With an official, deluxe Scream Factory release of 1985's zombie classic, The Return of the Living Dead, due on July 19, 2016, and early copies already in the hands of super fans, you might be wondering -- is it worth dipping in and buying again?
Let's face it, if you're reading an article about definitive releases of cult films, chances are you already have a collection of schlock the average movie fan would drown in. And if you love The Return of the Living Dead as much as I do, you probably have at least three copies of the movie already.
So, the first question is easy -- is Scream's Blu-ray the from-here-until-forever definitive edition of The Return of the Living Dead?
But this Scream Factory version is, without question, the best version of The Return of the Living Dead that's ever been released by a long stretch from a visual standpoint. And, frankly, considering a better version may never be released, you'd be crazy not to pick it up.
Let's dig a little deeper and talk about the good and the bad in this version so you can decide for yourself if this is worth your hard-earned shekels.
The theatrical presentation of The Return of the Living Dead comes to this edition as a 1.85:1 2K scan of the interpositive. Right away, you know what I'm going to say -- where's the original negative? And, so far as I know, it's out there. And the snobbiest part of me says that, without a living, breathing Dan O'Bannon to oversee the creation of a new negative/supervise any color corrections, a 2K scan of the interpositive is never going to be perfect.
But let me tell you, buddy boy -- it looks pretty great. Gone are the contrast problems that plague the MGM release and the DNR issues on the Second Sight Blu-ray are virtually nonexistent. If I'm really, really looking for it, I'd say that the scene in the general's house feels like it has some noise reduction on it. Maybe.
Image from Second Sight Blu-ray, courtesy of user Wernski on Blu-Ray
Image from Scream Factory blu-ray, courtesy of user Wernski on Blu-Ray
The biggest improvement is actually the night sequences, which is great news considering that most of Return of the Living Dead is set at night, and much of it outdoors. The blacks here are deeper and truer than I have seen them. Image clarity and sharpness are also at an all-time best for the film. And don't forget that film grain, which is just delicious-looking.
Which is all to say that, while someday a 4K scan of the original negative might come out and best this release, for now this is as good as The Return of the Living Dead is going to look. And it looks great.
Scream has included multiple English audio tracks, including a stereo 2.0 DTS track and the previous MGM 5.1 DTS-Master Audio. But the track new to this release is the original mono 2.0 DTS-Master Audio track. This audio includes the all the original music from the film save for “Dead Beat Dance” by The Damned and the original zombie voices, most notably that of the Tar Man's.
The good news is that this new track is clear as crystal and sounds great. The bad news is that we're still short that one track from The Damned. For completionists that may well be a deal breaker and stands out as the other notable limitation of this Scream release which prevents it from being a from-here-until-forever definitive release.
CAPTAIN'S LOG: THE SUPPLEMENTALS
There are a number of new commenteries and features on this double disc presentation of The Return of the Living Dead.
In addition to the previous commentaries with Dan O'Bannon and an earlier track with the original cast and crew, there are two new commentary tracks -- one with Gary Smart (co-author of The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead) and Chris Griffiths, and the other with actors Thom Mathews, John Philbin and Make-up Effects Artist, Tony Gardner. The prior is more of a fan's perspective, full of obscure trivia and fun facts. The second track is, likewise, a lot of inside baseball and facts about production. If you're craving as much information as you can get, it's fun, but we're not reinventing the commentary wheel here.
Much more interesting are the new features. "The FX of the Living Dead," for example, regales the infamously difficult process of working with Dan O'Bannon with a limited budget. Lots of fun facts about how the zombie effects were brought to life. One of my favorite facts from this featurette, though, was that the zombie extras would be paid more if they ate actual raw lambs brains which were brought on the set. Lots of good stuff, though.
There's also a short episode of Horror's Hallowed Ground with Sean Clark, which is about 10 minutes of revisiting the exteriors. Sadly, the world kept spinning and most of those shooting locations look nothing like they used to.
But the best featurette is definitely Party Time: The Music Of The Return Of The Living Dead, which includes interviews with music consultants, Budd Carr And Steve Pross, along with 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). This is more of a history lesson on punk rock at the time, who the artists were, how licensing work, and how terrible disco is. For anyone whose musical tastes were shaped watching The Return of the Living Dead (that would be me), it's a real treat to hear the stories behind the songs and artists.
On the flipside, there is some debate about one supplemental -- the workprint of The Return of the Living Dead. Since it is a workprint, you know it's not going to look very good, but the presentation is just terrible. And, allegedly, there are better versions available, owned both by Return's actors themselves and director, Dan O'Bannon's widow. I can't confirm that for you, but even the possibility of a better workprint makes me, an admittedly very crazy archivist, a little bummed that this already-great-edition could've been a little better.
Scream Factory's blu-ray release of The Return of the Living Dead is as close to a perfect release as there ever has been. In fact I feel confident saying that, barring a 4K scan of the original negative that includes all the original music, you will never need another edition of this movie again. So unless you are Dan O'Bannon risen from the grave to shout about how not everything is absolutely perfect, I'd say it's party time.
The Return of the Living Dead will be released July 19, 2016.