to flop from one area to another without much logic – but it offers some interesting thoughts about the era’s scary flicks.
Finally, Designing the Dead runs 13 minutes, 38 seconds and offers remarks from O’Bannon and Stout. We look at O’Bannon’s path to the director’s chair and the film’s development, script issues, and production and monster design. Despite a bit of inevitable repetition from elsewhere, the info usually seems fresh and compelling.
The disc provides two Trailers. We get the “Bloody Trailer” (1:11) and the “Even Bloodier Trailer” (2:45). In truth, neither seems particularly bloody or gory. The set also tosses in promos for Jeppers Creepers, Jeepers Creepers 2 and “MGM Horror Movies”.
This package also boasts a Bonus DVD. The disc offers the 2007 Collector’s Edition, which was a pleasant surprise. With Blu-rays like Escape from New York and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, we found inferior older DVDs, not more recent editions. It’s nice that Return takes the high road and provides the best DVD version available.
No one will mistake Return of the Living Dead for the genre’s best, but that doesn’t make it a bad entry. The movie mixes comedy and horror in a satisfying way. The Blu-ray gives us acceptable picture and audio along with a nice set of supplements. Fans should enjoy this good release.
To rate this film, visit the original review of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD