Saturday, December 1, 2007

THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD - COLLECTOR'S EDITION

For Halloween this year, MGM has revisited Dan O’Bannon’s 1984 zombie classic with a new "Collector’s Edition" of THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD.

Taking place over the course of one evening in Louisville, Kentucky, RETURN tells the twisted tale of two employees at a medical supply warehouse who inadvertently release a toxic gas into the atmosphere. This gas, created by the Army, reanimates the dead, and turns them into fast-moving, intelligent ghouls that crave human brains. Did I mention that this warehouse was next door to a graveyard? Or that a group of teenage punks are partying among the tombstones?

One of the true horror classics of the Eighties, RETURN deftly mixes horror and humor with a steadily rising tide of hysteria that leads to an inevitable, and utterly nihilistic climax. A talented cast of veteran character actors (Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa), young faces (Thom Matthews, Beverly Randolph) and scream queens (Linnea Quigley, Jewel Shepherd), remarkable zombie make-up and practical effects, and a witty, intelligent screenplay combine, under O’Bannon’s deft direction, to make a damn near perfect fright film.

Sporting a new transfer and a bunch of newly created bonus features, this new "Collector’s Edition" trumps the version released a few years ago, but it does not include quite everything from that edition. If you have the old one, you may want to hang on to it, too. First off, the movie is given a new 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, culled from a flawless source. Colors are bright and solid, details are sharp and well defined, and there are no noticeable artifacts or print damage. It looks gorgeous. The Dolby stereo sound is strong, with the film’s punk rock score coming through loud and clear… along with all the screams and zombie moans.

There are two commentary tracks provided. First is an informative commentary by director Dan O’Bannon and production designer William Stout, ported over from the previous edition. New to this disc is a second commentary track by most of the film’s cast, joined once again by Stout. This track is a lot of fun, and well-worth listening to. MGM has also included a couple of silly gimmicks: "zombie subtitles" and an Easter Egg "zombie thoughts" track. I appreciate the effort, but both are really lame.

MGM has also produced two new featurettes for this edition: "The Dead Have Risen," a making-of documentary with most of the cast and crew represented, and "The Decade of Darkness," a retrospective of 80’s horror films, filled with clips and interviews with filmmakers like John Landis, Joe Dante and Stuart Gordon. A third featurette, "Designing the Dead," is retained from the previous release, and includes interviews with O’Bannon and Stout. Also retained from the original DVD are a couple of trailers. Missing from this edition is the full-frame version of the film (no great loss), some TV spots and some beautiful concept art by Stout.

If you’re a fan of this film – and if you’re not, you should be – this new Collector’s Edition is a no-brainer (if you’ll pardon the expression). Even if you have the previous DVD release, it’s definitely worth buying again. This is one of the few double dips I don’t resent, as it really is an improvement over the old version.

Highly recommended.

BUY: The Return of the Living Dead (Collector's Edition)