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The Return of the Living Dead (1985) – DVD Review

Return of the Living Dead cover art


Written by: Dan O’Bannon
Directed by:
Starring: Clu Gulager, James Karen, and Don Calfa


  • Commentary from director/writer and production designer
  • “Designing the Dead” featurette
  • Conceptual art gallery
  • TV spots
  • Trailer

Released by: MGM
Region: 1
Rating: R
Anamorphic: Yep

My Advice: Buy it if you’re a zombie completist, rent it otherwise.

[ad#longpost]The story set-up for Return of the Living Dead reads like a recipe for B-movie genius: link to previous franchise, mysterious government cover-up, chemical weaponry, an overgrown cemetery, a car full of teenaged punks, and, of course, zombies. Lots and lots of zombies. With that sort of component list, the director didn’t have to do much to make a worthy entrant to the world of zombie movies. Instead, we get a passable zombie flick with a rushed ending that ultimately doesn’t satisfy, but it does have quite the good soundtrack.

There are a few details that make this movie noteworthy, though. First, these zombies are not your typical shambling, mindless undead. Quite the contrary, they employ clever group tactics, ambushes, and other tools to make it easier to bag a meal. When an ambulance arrives and two paramedics are quickly dispatched, a quick thinking zombie grabs the radio and, in a decent imitation of one of the casualties, orders more ambulances to the scene (where their crews are promptly attacked by packs of zombies and hastily devoured). For another thing, the ending, while rushed, offers one of the more unexpected solutions one could ever hope to see to the trope of the shambling zombie menace.

The cast list reads like a “Who’s Not” of cinema, a veritable cornucopia of also-rans, has-beens, and never-weres. James Karen and Clu Gulager did their fair share of TV flicks and B-movies, though, so at least there are some cagey veterans in the cast. Linnea Quigley was an already-established scream queen when she made this cult classic, cementing herself forever in the minds of a host of pubescent boys by spending nearly the entire film stark naked (and, according to the commentary, wearing a “prosthetic crotch” to keep the studio execs happy about the film’s prospective rating). And then there’s that guy from Tour of Duty, only with long hair. But those are the big star highlights of the film.

The punks from Return of the Living Dead

“Did you say ‘commentary track?'” I hear you asking. Yes. Yes I did. Much to my amazement, this disc has a commentary featuring director/writer O’Bannon and production designer William Stout. And they’re having a blast. Neither of these guys believes that they created a powerful statement of lasting artistic value, and make no bones about trashing the weaker moments of the film mercilessly. It’s quite entertaining to listen to them talk about the various difficulties encountered in trying to put this film together on a limited budget. Creative solutions to common filming problems abound.

Other than the commentary, there’s a production design featurette, some concept art by Stout, trailers, and advertising gallery. The anamorphic transfer and fullscreen version have great color saturation, and the picture shows no signs of wear and tear with age. The post-punk soundtrack comes through very well, particularly for mono, and the dialogue remains crisp throughout. Basically, this is a quality DVD release of a film that is not likely to make the AFI’s Top 100 any time soon (or at all), but for those of us that dig on some B-movie brain-munching, it’s nice to see that somebody’s looking after us in the DVD world. Pick this one up and reward them for their support.

Return of the Living Dead: send more cops
Send more cops.

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