‘The Return of the Living Dead’ Movie and 4K/Blu-ray Review

The following review was written by Ultimate Rabbit Correspondent, Tony Farinella.

The Return of The Living Dead” was released the same year I was born, 1985.  Even thirty-seven years later, it is clear to see the impact the film had on horror movies, specifically zombie movies.  It was a film which was truly ahead of its time. I remember watching and enjoying the Scream Factory Blu-ray when it was released many years ago, and I enjoyed it even more on 4K Ultra HD. The blood, the gore and the colors really are vibrant and stunning on this release.  This is a tremendous release from Scream Factory, and it is being released just in time for the Halloween season.  It’s a perfect addition to your 4K horror film collection.

The film is just as funny as it is gory, which is truly saying something. This is not a simple task to pull off, as sometimes zombie films have a hard time with that balancing act.  “The Return of the Living Dead” opens up by introducing us to two lovable but goofy factory workers named Freddy (Thom Mathews) and Frank (James Karen), as they work together at the aptly named Uneeda medical supply warehouse. Frank is hoping to look cool in front of Freddy by showing him some of the dead zombie bodies they have lying around the warehouse. According to Frank, the filmmakers behind “Night of the Living Dead” were ordered by government officials to change certain aspects of the film in order to hide from the public that zombies are indeed real and were used for military purposes. Unfortunately for them, when toxic gas is released from one of the meat lockers, the zombies start to rise from the dead.

The only thing that will take away the pain of the zombies is eating brains.  These zombies really love brains, and they move a lot quicker than zombies we have seen in previous films.  Also, if you take off their head, the rest of the body is still mobile and able to attack.  The only way to truly kill these zombies is to burn them completely.  Before long, there are hundreds of zombies, and the police and the medics can’t keep up with them. Burt (the late Clu Gulager) is trying to navigate this situation as best as he can, but he’s also looking to save the good name of his company and not let the public know that two of his workers are responsible for this mess.

Freddy is part of a punk rock gang that likes to raise hell, listen to music and have a good time with sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. Freddy’s gang is looking to help him, but they are also finding themselves in over their heads with all these zombies coming for them left and right. Freddy has a girlfriend named Tina along with some friends named Spider, Trash, Chuck, Casey, Scuz and Suicide. Meanwhile, Burt looks to his friend, Ernie (Don Calfa), for help in disposing of the cadaver zombie that was released thanks to his co-workers. Ernie wants to be helpful, but this is above his pay grade as a mortician.  Even though burning a zombie can kill it, it can also lead to toxic rain falling from the sky. This creates even more problems as it burns the skin and also brings more zombies to life from their graves.

This is one of many great things about “The Return of the Living Dead.”  There is nothing about the film which is cut and dry.  There might be a solution around the corner, as mentioned, but it doesn’t come without casualties or consequences. You also tend to feel a little bit of sympathy for these zombies, especially when you notice that Freddy and Frank are starting to become zombies.  They don’t want to eat brains, but it is the only thing that will stop their suffering and pain.  The zombies are also beautifully designed and look fantastic on screen.  Sometimes they pop up out of nowhere, and sometimes they come in large packs that move really, really fast.  These are complex and interesting zombies. These are not your average, run-of-the-mill zombies, and this is a big reason why this film has had such staying power.

“The Return of the Living Dead” also has a ton of quotable lines and quirky characters.  I don’t think I can keep a straight face when I hear the line, “It’s not a bad question, Burt.”  Every time I watch this film, I gain a new appreciation for it.  In my eyes, it is the perfect zombie film.  If I had to choose only one tiny issue with this film, and it is a minor one, it is the fact it ends rather abruptly.  Besides this little picadillo, this is my favorite zombie movie of all time.  Of course, I respect “Dawn of the Dead” and “Night of the Living Dead,” but from a pure entertainment standpoint and for the rewatch factor, “The Return of the Living Dead” is simply horror movie heaven for yours truly.  It is the film which keeps on giving with its gore comedy, and quirky cast of characters.

* * * * out of * * * *

4K/Blu-ray Info: “The Return of the Living Dead” is released on a 3-disc 4K and Blu-ray combo pack from Scream Factory.  One disc is the 4K of the film, another disc is the Blu-ray, and the third disc includes the special features on a Blu-ray disc.

4K Video/Audio Info: We are treated to this film on an absolutely stunning 4K Dolby Digital HDR transfer. As soon as the film started, I was sucked into how beautiful and bright it looked on my television.  They have done a brand-new 4K scan of the original camera negative, and it makes it one of the best-looking horror 4K’s of the year.  The bloody reds are a thing to behold, and the darks are also spot-on with this transfer.  Scream Factory has been on a roll lately. The audio track on the film is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.0 with English subtitles.  I thought the audio was perfect, especially during the scenes involving some of the punk rock music.  I didn’t have to adjust my volume on this film at all. I was able to keep it at the same volume throughout the entire film.

