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Feature


On his first day on the job at a medical supply warehouse, poor Freddy (Thom Mathews) unwittingly releases toxic gas from a secret U.S. military canister, unleashing an unbelievable terror. The gas reanimates an army of corpses, who arise from their graves with a ravenous hunger... for human brains! And, luckily for those carnivorous cadavers, there is a group of partying teens nearby, just waiting to be eaten! (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)

 Return of the Living Dead: Scream Factory Collector's Edition
 Return of the Living Dead: MGM/Fox Blu-ray
Considering that most readers are probably seeking information about the technical and supplementary aspects of this Collector’s Edition release, I’m just going to recycle my brief feature review from the MGM Blu-ray release:

Back in 1985, the same year George A. Romero was preparing the third part of his zombie epic, Day of the Dead, scriptwriter Dan O'Bannon inherited former Romero co-writer John Russo's unused Night of the Living Dead (1968) sequel script, co-written by Rudy Ricci (the actual sequel, Dawn of the Dead, was Romero’s baby alone). Based on his success as a writer, including scripts for Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and Gary Sherman’s Dead and Buried (1981), O’Bannon was originally hired only to rewrite, but, due to the strength of his contributions (and problems trying to hire other filmmakers), he was permitted to make the film his directorial debut. Dubbed Return of the Living Dead, which cleverly implies that it is a sequel without specifying anything, this semi-spoof of Romero’s original film reportedly used little, if any, of Russo’s original concept. O’Bannon preferred not to compete with Dawn of the Dead’s more politically pertinent, EC Comics-style satire. Return of the Living Dead has its share of zombie mayhem and was even pop culture’s introduction to zombies that feasted specifically on brains, but its twists on genre, punk rock witticism, and loud soundtrack are the elements that truly endure. It is, in many ways, the horror follow-up to Alex Cox’ sci-fi comedy, Repo Man (1984). Both films take ironic jabs at ‘80s punk, while also genuinely celebrating what made the movement memorable.

O’Bannon’s instincts led Return of the Living Dead to box-office glory, while Day of the Dead floundered. The entire experience seemed to prove that mid-'80s youth were more interested in comedy and punk rock than allegories and depressing social issues. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Return of the Living Dead’s distributors demanded a theater-friendly R-rating, while Romero opted to run unrated, which meant that his film had a smaller theatrical run and less advertising. This fact led to some resentment among hardcore horror fans, who demanded the ‘integrity’ of the unrated/X-rated gore seen in Day of the Dead and 1985’s other American-made zombie movie, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator over the broader demographic that the R-rating offered O’Bannon’s film. But time has been kind to all three films with their differences growing into their strengths.

 Return of the Living Dead: Scream Factory Collector's Edition
 Return of the Living Dead: MGM/Fox Blu-ray

Video


Return of the Living Dead made a decent haul in theaters, but its reputation was built on home video availability. Following years of easy to find VHS versions, MGM released anamorphic DVD versions throughout America, Europe, and Australia. This was followed by Fox/MGM’s Blu-ray version in 2010 and Second Sight’s slightly better Blu-ray in 2013, which shared similar transfers and extras (Second Sight’s disc was framed differently, though not necessarily more accurately). By most accounts, these discs were a-okay. This brings us to Scream Factory’s new Collector’s Edition and the age-old question: is it really necessary for fans to buy one of their favourite movies yet again?

Well, Scream Factory has pulled out all (or at least most) of the stops in an effort to make their release a worthy upgrade, beginning with a new 2K scan of the original interpositive. At first glance, the resulting 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer (top) is very similar to the one that accompanied Fox/MGM’s release (bottom), including the slightly tighter framing. However, a closer inspection reveals that the re-scan has made a definitive difference in terms of overall detail. Edge tightness almost matches between the two transfers, but the Scream Factory disc reveals more fine textures in close-up and busier patterns in the backgrounds of wide-angle shots. Gradations and levels are more complex, as well, which makes the Fox/MGM appear a bit DNRy in comparison. There are some minor noise issues, but no major blocking or compression effects. Grain structure seems accurate, too. The old transfers one advantage might be its contrast levels, which are a bit more dynamic than those seen on the new and generally darker image. I admit that I only noticed the difference when I started comparing the still frames on this page – while watching the 2K version on my television I never thought that it appeared crushed.

