‘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.

Tom McLoughlin Revisits ‘Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives’ at New Beverly Cinema

Tom Mcloughlin Jason Voorhees tombstone

On Friday June 5, 2009, Phil Blankenship presented a triple feature for horror fans at New Beverly Cinema with “Friday the 13th Parts IV, V, & VI.” The fourth film was called “The Final Chapter,” and seeing its title on the screen induced uncontrollable laughter in every member of the audience for obvious reasons. The fifth film, “A New Beginning” remains the most despised of the sequels as it tried to continue to the series without Jason, and it proved to be an embarrassing failure. “Jason Lives,” on the other hand, is one of the best in the series thanks in large part to the great sense of humor the filmmakers brought to it. All the sequels which came after this one turned out to be completely stupid and unintentionally hilarious with a few exceptions. In retrospect, these three movies marked the franchise’s peak as well as the start of its downward spiral.

As time went on, these three “Friday the 13th” sequels became known as the Tommy Jarvis trilogy. We first meet Tommy Jarvis in “The Final Chapter” where he is played by a very young Corey Feldman and spends his time playing on his computer or indulging in his hobby of making masks. Tommy ends up killing Jason with his machete, and then he can’t get himself to stop bashing him with it. In “A New Beginning,” we see an older Tommy, now played by John Shepherd, still dealing with the intense psychological damage his encounter with Jason thrust upon him. And then in “Jason Lives,” Tommy (this time played by Thom Matthews) is convinced Jason is not dead despite having been buried for years. But of course, he ends up accidentally resurrecting Jason and has to take him down yet again.

Blankenship gave the crowd a special treat by bringing out the writer/director of “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives,” Tom McLoughlin, to talk with the audience about its making. McLoughlin started off by saying how glad he was to be at New Beverly Cinema as he got all of his film education here, that shooting this sequel remains the most fun he has had as a filmmaker, and he confessed he has not seen a print of it since 1986.

Friday the 13th Part VI Jason Lives poster

When first hired to direct “Jason Lives,” McLoughlin admitted the only “Friday the 13th” movie he had seen previously was the first one. As a result, the executives at Paramount Pictures forced him to watch the other four. With “Jason Lives,” McLoughlin was intent on ignoring the events of “A New Beginning” because he said it really pissed him off. The audience at the New Beverly was in complete agreement with this, and they applauded him loudly.

McLoughlin also said he had originally planned to introduce Jason’s father, Elias Voorhees, into this sequel in order to give the iconic slasher more of a back story. We all know about his crazy mother, but not much has ever been said about Jason’s poppa. But Paramount Pictures was not crazy about this plot element because they weren’t sure which direction it would take the franchise in, so they put the kibosh on it. However, the DVD reissue of “Jason Lives” does have the film’s original ending with Jason’s father in the form of storyboards, and it is a must see for fans.

One fan asked McLoughlin how he got Alice Cooper to contribute songs to “Jason Lives.” It turns out Cooper is a big fan of the “Friday the 13th” series and was more than happy to participate, even allowing McLoughlin to use any of his songs in the movie. Cooper gave “Jason Lives” its end title song of “The Man behind the Mask,” but McLoughlin said the original version was much faster.

Blankenship asked McLoughlin the inevitable question about how he dealt with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and of what it took to get “Jason Lives” an R rating. Surprisingly, the MPAA didn’t want McLoughlin to cut scenes, but frames instead. McLoughlin said the frames didn’t have blood or gore in them, but the MPAA found them to be too intense. In the end, he made no secret he wanted this movie to be a “huge bloodbath.”

Thom Matthews was cast as Tommy Jarvis in “Jason Lives” as McLoughlin wanted someone who seemed more heroic. Plus, John Shepherd, who played Tommy in “A New Beginning,” didn’t want to return because, as McLoughlin put it, “he got all religious.” Shepherd had since become a born again Christian and his church didn’t feel like doing a slasher movie was in his best interest.