Special Features:

DISC 1 – (Feature Film – 4K UHD)

·     NEW 2022 4K Scan of The Original Camera Negative

·     In Dolby Vision (HDR 10 Compatible)

·     DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.0

·     Audio Commentary with Gary Smart (Co-author of “The Complete History of The Return of The Living Dead”) And Chris Griffiths

·     Audio Commentary with Actors Thom Mathews, John Philbin and Make-up Effects Artist Tony Gardner

·     Audio Commentary with Director Dan O’Bannon and Production Designer William Stout

·     Audio Commentary with The Cast and Crew Featuring Production Designer William Stout and Actors Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph and Allan Trautman

·     Zombie Subtitles

·     In Their Words – The Zombies Speak

DISC 2 – (Feature Film – Blu-ray)

·     2022 4K Scan of The Original Camera Negative

·     DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, 2.0

·     Audio Commentary with Gary Smart (Co-author of “The Complete History of The Return of The Living Dead”) and Chris Griffiths

·     Audio Commentary with Actors Thom Mathews, John Philbin and Make-up Effects Artist Tony Gardner

·     Audio Commentary with Director Dan O’Bannon and Production Designer William Stout

·     Audio Commentary with the cast and crew Featuring Production Designer William Stout and actors Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph and Allan Trautman

·     The Decade of Darkness – Featurette On ’80s Horror Films

·     Theatrical Trailers

·     TV Spots

·     Still Gallery – Posters, Lobby Cards, Movie Stills and Behind-The-Scenes Photos

·     Still Gallery – Behind-The-Scenes Photos from Special Make-up Effects Artist Kenny Myers’ Personal Collection

DISC 3 – (Special Features – Blu-ray)

·     “The Return of The Living Dead” Workprint – Includes 20 minutes of additional footage (in standard definition)

·     More Brains: A Return to The Living Dead – The Definitive Documentary on “The Return of the Living Dead.”

·     The FX of “The Return of the Living Dead” – with Production Designer William Stout, FX Make-up Artists William Munns, Tony Gardner, Kenny Myers and Craig Caton-Largnet, Visual Effects Artists Bret Mixon and Gene Warren Jr. and actor Brian Peck (Expanded Version)

·     Party Time: The Music of “The Return of The Living Dead” – with Music Consultants Budd Carr and Steve Pross and soundtrack artists plus musicians (Expanded Version)

·     The Origins of The Living Dead – An Interview with John A. Russo

·     “The Return of The Living Dead:” The Dead Have Risen – Interviews with cast members Clu Gulager, James Karen, Don Calfa, Brian Peck, Thom Mathews, Beverly Randolph, Linnea Quigley and More…

·     Designing The Dead – Interviews with Writer/Director Dan O’Bannon and Production Designer William Stout

·     HORROR’S HALLOWED GROUNDS – Revisiting the locations of this film

·     A Conversation with Dan O’Bannon – His final interview

Should You Buy It?

Do you have a perfect zombie movie? Check.  Do you have an outstanding 4K picture transfer? Check. Do you have a boat load of special features? Check.  This film is a day one purchase without any hesitation whatsoever. It comes out on October 18, and it is a great horror movie to watch during the spooky season of 2022.  If you haven’t already, you should pre-order this film from Scream Factory.  I promise you that you won’t be disappointed.  I can’t say enough glowing things about this movie or its 4K transfer.  When you factor in how rewatchable this film is (it only runs at 91 minutes), it’s the kind of film that is going to bring something new to the table for viewers each and every time.  It’s a ton of fun, gory, well-acted, cheesy in a good way, and it truly had something new to offer to the horror genre. If you have seen this film before, you have probably already pre-ordered it and can’t wait to watch it again on 4K.  If you haven’t seen it before, you are in for a big surprise when you watch this movie.  Once again, “The Return of the Living Dead” gets a top recommendation from yours truly.

Blu-ray Review: Shout Factory’s ‘Phantasm II’ Special Edition

phantasm-ii-blu-ray-cover

Over the years, “Phantasm II” has been treated like the illegitimate child of the “Phantasm” franchise. While Anchor Bay was able to secure the rights to the other three films in the series, they could never come to an agreement with Universal Pictures over this one. Eventually “Phantasm,” “Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead” and “Phantasm IV: Oblivion” got special editions filled with commentaries and special features, and yet “Phantasm II” still hadn’t seen the light of day on DVD. When Universal finally relented and released the sequel on DVD, all the fans got in terms of bonus features was the theatrical trailer. It looked like we would see “Phantasm V” long before any “Phantasm II” special edition became a reality, and the last “Phantasm” movie came out 15 years ago.