 Return of the Living Dead: Scream Factory Collector's Edition
 Return of the Living Dead: MGM/Fox Blu-ray

Audio


MGM’s first DVD release of Return of the Living Dead included a soundtrack that was altered per O’Bannon’s instructions (as noted during the director’s commentary track). Besides the obvious remixing for a 5.1 arena, a number of effects and performances were changed (for a complete list of the changes, click here). This ‘fixed’ version has accompanied almost every digital release since. Until now, only the UK versions of Second Sight and Tartan’s releases seem to have escaped unscathed, but Scream Factory has seen fit to include both the original and altered soundtracks with one exception: The Damned’s “Dead Beat Dance,” which could not be cleared for use.

The new audio is presented in both DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 stereo, while the (mostly) original audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. I (mostly) stuck with the (mostly) original track, because I hadn’t heard the unaltered sound since the VHS days and was pleasantly surprised to realize it was also better than the 5.1 version. The remix spreads the artificial stereo effects too widely, leading to echo problems and a soft center dialogue track. In comparison, the mono track is more consistent, the stereo effects are less overstated, and the sound is layered in a more natural manner (though there are some sudden bursts of significantly louder sound that don’t always coincide with a jump scare). Given the importance of analogue punk and New Wave music from the era, the use of authentic mono is kind of important, too. The 5.1’s one advantage is its neat and discrete LFE support, which comes in handy when it comes to Matt Clifford and Francis Haines’ catchy electronic score.

 Return of the Living Dead: Scream Factory Collector's Edition
 Return of the Living Dead: MGM/Fox Blu-ray

Extras


Disc 1:
  • Commentary with Gary Smart and Chris Griffiths – The first exclusive extra (other than the original audio) is a commentary featuring Smart, the co-author (with Christian Sellers) of The Complete History of the Return of the Living Dead and the co-writer (with Sellers and Tommy Hutson) of the documentary More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead (see below), and Griffiths, the director of You're So Cool Brewster! The Story of Fright Night (2016) and co-director (with Kevin McDonagh) of Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (2015). Given the understandable overlap with the director’s commentary and documentary, it’s probably best to treat this track as a supplement to the supplements. The fellas fall off-course into charming fan chatter on occasion, but, given the breadth of information, a bit of personality is warranted.
  • Commentary with actor Thom Mathews & John Philbin, and make-up effects artist Tony Gardner – The second new (?) track focuses on the ins and outs of zombie effects and the process of acting undead.
  • Archive MGM commentary with director Dan O’Bannon and production designer William Stout – The best track on the disc is run mostly by a dry and witty O’Bannon, who was full of memories. Stout is more of a supporting player who holds his own when talking about technical bits.
  • Archive MGM commentary with the cast and crew – This ‘classic’ group track includes Stout and actors Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph, and Allan Trautman. It’s too busy to really be informative, but it’s still fun to hear the cast’s point-of-view, especially if you’ve already exhausted listening to the other tracks.
  • The Decade of Darkness (23:20, SD) – This featurette, which originally appeared on MGM’s DVD, concerns the more creative end of ‘80s horror films and includes loads of interviews with genre filmmakers, actors, and writers/experts. It’s too short to really hit its stride, but is a decent primer on the subject for new enthusiasts.
  • Four theatrical trailers
  • TV Spots
  • Still gallery – Posters, lobby cards, stills, and behind-the-scenes photos.
  • Still gallery – Photos from special make-up effects artist Kenny Myers’ personal collection.


 Return of the Living Dead: Scream Factory Collector's Edition
 Return of the Living Dead: MGM/Fox Blu-ray
Disc 2:
  • More Brains: A Return to the Living Dead (1:59:40, HD) – Bill Philputt’s extensive making-of documentary was originally released on DVD by Michael Perez Entertainment. It is a fantastic addition to this definitive collection as both a supplement and a stand-alone documentary. It is also nice to finally be able to own it on HD video. For the record, the original DVD and Second Sight’s Return of the Living Dead Blu-ray had its own special features, including two additional featurettes by Philputt and company concerning the first two sequels (they run about 30 minutes apiece) and deleted scenes. They are not available here, probably due to rights issues. (Read my complete DVD review here).
  • The FX of the Living Dead (32:50, SD, extended from Second Sight’s BD/DVD) – The first of the ‘new’ featurettes isn’t entirely new. It’s actually an extended version of a featurette that first appeared on Second Sight’s Blu-ray – so it’s partially new to some fans and entirely new to most North American viewers (this applies to many of the disc two featurettes). Here, Stout, make-up artists William Munns, Tony Gardner, Kenny Myers, and Craig Caton-Largnet, visual FX artists Bret Mixon and Gene Warren Jr., and actor Brian Peck are all interviewed about their contributions. There’s not a lot of new info here, but the participants are able to expand upon the discussion.
  • Party Time: The Music of The Return of the Living Dead (29:30, SD, extended from Second Sight’s BD/DVD) – The next “new” featurette is a very nearly comprehensive look at the movie’s soundtrack, including music consultants Budd Carr and Steve Pross, alongside musicians/artists Dinah Cancer (45 Grave), Chris D (The Flesh Eaters), Roky Erickson (The 13th Floor Elevators), Karl Moet (SSQ), Joe Wood (T.S.O.L.), Mark Robertson (Tall Boys), Greg Hetson (Circle Jerks), and John Sox (The F.U.’s).
  • Horror's Hallowed Grounds[/i] (10:20, HD) – A Return of the Living Dead-themed episode of the series in which host Sean Clark visits the locations of popular horror films.
  • A Conversation with Dan O’Bannon (28:30, HD, from the More Brains DVD) – The director’s final video interview is an intimate portrait of the majority of his career as a director (he doesn’t really discuss stuff like Alien or Darkstar). I am curious as to why only a single line was used for More Brains, because there’s plenty of usable, pertinent information, especially his concern with ‘stepping on George Romero’s toes’ and a few direct references to the negative things said about him by the actors.
  • The Origins of the Living Dead (16:00, SD, from Second Sight’s BD/DVD) – Additional interview footage with John Russo concerning his contributions to zombie cinema.
  • The Return of the Living Dead: The Dead Have Risen (20:30, SD, from MGM’s DVD/BD) – This older featurette isn’t really necessary, given the extent of the documentary, but it is nice to have it here for the sake of completion.
  • Designing the Dead (13:40, SD, from MGM’s DVD/BD) – More completionist interviews with O’Bannon and Stout.
  • Return of the Living Dead Workprint (1:48:10, SD) – The extras end with the complete workprint version of the movie. The A/V quality is rough (it appears to have been taken from an analogue tape copy of film that wasn’t in great shape to begin with), but, even marred by a bootleg-quality image, this is still possibly the most exciting of the Scream Factory exclusive supplements. For a complete rundown of the differences between versions and descriptions of roughly 19 minutes of trims click here and here.


 Return of the Living Dead: Scream Factory Collector's Edition
 Return of the Living Dead: MGM/Fox Blu-ray

Overall


It’s difficult to convince anyone that they need to buy this movie again, especially if they already own either the DVD release of the More Brains documentary or the Second Sight Blu-ray from the UK. But this is a downright exhaustive collection and the new 2K scan is a bigger visual improvement than I thought was possible. The additional commentaries and workprint version (however rough it may appear) give it additional advantages over the Second Sight disc, despite that version still having a few leftovers from More Brains that aren’t available here. The bottom line is that, yes, you probably should rebuy Return of the Living Dead. If you’re a passive collector, the difference in features and quality is pretty staggering and if you’re a completionist, well, you’ve probably already paid for the limited edition pre-order and reveived your copy before I did.

 Return of the Living Dead: Scream Factory Collector's Edition
 Return of the Living Dead: MGM/Fox Blu-ray

 Return of the Living Dead: Scream Factory Collector's Edition
 Return of the Living Dead: MGM/Fox Blu-ray

 Return of the Living Dead: Scream Factory Collector's Edition
 Return of the Living Dead: MGM/Fox Blu-ray

* Note: The above images are taken from the Scream Factory Blu-ray (top) and MGM/Fox Blu-ray (bottom) and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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