To say that Return of the Living Dead, the 1985 punk-infused, blood-drenched cult classic is my all-time favorite zombie movie (and one of my favorite movies, period) would be an understatement. So, when Shout Factory announced that they'd be releasing their own special edition, I was already climbing the walls with anticipation.
Return was the perfect response to the Romero-style zombie films that dominated the cultural landscape from the late '60s through the '80s. Where Romero's stories were all about racism, classism, the cannibalism of the media, and consumerism run amok, Return had something else entirely as its focus -- fun. Running zombies, zombies who were smart enough to know that, when your pantry's fresh out of brains, you can always call for delivery, and protagonists ridiculous enough to bring the dead to life in the first place -- Return of the Living Dead was possessed of a macabre, unique sense of humor that has rarely been successfully replicated since. Writer/director Dan O'Bannon (Alien, Lifeforce) breathed life into the zombie genre in a way it desperately needed, and desperately needs again now.
And the huge tragedy of it all is that there's never been a truly great transfer released on home video. For videophiles, there's a weird blend of chunky grain, compression noise, and, in other sequences, DNR smoothing. It's not terrible, but despite how low-budget Return is, I know this classic deserves better.
The other big problem is the soundtrack, which has largely been replaced on later releases due to rights issues.
So, for the purists, the punks, and the surfing dead in the audience, how's Shout's all-new cut looking? Pretty darn good. Here's the full breakdown:
NEW 2K Scan Of The Interpositive
NEW Audio Commentary With Gary Smart (Co-author Of The Complete History Of The Return Of The Living Dead) And Chris Griffiths
Audio Commentary With Director Dan O'Bannon And Production Designer William Stout
Audio Commentary With The Cast And Crew Featuring Production Designer William Stout And Actors Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph, Allan Trautman
The Decade Of Darkness – Featurette On '80s Horror Films (23 minutes)
Still Gallery – Posters, Lobby Cards, Movie Stills And Behind-The-Scenes Photos
Still Gallery – Behind-The-Scenes Photos From Special Make-up Effects Artist Kenny Myers' Personal Collection
Zombie Subtitles For The Film
In Their Own Words – The Zombies Speak
NEW The FX Of The Living Dead With Production Designer William Stout, FX Make-up Artists William Munns, Tony Gardner, Kenny Myers And Craig Caton-Largnet, Visual Effects Artists Bret Mixon And Gene Warren Jr. And Actor Brian Peck (Expanded Version) (30 minutes)
NEW Party Time: The Music Of The Return Of The Living Dead With Music Consultants Budd Carr And Steve Pross And Soundtrack Artists Dinah Cancer (45 Grave), Chris D (The Flesh Eaters), Roky Erickson, Karl Moet (SSQ), Joe Wood (T.S.O.L.), Mark Robertson (Tall Boys) Plus Musicians Greg Hetson (Circle Jerks) And John Sox (The F.U.'s, Straw Dogs) (Expanded Version) (30 minutes)
NEW HORROR'S HALLOWED GROUNDS – Revisiting The Locations Of The Film
The Return Of The Living Dead Workprint – Includes 20 minutes Of Additional Footage (In Standard Definition)
More Brains: A Return To The Living Dead – The Definitive Documentary On The Return Of The Living Dead (120 minutes)
A Conversation With Dan O'Bannon – His Final Interview (28 minutes)
The Origins Of The Living Dead – An Interview With John A. Russo (16 minutes)
The Return Of The Living Dead – The Dead Have Risen – Interviews With Cast Members Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Brian Peck, Thom Mathews, Beverly Randolph, Linnea Quigley And More… (21 minutes)
Designing The Dead – Interviews With Writer/Director Dan O'Bannon And Production Designer William Stout (15 minutes)
To get it out of the way, no, Shout was unable to retain the rights for every song. Direct from their Facebook announcement, "Only one song - The Damned’s 'Dead Beat Dance' - could not be cleared for inclusion on the disc unfortunately. Otherwise, the rest will be the original audio as heard in the theaters when the film played first-run."
So, is this a perfect release? No. However, there's plenty more to make up for the lack of one song, most notably that 2k scan of the interpositive. To clarify, the interpositive is often the best option for film-to-tape transfers for a number of reasons, but mostly because they're typically untouched and the cleanest, clearest copy. Translation -- all that compression, noise, and DNR smoothing will be a thing of the past and, in their place, will be a cleaner, sharper image with deeper, more expressive blacks. As you can imagine, those blacks especially are critical in almost every horror movie.
The other new features are exciting, too, and it's rad seeing the documentary, More Brains, also included, as it's a must-watch for any Return fan. Add to that, new posters and slip covers and you get a collectible that's well worth the money even if, like me, you've been buying this movie over and over again every time there's a new release.
Since only the original Return has ever seen a Blu-ray release, I reached out to Shout, asking them if they had any intention of bringing the same special treatment to the Return of the Living Dead sequels, specifically parts 2 and 3. No dice. From their twitter, "No plans at this time. We only have the rights for this one as of now."
So, here is what I would say -- pre-order this new release of Return of the Living Dead and, just as important, let Shout know you would buy the sequels, too, if they got the same kind of loving transfer.
Return of the Living Dead will be released on July 19th, 2016.