New On Blu: THE DEAD NEXT DOOR (1990) 3-Disc Limited Ultimate Edition

The Dead Next Door is now available on Blu-ray from Tempe Video in a signed, individually numbered, limited edition of only 1000 Units!

Over 25 years ago, writer-director J. R. Bookwalter released the culmination of years of work and development. He had secured financing to make his movie from none other than Sam Raimi, who in addition to directing his own films produced or otherwise helped out with a number of independent horror movies of that era. After shooting a bit on video, Bookwalter rightfully found the footage too tacky looking and opted to shoot on low-gauge Super 8 film instead — and with that unusual decision, history was made. The Dead Next Door would become considered by many to be the most ambitious Super 8 film of all time.

The film follows the exploits of the Zombie Squad, a government-connected response team led by the square-jawed Raimi (many of the characters are named after famous horror directors). The Zombie Squad is tasked with retrieving a secret formula which could be useful in the fight against zombies, and ends up coming to blows with an insane zombie-loving cult.

This may be a low-budget film, but it doesn’t behave like one. The film does a terrific job of selling the scale of a world overrun with the undead. Large sweeping shots show streets and fields teeming with zombies, and there’s even some insane footage shot outside the White House, where zombies are held at bay by the perimeter fence. A look at the Zombie Squad headquarters shows scientists working to unlock the zombies’ secrets, even translating their speech. These little flourishes really help to flesh out the world and already elevate the film above a lot of small-scope indie horror fare.

Also buoying the film is the amazing effects work. There’s a ton of gory practical effects employing animatronics, prosthetics, and makeup. And while it’s a very bloody and goopy film, it all has a somewhat cartoonish quality, as well as a biting sense of humor, keeping things from getting too squeamish. In one particularly memorable gag, a severed zombie head bites a couple fingers off of an idiot who gets too close, and after a moment they slide out the bottom of his neck.

The combination of broad scope, squishy effects, tongue-in-cheek humor, and the backing of Raimi and friends (Bruce Campbell not only voiced the lead but acted as the dub-audio supervisor) combine to make The Dead Next Door, a film which could easily have been a forgotten blip, a very special presence on the cult radar.

Depending on your tolerance for cheesiness, even the movie’s lesser qualities can be a joy. In this reviewer’s opinion, the random plot holes, and relatively amateurish acting all add to The Dead Next Door’s unique charm.

The Package

For the 2015 Blu-ray release, Bookwalter turned to crowdfunding site IndieGoGo to help fund the restoration. The result is absolutely stellar: an astoundingly complete edition with the best of both old and new: the 2k restoration in both 4:3 OAR and director-approved 16:9, classic VHS and DVD versions of the film, many audio and commentary options, and a huge amount of new and classic bonus features. I’ve had to drastically limit the scope of my review because actually watching it all would take ages.

The package includes 3 discs, a Blu-ray with the restoration and new HD features, a DVD with archival VHS and DVD versions and SD features, and an expanded CD soundtrack. It’s housed in a 14mm case, which is thicker than the usual Blu-ray.

The first 1000 Units are a Limited Numbered Edition which includes Reversible Artwork signed by J.R. Bookwalter and an 8-page booklet with notes by Fangoria’s Michael Gingold.

Because of the way the post-production was handled, the film’s titles, credits, and certain effects and transitions have been recreated with each upgraded format, spanning VHS, DVD, and now high-definition Blu-ray. Purists may balk at this revisionism, but the SD-locked original elements would’ve made a poor transition to HD. The titles look very sleek and modern. I would’ve preferred to see them in a more subtle 1990-appropriate aesthetic, but this is a pretty nitpicky complaint.

Aside from the titles and credits, the revisionism is most noticeable during an early scene in which a zombie is tossed out a window with a grenade. The explosion effect looks artificial in all three versions but for different reasons — the HD version looks garishly digital, overtly clashing with the Super 8 aesthetic, while the VHS version looks very “video” and dated. The 2005 DVD version probably fares the best, lacking the fiery plume and opting for a more realistic smoke effect. The great news is that all three versions of the film (or four versions, if you count the restoration’s two aspect ratio options) are included so you can check them all out.

(Illustrative, not a direct frame comparison)

Minor quibbles aside, the new 2K restoration looks incredible in either aspect ratio, and the addition of the original cast soundtrack is an unexpected treat. It’s worth noting that a few scenes and shots were missing from the film elements and are inserted from video sources. Their re-inclusion is a bit more noticeable and pixelated in the widescreen version, due to its zoom.

Movie Options:

  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 OAR and Director-approved 16:9 Widescreen
  • Audio: Original Cast Performance, Classic 1990 Dub, and Producers’ Audio Commentary with J.R. Bookwalter, Jolie Jackunas and Scott P. Plummer

2015 Features

  • “Restoration of the Dead” (19:20) — My favorite of the features. J.R. describes the process of bringing The Dead Next Door into high-definition.
  • Capitol Theatre Screening (12:12) — Q&A with Cast & Crew
  • The Nightlight Screening (16:29) — Q&A with J.R. Bookwalter

2005 Features

  • Behind the Scenes Footage (19:13)
  • Deleted Scenes & Outtakes (7:11)
  • Still Galleries Around The World Gallery (3:49) — International home video artwork and posters Storyboard Gallery (26:27) Behind The Scenes Gallery (8:30)
  • Production Stills Gallery (6:24)
  • Tempe Digital Trailers
     The Dead Next Door 2015 Trailer (1:47)
     Platoon of the Dead (1:15)
     Poison Sweethearts (1:31)

This DVD is not the same as the previous DVD release, nor is it a “DVD copy” of the first disc. It contains the two prior versions of the film (original VHS and 2005 DVD) and a different set of new and old extras than the Blu-ray, presented in SD.

Movie Options:

  • 2005 DVD Version (78:25) — With Optional Commentary by J. R. Bookwalter and cinematographer Michael Tolochko Jr.
  • 1990 VHS Version (81:45) — With optional commentary by Doug Tilley (a friend of Cinapse!) and Moe Porne of No-Budget Nightmares. This one is a lot of fun; Doug and Moe obviously love the film but aren’t afraid to poke fun at it and point out all the plot holes.

2015 Extras

  • “The Dead Up North” (9:29) — J.R. in Ottawa, Canada
  • Local TV Appearances (15:00) — old news footage
  • Local TV commercials (1:34) — two humorous B/W ads from the early 90s
  • 1995 Making Of Excerpts (9:15)
  • Short Films: The Flesh Eater (1979, 2:47), Zombie (1980, 10:05), and Tomorrow (1985/Unfinished, 9:02) — Adorably, these feature commentary by J.R. and his 6-year-old son Benjamin, who gets a few questions in to Dad.

2005 Extras

  • “20 Years in 15 Minutes” (15:33) — Various cast and crew members reminisce
  • Video Storyboards (8:15)
  • Video Preshoots (5:32)
  • Auditions (14:02)
  • 2000 Frightvision Reunion (6:15) — 10-Year Cast & Crew Reunion — interesting but poorly edited with clips of speakers overlapping each other.
  • Music Video “The Dead Next Door” (3:05) — punk-influenced theme song; live performance intercut with movie clips


  • The Dead Next Door — Original Trailer (2:01)
  • Kingdom Of the Vampire (1:02)
  • Ozone (1:26)
  • The Sandman (1:18)
  • Polymorph (1:29)

Disc 3 — CD Soundtrack

Collects J.R.’s electronic score as well as a few bonus songs not included on prior releases of the official soundtrack by Joy Circuit, Argus, In-Nine and Three Miles Out. In what is perhaps the only major oversight of the package, a track list is not included.

A few minor complaints aside, The Ultimate Edition of The Dead Next Door is an incredible package full of a ridiculous amount of extras, and obviously a major labor of love from writer-director J. R. Bookwalter. Absolutely stellar and one of the best Blu-ray releases of 2015.

A/V Out.

3-Disc Blu-ray Edition available exclusively from Tempe Video:

Other editions available at Amazon:
 [DVD] | [Instant]

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