A quarter century has passed since the late Dan O’Bannon reimagined George Romero’s classic zombie masterpiece Night of the Living Dead. The resulting horror/comedy, The Return of the Living Dead, has been released as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack. Despite being a child of the ’80s, I did not grow up with this movie. Many of my friends did, with some continuing to hold it close to their hearts. I don’t know if it’ll bowl over many new viewers – it certainly didn’t phase me when I finally saw it a few years ago.
That’s not to say it’s a bad movie. I just don’t find it particularly funny, nor the least bit scary. A bit of exposition explains that years ago, the military conducted failed chemical experiments, resulting in a noxious gas. When that gas is accidentally released at a medical supply storage facility, several dead bodies are re-animated. The bodies are disposed of via cremation, but heavy rainfall filters through the smoke produced by the incineration, seeping into the ground. A entire cemetery is reanimated in short order, followed by endless mayhem.
The make-up and effects all hold up surprising well. The cast includes actors most folks won’t recognize (with the exception of cult horror fans). The actors do an effective job of conveying the campy tone, but there isn’t much to ponder or absorb throughout the ninety-minute running time.
This is truly the cinematic equivalent of junk food. I like junk food, just not this particular variety. Lloyd Kaufman and his team at Troma Entertainment do this kind of thing better, pushing the envelope for sick humor much further.
The Return of the Living Dead was a low-budget production released in 1985. The 1080p MPEG-4 encoded Blu-ray is acceptable in terms of visuals. The included standard DVD, which is the same special edition released in 2007, offers an easy way to note improvements. The Blu-ray doesn’t present a wildly better picture, but it has deeper blacks – important for a film with this many night scenes. Details in the zombie make-up are more defined. All things considered, this is a solid presentation with no digital artifacts and minimal print flaws.
Audio options are 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 mono. The rear channels are rarely used in the 5.1 mix, though a few effects and ambient noises pop up now and again. This is a very serviceable audio track, with clear dialogue that is always intelligible. Apparently some music and voiceover work was altered during the production of the special edition DVD. The altered soundtrack has been retained for this Blu-ray release. If you’re new to the movie, obviously this probably won’t be a concern. Since this is a cult favorite with a sizeable fanbase, I’m guessing many viewers will wish the theatrical audio mix had been retained.
All the features of the standard DVD, included in this combo pack, have been ported over to the Blu-ray. There are two commentary tracks. One features several cast members, while the other features director O’Bannon with production designer William Stout. A trio of featurettes, all running around twenty minutes, cover different aspects of the production. These are all presented in standard definition. Fans will be glad they don’t have to switch to the standard DVD in order to watch this material.
I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand the enthusiasm some have for The Return of the Living Dead. But here it is, looking better than ever on Blu-ray. If you own the special edition DVD already, you might think twice about how much you really need to upgrade for a relatively modest visual improvement.