For the best of the Horror/Cult/Exploitation film experience
Return of the Living Dead (1985) - (Blu-ray)
I've noticed over the years just how many films out there claim to be cult classics , although most of them just use that for a marketing technique. The Return of the Living Dead however is just that, a true, bona fide, no bones about it cult classic . From the actors, to the soundtrack, to Linnea Quigley shaking her fine ass on that tombstone this is the very definition of what a cult film is and should be. Did I forget to mention that this movie also has what this zombie flick aficionado would consider the greatest on screen zombie in movie history? No? Well I will, as I get further into The Return of the Living Dead .
The story of Return is simple enough. One day right before 4th of July weekend we witness Frank (James Karen) and Freddy (Thom Matthews) going through a trailing session at the Uneeda medical facility in Louisville Kentucky. After their boss Burt (Clu Gulager) packs up and leaves for the holiday weekend Frank and Freddy end up just hanging around at work. One thing leads to another and they start getting into a conversation about some of the strange things that Frank had seen over the years at the facility. One of those things just happened to be the container in the basement of the warehouse, which was a military barrel that contained a human body. Before you know it Frank is running down to the basement to show Freddy just exactly what it was. Once down there Frank accidentally sets the contents of the barrel loose after tapping it, leading to a horrible situation for everyone involved.
What makes this movie genius is the melting of the comedy and horror together. The comedy is never goofy to the point where it degrades the scenes of horror and takes you totally out of the movie. The entire time you can have a great time with the film, but once the shit hits the fan you'll find yourself on the edge of your seat. Also, it doesn't hurt when there is enough dialog in the movie to satisfy your average zombie fan as Night of the Living Dead is used as a reference point in the film. But what's ironic about that is that Return of the Living Dead takes very little from the universe that George Romero created. That's something special and not too many zombie films out there (good or bad) can actually say. I credit Dan O'Bannon for that as he understood that stealing from Romero would have done nothing at all to help out this movie, and he was spot on.
The acting in the film is incredible as well. The characters are all excellent and defined for the audience, and you actually don't want to see bad things happen to them as they are adding to the good time experience watching the movie. James Karen is simply immaculate as Frank, especially because he has a ton of lines in the movie that are funny because of the way he deliverers them. One in particular scene that gets me every time is the one where he has to call Burt after the accident. Now that's what's comedy folks Also, Thom Matthews does a pretty good job as Freddy and really does a great job when he's called upon. Clu Gulager is gut busting as Burt, the owner of the Uneeda medical supply company. He's a total gas flipping out after the accident and the scenes where he's trying to convince the Ernie character (yeah, two characters named Burt and Ernie in this one O'Bannon claims it was unintentional) that he has to help him get rid of some rabid weasels . Speaking of the Ernie character, actor Don Calfa is great in the role of the German mortician. We also know Linnea Quigley from this film, which put her into the lead as far as Scream Queens go, as her nude dancing scene is a thing of legend. As well as it should be if you ask this reviewer. Believe me when I say that scene was the first anatomy class that most horror fans of this generation ever had, and oh was it glorious The other teens (including Mark Venturini from Friday the 13th part 5, as well as Miguel Nunez) are great in their roles and really coming off like true Punk Kids of that day and age.
But when you talk about The Return of the Living Dead there is one name that cannot be dismissed, which is Allen Trautman. Don't know who that is? He's the greatest zombie to ever appear on a movie screen, Tarman Tarman isn't just a cool ass zombie, but he's also one of the most badass ones you'll ever find. Plus, I really have to give credit to the special effects crew for the work they did on him because it's honestly mind blowing.
Dan O'Bannon really does a great job with directing in the film as well because there is a mark of a pretty good director there. The comedy is done right, and so is the horror and only a really smart person could figure out where the middle ground should be. Plus, he was the one that understood what the movie should be instead of it's original pitch to him. See O'Bannon was originally brought on to write the screenplay, with Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper on to do the directing. But after Hooper fell out of the project O'Bannon came in and took over the production. With all of the production problems (you'll see if you listen to the commentaries or watch the features) it's amazing the movie got made at all
It should also be mentioned that the soundtrack to this movie is literally perfect in everyway. Punk Rock zombies should entail some real Punk Rock right? Well that's exactly what they did here with bands like The Cramps, 45 Grave (who did the memorable song Party Time ), and T.S.O.L. Not only is the soundtrack authentic, but the way it's used on screen is also just as great as the soundtrack itself. It's little things like this that can turn a good movie into one of the greats, and Return of the Living Dead does just that.
The new MGM/Fox collectors edition BD comes complete with the same special features as the special edition DVD. With commentaries by Dan O'Bannon/William Stout, Cast and Crew, The Decade of Darkness featurette, another featurette entitled Return of the Living Dead: The Dead have Risen , zombie subtitles, Designing the Dead featurette, and a limited edition slipcase that glows in the dark you honestly can't go wrong. This classic has needed an edition like this for years and it's wonderful to finally see it happen. But the real reason to buy this one is because it looks really good on Blu-ray. I have to say considering over the years that Iíve seen the movie tons of times, it was nice to watch it on BD and notice a lot that I had never noticed before. Itís not perfect mind you, but it looks good enough for me to recommend that you pick it up. Itís completely worth the purchase to see this one in HD. Plus considering itís a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, itíll help you clear up some shelf space after you get rid of your dusty old DVD sitting on your shelf.
Overall, I would HIGHLY RECOMMEND The Return of the Living Dead to anyone looking for a great horror film. I can't explain just how great of a movie this really is, but I'm going to give it a try right now. It's the greatest horror comedy of all time, it's a genuine cult classic , and it's really one of my favorite films ever made. There, good enough for ya? I hope so because now IT'S PARTY TIME
Rating - ****
Blu-ray Rating - **1/2