Well “Phantasm” fans can now rejoice because the good people at Shout Factory have come through for you with their “Phantasm II” special edition which proves to be well worth the wait. This cult sequel now looks and sounds better than ever, and we also get an audio commentary, various featurettes, a making of documentary, the theatrical trailer and a host of other goodies which fans can take their sweet time watching.

For many people including myself, “Phantasm II” was our introduction to the work of Don Coscarelli’s franchise, the Tall Man (played by Angus Scrimm) and those killer spheres which look like they’re designed to make forced deposits to your local blood bank. Even if you’re not able to understand most of what’s going on here, it was still loads of fun as “Phantasm II” proved to be far more imaginative than your average slasher movie. Watching it all those years ago made me want to check out the first film, and I became very eager to see the story continue on with a third movie which eventually came out (albeit straight to video) in 1994, six years after this one.

Unsurprisingly, “Phantasm II” looks wonderful in its Blu-ray incarnation. At the same time, I do have to point out there is a little of white noise at the top of the screen which comes and goes throughout the movie. I didn’t notice it right away, but it does become a bit of annoyance at times. This seems like a very rare error for the folks at Shout Factory to make as their previous special editions have more often than not given us pristine prints of various cult classics, and I wonder if this was something which happened on their end or if Universal Studios did something wrong. Still, the movie looks fantastic.

There is also a commentary track with Coscarelli, Angus Scrimm and Reggie Bannister who plays Reggie. It’s a terrific track which starts with Scrimm speaking as the Tall Man, wondering why this guy Scrimm keeps impersonating him in the “Phantasm” movies. From there, the participants talk non-stop about the making of “Phantasm II” and what they managed to accomplish on a budget of $3 million (the highest of any “Phantasm” movie). There’s also talk of why A. Michael Baldwin, who played Michael in the original, was replaced by James LeGros. The reasons why aren’t fully explained here, but everyone says they had a great time working with LeGros who back then was known for appearing in independent movies.

For more information on why LeGros replaced Baldwin, check out the documentary “The Ball is Back!” which gives you just about all the information you ever need to know about the production of “Phantasm II.” It turns out Universal wanted to get rid of both Bannister and Baldwin as they had not acted much since “Phantasm” came out. Coscarelli, however, managed to make a deal with Universal to where he could keep one of the actors, so while Bannister got to stay on, Baldwin had to go as the studio wanted someone who was “hunkier.”

The documentary also features other actors like Paula Irvine, Kenneth Tigar and Samantha Phillips who played the bald man-loving Alchemy. Phillips is especially fun to listen to as she talks about how she got the role of Alchemy and of how she almost talked Coscarelli out of casting her in the movie. She even talks about the sex scene she did with Bannister and of how his wife was on set that day (as if she didn’t have enough pressure to deal with).

We also get to see why, despite it making a profit, “Phantasm II” was initially considered a box office flop. It turns out Universal Pictures decided to release the sequel during the summer movie season where it faced off against “Die Hard” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” As to why Universal thought it was good idea to release “Phantasm II” during this time, no one seems to have an answer.

There’s also an old featurette called “The Gory Days with Greg Nicotero” where he explains how he got involved in the world of movie makeup. These days, Nicotero is one of the best known people for doing makeup effects in film, and it’s great to see how he got his start. There’s also some vintage behind the scenes footage of makeup tests the crew performed as well as some on the set footage where they blow up a house. Seeing all the preparation the crew took in making sure the explosion, which they filmed with what seemed like a dozen cameras, anything but small makes me miss practical special effects which have since been overrun by CGI.

To round things out, there are movie trailers for the first three “Phantasm” movies, original TV spots, still galleries, additional scenes which were taken from the work print, deleted scenes from Coscarelli’s archive, and a rare short film which has Scrimm playing Abraham Lincoln.

This special edition of “Phantasm II” has been a long time coming, and despite some minor technical flaws, fans of the series should be very pleased with what Shout Factory has come up with. The cult of “Phantasm” remains strong to this day, and they are served well by this release which is evidence of this series’ enduring popularity. If things keep up, maybe we will see a “Phantasm V” in the future. Some say that’s wishful thinking, but anything is possible!

WRITER’S NOTE: This review was written back in 2013 when “Phantasm II” was released by Shout Factory on Blu-ray. “Phantasm V,” titled “Phantasm: Ravager,” is finally about to be released in theaters after a long wait.

Save