DIRECTOR Dan O’Bannon WRITER Dan O’Bannon; Rudy Ricci; John A. Russo; Russell Streiner STARS Clu Gulager; James Karen; Don Calfa DVD & BLU-RAY 4 June
You’d be hard-pushed to find anyone who doesn’t recall this 1985 punk zombie outing with great fondness. ‘Cult’, a word splashed around so freely these days, can mean very little. The Return of the Living Dead, however, was/is one of those titles that truly does stand up to repeat visits, fully justifying its reputation as a cult classic.
So a UK Blu-ray debut to limited edition steelbook was good news indeed. Teeming with extras, it’s an essential purchase, and no doubt about it.
Most will know the story, but for those who do not, a nutshell: Frank and Freddy, two workers at a somewhat unethical medical supply unit, unwittingly unleash a military chemical, the noxious fumes of which are able to reanimate the dead — particularly so when an attempt to dispose of evidence results in its dispersal, via rain, over a local graveyard that is ripe for sampling. It’s frenetic madness all the way, the garage punk soundtrack a perfect complement to what is pure, unabashed fun.
It’s the special features that make this release truly shine; everything one could possibly wish to know of the film’s making is here. All featurettes on offer are tremendously watchable, revisiting the locations, discussing the FX — the latter for which original make-up artist, Bill Munns, has been included — and the obligatory more. The most valuable of these is the independent, feature-length documentary, More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead, which takes in most aspects of the filmmaking process, dropping in some interesting tidbits. For instance, did you know that the character of Ernie was named after a high-ranking Nazi official, Ernst Kaltenbrunner? It’s an exceptionally good piece of work, deftly handling the balance of talking heads — a grand job done of including as many voices as possible — with clips, charming graphics and original storyboard and concept art. The inclusion of a final interview with director and writer Dan O’Bannon is the cherry on top.
In terms of criticism, it must be said that the 5.1 is a tad iffy, which I sincerely hope was an unlucky one-off, for this particular disc. If not, well, it’s a tiny gripe; one of the great selling points for this is the fact the original soundtrack is included (said 5.1 is the remix). Another minus factor is that the hi-def transfer is not the best you’ll see — but then again, a perfect picture would likely rob the film of its 80s charm and punk sensibilities. Overall, a superb package; a fitting tribute to a film many of us grew up with.