Return of the Living Dead appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. This became a surprisingly positive presentation.
Overall sharpness worked fine. While I couldn’t call this a razor-sharp image, it showed pretty good delineation and clarity, with only a few slightly soft shots. 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 worked pretty well.
Blacks delivered nice depth; those tones didn’t excel, but they appeared more than adequate. Low-light shots occasionally looked a bit thick, but that reflected the original shoot. In general, shadows were fairly clear. Ultimately, the transfer fared better than I expected and offered a mostly solid representation of the source.
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.
How did the 2016 Blu-ray compare to the prior Blu-ray from 2010? Audio appeared to be identical, but visuals demonstrated clear improvements, as the 2016 version came across as tighter, smoother and better defined. Due to the limitations of the source, this wasn’t a killer upgrade, but the 2016 release offered the superior image.
The 2016 Blu-ray mixes materials from the old BD with new components. On Disc One, we find four 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 enjoyable and informative.
The other two commentaries are new to the 2016 release. film historians Gary Smart and Chris Griffiths sit together for a running, screen-specific piece. They touch on various movie-related facts while they also offer an appreciation of the film.
The latter factor plays the biggest role here, so don’t expect to learn a lot about the film. This commentary seems heavy on good-natured banter and light on movie-related facts. Still, it comes across as moderately engaging.
For the fourth and final commentary, we hear from makeup effects artist Tony Gardner and actors Thom Mathews and John Philbin. Along with moderator Sean Clark, they discuss cast and performances, various effects, sets and locations, and related subjects.
While occasional nuggets emerge, this commentary feels lackluster overall. This becomes especially true as the movie progresses; stories tend to dry up and we find more general banter. It’s the weakest of the four commentaries.
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.
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.
In addition to four trailers and 10 TV spots, we get two still galleries. The first presents a mix of advertising elements, behind the scenes shots and movie stills (85 frames), while the second delivers pictures from special makeup artist Kenny Myers’ collection (21). Both galleries bring us some good images.
Over on Disc Two, we go to two featurettes from the prior Blu-ray. The Dead Have Risen goes for 20 minutes, 34 seconds and includes 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.
Another retread, Designing the Dead runs 13 minutes, 39 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”.
The remaining extras are new to the 2016 Blu-ray. More Brains: A Return to the Living Dead lasts one hour, 59 minutes, and 43 seconds, as it presents info from Gulager, Mathews, Quigley, Calfa, Peck, Stout, Karen, Randolph, Gardner, Philbin, Trautman, Myers,
Night of the Living Dead co-writer John A. Russo, former Orion Pictures marketing executive Paul A. Sammon, co-producer Graham Henderson, special makeup effects artist William Munns, cinematographer Jules Brenner, casting director Stanzi Stokes, singer Stacey Q, second assistant director John Penney and actors Miguel Nunez and Jewel Shepard, Drew Deighna and James Dalesandro.
“Brains” looks at aspects of the zombie movie genre and the development of Return, story/character choices and O’Bannon’s impact, production, hair, costume and creature design, cast and performances. It also digs into aspects of the shoot, various effects, photography, music, the film’s release and legacy.
With two hours at its disposal, “Brains” receives plenty of room to breathe, but that’s not what makes it great. “Brains” succeeds because it’s honest and fun. I can’t think of many “behind the scenes” documentaries that offer such a rollicking ride, but “Brains” keeps us informed and entertained from start to finish. It’s a terrific piece of work.
With The FX of Return of the Living Dead, we get a 32-minute, 49-second piece with Stout, Munns, Myers, Peck, Gardner, visual effects supervisor Gene Warren, Jr., rotoscoper Bret Mixon, and effects artist Craig Caton. As expected, this program looks at the design and execution of the movie’s effects, with an emphasis on zombies. This continues the blunt nature of “Brains” – especially related to Munns’ firing – and turns into another useful program.
Next comes the 29-minute, 31-second Party Time: The Music of Return of the Living Dead. It features music consultants Bud Carr and Steve Pross and musicians Dinah Cancer, Greg Hetson, Karl Moet, Roky Erickson, Chris D, John Sox, Mark Robertson and Joe Wood. “Party” examines the songs that made up the movie’s soundtrack. Though not as good as the last few pieces, “Party” offers some useful info.
Part of an ongoing series, Horror’s Hallowed Grounds goes for 10 minutes, 15 seconds. Hosted by Sean Clark, we take a tour to see how various Return locations look today. I like the “Hallowed Ground” clops and this one adds more good views.
A Conversation with Dan O’Bannon occupies 28 minutes, 32 seconds. Billed as “the final interview”, the director chats about various aspects of the film and its production. Some of this repeats from O’Bannon’s commentary, but we get a mix of new thoughts. Even toward the end, O’Bannon remained irascible, and that adds an enjoyable edge to the program.
With The Origins of The Return of the Living Dead, we find a 15-minute, 12-second program that offers notes from Russo. He discusses the movie’s roots and development as well as story/character areas. We hear a little of this during “Brains” but Russo manages to open up the topic here.
Finally, we locate a Return of the Living Dead Workprint. It runs one hour, 48 minutes, five seconds, a running time that adds about 17 minutes to the theatrical version’s length. Picture and sound quality seem rough to say the least, but this still acts as a cool addition to the package.
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 an exhaustive and informative set of supplements. Fans will eat up this release, as it offers the definitive Return of the Living Dead.
To rate this film, visit the original review of RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD