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The Return of the Living Dead

Since the release of Night of the Living Dead (1968), George Romero's vision of the undead has been taken as the accepted cinematic norm. Featuring slow-moving creatures who are unstoppable outside of a shot to the head, the zombie mythos has nearly been standardized by the numerous (mostly Italian) zombie flicks that followed, even up to 2002's Resident Evil. One of the best things then about Dan O'Bannon's 1985 film The Return of the Living Dead is how it updates those rules. O'Bannon's zombies are fast-moving, and the only way to stop them is to destroy every moving part of their undead bodies. They also are not interested in just eating people, but they specifically crave brains. And this tinkering of the zombie myth is what makes his Living Dead film as entertaining as it is. story film begins as Frank (James Karen) trains young pup Freddie (Thom Mathews) in the ways of their medical-supply warehouse, and then shows him the most frightening things he's ever seen: remnants of the corpses from the freak accident that inspired Night of the Living Dead. And when Frank accidentally bumps one of the containers, he lets loose a gas that re-animates anything dead, including bisected dogs, butterflies, and a cadaver. Contacting their boss Burt (Clu Gulager), the three try to get rid of the living dead now in their warehouse, but after turning to local mortician Ernie (Don Calfa), they burn the remains, only to have the ashes absorbed by clouds, which rain down on the local cemetery and create more zombies. A fairly tight horror-comedy that scores well on both points, the failing of The Return of the Living Dead is not due to its leads — the elder actors are all fine — but the sub-plotted characters that are friends of Freddie (including Linea Quigley and Miguel Nunez Jr.). They are some of the lamest excuses for cinematic punk-rockers ever filmed — one named Trash (played by B-scream-queen Quigley) likes getting naked for no apparent reason. Sure, they're there as zombie-bait, but it's just bad writing. Otherwise, the darkly comic nature of the film is engaging, and O'Bannon manages to balance the humor with the jumps. MGM's DVD presents the film in both anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and pan-and-scan transfers, with audio in monaural DD 2.0. Extras include a commentary by O'Bannon and production designer (and zombie-maker) William Stout. Also included is a featurette entitled "Designing the Dead," an interview with O'Bannon and Stout (14 min.), two trailers, ten TV spots, and a still gallery. Keep-case.

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