With this particular “Friday the 13th” sequel, McLoughlin admitted he tried to give it a strong sense of humor. This is apparent right from the start when you see how the opening title shot is a clever homage to the gun barrel sequences in the James Bond movies. Indeed, you come out of this sequel feeling like McLoughlin actually took the time to work on the script instead of just throwing something together at the last minute. Plus, the interplay with the kids, and this is one of few movies in this franchise which actually had kids in it, was great like when they hide under the beds and one boy asks another, “So, what were you going to be when you grew up?”

Ron Palillo, who plays Allen Hawes, is best known for playing Arnold Horshack on “Welcome Back, Kotter.” This got McLoughlin talking about how everyone in the city kept calling Palillo “Horshack” wherever he went. Looking back, he said this made him realize how hard it is for actors to get past a character they played which was so popular.

Another fan asked McLoughlin if he had any favorite on-set stories he could share. This got him to talk about a stunt man who came on the set dressed like Evel Knievel and said, “I’m here to crash something. So what do you want me to do?” The stunt he performed was an especially dangerous one as it required him to drive a big RV (is there any other kind?) over a ramp at 90 miles an hour. McLoughlin said this was the scariest time he ever had on a film set as he worried this guy would get killed. Fortunately, the stunt came out perfectly with the RV crashing on its side the way it was supposed to, and the stuntman pulled himself out of the wreckage and said, “Did I do alright?”

It turns out there were different endings thought up for “Jason Lives,” but McLoughlin made it clear he always intended for Jason to end up back in Crystal Lake. One of those endings did include Jason’s father bringing him back to life with voodoo magic. In the end, McLoughlin decided to keep it simple and used the image of Jason’s good eye suddenly opening up wide to show the audience that, surprise, he’s not done killing camp counselors yet.

As for the man behind the mask, two actors were hired to play Jason. The first was Dan Bradley who has since become known as the premier stunt coordinator for Hollywood movies like the Jason Bourne franchise. The powers that be at Paramount Pictures, however, after watching some dailies, decided he should be replaced because they felt he didn’t have the character’s build. Enter C.J. Graham who had just finished a stint as a United States Marine and had no previous acting experience. McLoughlin said Graham came onto the set answering all of his questions with “yes sir.” Today, Graham is a casino manager in Las Vegas.

In regards to his favorite death in “Jason Lives,” McLoughlin replied it was when Sheriff Michael Garris (David Kagen) gets folded in half. This came about because he wanted Jason to kill in ways he thought would seem “superhuman.” The fact Jason starts off being struck by lightning makes it seem all the more logical he would kill people this way. It certainly made for many memorably gruesome moments!

The last question for McLoughlin was if Paramount asked him to direct another installment, and why this didn’t happen. He said he was actually approached by Frank Mancuso to do the next sequel, and Mancuso asked him, “How about Jason vs. Freddy?” To this, McLoughlin replied, “How about Cheech & Chong vs. Jason?”

Later on, McLoughlin did get the offer to direct “Freddy vs. Jason,” but he said he didn’t like the script given to him. New Line Cinema, which ended up buying the rights to “Friday the 13th” from Paramount, invited him for a meeting to talk about it. However, the meeting lasted only ten minutes after which he walked out, and he has not been involved with the movie franchise since.

Since making “Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives,” McLoughlin has gone on to make movies like “Date with An Angel” which featured Emmanuelle Béart at her most beautiful, and he also directed episodes of the “Friday the 13th” television series. His other credits include the Stephen King TV movie “Sometimes They Come Back.” Outside of his contribution to the “Friday the 13th” franchise, he has made a good and comfortable career as a director. Having him speak to the fans at New Beverly Cinema was a real treat, and he really enjoyed the time he spent with them. Special thanks go out to Phil Blankenship for putting this screening together. This particular sequel still remains one of the best of this series, and McLoughlin’s appearance made sitting through “Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning” somewhat bearable.