- The Washington Times - Friday, August 5, 2016

Fans of creator Dan O’Bannon’s classic dark comedy get a fantastic treat in the two-disc, Blu-ray release of The Return of the Living Dead: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, Rated R, $34.93, 91 minutes).

The 1985 effort helped expand the zombie apocalypse mythology that continues to flourish today and took viewers on a wild ride through a nightmare of the hilariously grotesque, riffing off of a simple premise.

Specifically, a couple of imbeciles open up a barrel of toxic waste hidden by the Army in the basement of a medical supply warehouse and unleash a plague of brain-eating ghouls upon a small town. Oh yeah, and punk rockers end up helping to fight the undead.

The premise and production values will remind viewers of gory movies such as “Re-Animator” or reading an EC Comics’ “Tales of the Crypt” issue. It certainly set the precedent for the rise of franchises such as the “Evil Dead.”

Shout Factory does an incredible job of continuing to clean up and clarify the horror movie’s visuals in its full-screen (1.85:1-aspect ratio) digital transfer.

Using a 2K scan of the interpositive, the new release clearly highlights moments such as the entrance of tarman (a really nasty zombie), a rainstorm pounding Resurrection Cemetery that bringing the dead to life and an interview with one of the decaying ghouls.

Also, the sound mix (DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) highlights the use of many classic punk bands in the musical score with such songs as “Surfin’ Dead” by The Cramps, “Nothin’ for You” by T.S.O.L., “Partytime” by 45 Grave, “Burn the Flames” by Roky Erickson, “Tonight (We’ll Make Love Until We Die)” by SSQ and “Young, Fast Iranians” by Straw Dogs leading the way.

Better yet is the gratuitous supply of bonus content tapping into old extras from previous DVD and Blu-ray releases as well as new stuff that makes purchase of the edition mandatory for any fan of the genre.

Let’s start with four optional commentary tracks, two new and all completely loaded with cast, crew and historians ready to dissect all facets of the production.

One track with Mr. O’Bannon and production designer William Stout and another with actors Thom Mathews, John Philbin and make-up effects Artist Tony Gardner are informative, but the two other tracks are more fun.

Specifically, huge lovers of the film, Gary Smart (co-author of “The Complete History Of The Return Of The Living Dead”) and documentarian Chris Griffiths, have a non-stop, giddy conversation.

It that leads to an enormous amount of information from a fan’s perspective on the epic offering a 90-minute pop culture trivia fest.

Next, the ensemble cast — actors Don Calfa (Ernie Kaltenbrunner), Linnea Quigley (Trash), Brian Peck (Scuz), Beverly Randolph (Tina) and Allan Trautman (tarman) — with prompting and prodding by Mr. Stout, offer a very chatty overview of the action, almost feeling like a high-school reunion. Adding to the fun, a few zombies stop by to annoy the actors (armed with bad puns).

Now, hold your breath, viewers get another five hours of featurettes with the best of the bunch including:

• “The Decade of Darkness” — A 23-minute, too-brief look back at the developments in horror films during the 1980s that includes interviews with legends sich as Joe (“Gremlins”) Dante, John (“An American Werewolf in London”) Landis, Stuart (“Re-Animator”) Gordon and the Mistress of the Dark herself, Elvira.

• “Party Time: The Music of The Return Of The Living Dead” — As mentioned, the soundtrack for the film is a loving ode to 1980s punk rock, and some of its stalwarts look back at the process of getting on the soundtrack.

Roughly 30 minutes of interviews feature Dinah Cancer of “45 Grave,” Mark Robertson of “Tall Boys,” Joe Wood of T.S.O.L (even playing an acoustic version of “Nuthin’ for You”), Karl Moet from “SSQ” and Chris D of “The Flesh Eaters.”

• “More Brains: A Return To The Living Dead” — A 2-hour-long, definitive documentary from 2011 on the making of the film features more interviews with over two dozen members of the cast and crew.

The group includes co-writer John Russo, Mr. Stout, co-producer Graham Henderson, Paul M. Sammon (former executive at Orion Pictures), cinematographer Jules Brenner, casting director Stanzi Stokes and most of the actors spotlighted by veteran character actor Clu Gulager (Burt).

The retrospective covers topics such as the legal battles with John Romero (over using the name “Living Dead”), the evolution of the screenplay, Tobe Hooper as a possible director, the generous two-week rehearsal process, bringing the yellow cadaver to life, a girl punk rocker named Trash dancing nude on a tombstone, the conflict and ultimate firing of special effects artist William Munns (for his suspect zombie makeup designs), Mr. Gulager chasing Mr. O’Bannon with a bat, and the death of Mr. O’Bannon in 2009.

• “A Conversation With Dan O’Bannon” — A brutally frank, 28-minute interview with a chain-smoking Mr. O’Bannon covers his premarried fascination with guns, difficulty working with the crew and actors, his fear of Mr. Gulager, his dislike for Mr. Brenner, the scenes that should have been better (i.e. a rubber skeleton popping out of a grave) and his appreciation for the loyal fans over the years.

• And, for absolute fanatical cinemaphiles, Shout Factory even tosses in a beat-up work print of the entire film adding 20 minutes of footage to compare to the theatrical release.

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