BRAINS!!! BRAINS!!! BRAINS!!!
When Return of The Living Dead came out in 1985, it was treading on hallowed ground. Die-hard fans of George Romero's films were aghast that someone dared to make another zombie film with "Living Dead" in the title that wasn't endorsed by the master. In fact, just 2 weeks later, Romero's own "Day of the Dead" was released as well, which only added to the confusion.
John Russo, who was Romero's partner in the original 1967 "Night of the Living Dead", was legally able to make "Living Dead" films on his own. He wrote the ROTLD script and it languished in pre-production limbo for years. When "Alien" screenwriter Dan O'Banon got a hold of it, he felt it was stepping on Romero's legacy too much, and decided to rewrite the whole tale as a comedy, with fantastic results.
While Romero's zombies shuffled along at a mummy's pace and could be dispatched with a single gunshot to the brain, the zombies in ROTLD are nearly unstoppable, as the folks in the film discover that even cutting them into 30 pieces simply means you're going to have 30 angry pieces of zombie flop around and still try to get you.
Though HBO Video released the film on VHS in 1986, it quickly went out of print and has never been available in any format since. You can only imagine how thrilled I was to see that it's out not only on DVD at a budget price of $11.99, but that it was chock full of extra bells and whistles for the die hard fans, as well.
The widescreen presentation of the film is fantastic. Though I love the work of Tom Savini and the other folks responsible for the zombie effects in Romero's films, the production design by William Stout is fantastic. As one of the DVD extras "Designing The Dead" shows, Stout was able to bring to life some of the most chilling ghouls to appear on screen from concept drawing to finished result. Here's some thumbnailed screencaps that show off some of his wonderful work.
You an tell the influence of the old EC Comics zombies is present in Stout's work (with the top left zombie even nicknamed "E.C."). In the excellent DVD commentary, you learn that The Tar Man was played by an incredibly skinny mime, who was able to move in such a freakish manner than it looked as though his bones weren't even attached to each other. The effect was beautiful, as the near skeletal ooze dripping zombie screams for "Brains!" The half-girl was another great creation, complete with a twitching spinal column.
Perhaps one of the most memorable scenes in ROTLD, however, was the stripping sequence by Linnea Quigley who played the punk rock goddess, "Trash". After she takes her clothes off for an impromptu graveyard dance, she stays naked for the remainder of the film. Naked for so long, in fact, that they sculped a flesh-colored latex crotch cover to keep the "R" rating from going up to "X". (For a full gallery of Quigley in action from this film CLICK HERE).
It's the punk flavor that really makes ROTLD unique. With a soundtrack chock full of greats like TSOL, The Cramps, Roky Erickson, and The Damned, it's a virtual who's who of the 80s punk scene. A look at how the music was put together for this film is the only missing piece of this DVD that I have a complaint about.
The commentary is fun by Stout and O'Bannon and you can tell they're very proud of the film. They pointed out the eye chart in the picture above that has a secret message in it that's pretty funny.
I remember watching the original video back in high school and pausing the tape to see the 800# you were supposed to call in the event of an emergency on the oil-drum that contained the zombie. It didn't work back then, but I tried it again now, 15 years later, and got a chuckle that it's now hooked up to some hot talk line. I'm surprised they were ballsy enough to use a real type fo number instead of the "555" cop-out more commonly used on film.
So hats off to MGM for putting out a top notch DVD with great features at a great price.