THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD: Scream Factory Blu-ray Review with Screen Comparisons

The Return Of The Living Dead rises again to haunt Blu-ray in a new Collector’s Edition, out today from Scream Factory.

This article contains several comparisons which contrast the older MGM Blu-ray transfer (“before”, left) with the new Scream Factory restoration (“after”, right). The frames aren’t necessarily exact matches, but should give a solid indication of the visual differences.

In 1968, George Romero changed horror and low budget filmmaking forever with his new horror masterpiece Night Of The Living Dead. The film introduced the modern concept of zombies, divorced from their Haitian voodoo origins and reimagined as ravenous, undead eaters of human flesh. The film is known for its bleak outlook as much as its stark terror, and in continuing his career Romero further explored themes of cynicism, human evil, and inherent distrust of the institutions of power.

In 1985, the same year that Romero released his second sequel Day Of The Dead, his Night Of The Living Dead co-writer John Russo was part of a team that served up a new zombie masterpiece, unconventionally tying into the series: an unofficial “sidequel” that posits that Romero’s movie was based on real events. Noted science fiction writer Dan O’Bannon (Alien, Total Recall) directed and the result was a new classic. And while The Return Of The Living Dead does maintain some social commentary and mistrust of the government, it’s mostly just out to have a good time — and succeeds wildly.

Top: Old MGM // Bottom: New Scream Factory

A pair of inept medical warehouse workers inadvertently unleash some toxic gas from a canister stored away in their basement, poisoning them and releasing a zombification-causing agent that reanimates the cadaver in their cold storage. Rather than calling the emergency phone number printed on the canister, they try to resolve the matter themselves and just end up making things worse by spreading the contamination. Meanwhile, a gang of sex- and death-obsessed punks takes their raucous partying to the neighboring graveyard as the chemical, now released into the atmosphere, begins to revive its inhabitants.

Top: Old MGM // Bottom: New Scream Factory

The characters and action traverse across three locations in close proximity: the warehouse, the graveyard, and its adjacent mortuary, and eventually the warehouse workers, mortician, and street punks find themselves teaming up, barricaded together against the zombie hordes with little hope of escape.

Top: Old MGM // Bottom: New Scream Factory

The movie is full of fun and impressive practical effects. And while most of the undead are rather typical looking (i.e., extras in cakey face paint), the instigating zombie, known as “Tar Man”, is an incredible looking and very memorable character — covered in tattered rags and gooey black slime, and shuffling wildly in an eerily uncanny manner.

Top: Old MGM // Bottom: New Scream Factory

The film is responsible for some of the more interesting developments in zombie lore: the inclusion of dark comedy, both fast and intelligent (and even talking!) zombies, and of course the Undead’s relentless appetite for brrrraaaaaains, and even some exploration of their motivations. The toxin which revives the dead also has an effect on the living, rendering them clinically dead while keeping them animated, essentially turning them to zombies as well. In one hilariously pitch black sequence, the infected warehouse workers, still fully conscious and aware, learn they have already flatlined and are experiencing painful rigor mortis.

With humorous writing, lots of attitude, and an interesting take on the zombie mythos, all set to a rockin’ punk-laced soundtrack, The Return Of The Living Dead is a blast of pure fun.

The Package

The Return of The Living Dead claws its way back to Blu-ray in a handsome Collector’s Edition from Scream Factory. The new releases sports a reversible cover insert with both the classic poster design and new artwork by Graham Humphreys. (Quick-draw collectors also had the opportunity to pre-order a limited edition from Scream Factory with a second slipcover with art by Joel Robinson, plus posters of both new designs).

The film has already long been available on Blu-ray, and (like the upcoming Scream Factory releases Carrie and Invasion Of The Body Snatchers) seen some re-packages with new artwork as part of various Halloween promotions. The existing disc is a pretty damn good one, packed with features and available on the cheap, which begs the question of what differentiates this new disc.

To begin with, the “disc” is now two discs, packed with both new and ported features. There are two new commentary tracks, a 2-hour mega-documentary, and a pair of new half-hour features in addition to the already substantial previous extras, not to mention lots of marketing/promo stuff and of course the new presentation of the film itself, sourced from a new 2K interpositive scan.

As the screens indicate, the new transfer is darker, sharper, and more detailed with finer grain. Colors are a bit cooler and more natural looking. The most surprising difference is how much variance there is in some of the framing, particularly vertically. The generally tighter framing is a bit more intimate and has a “bigger” look to it, but also means sometimes you see less of the image. Overall though, it’s obvious that this is a much better visual presentation of the film, and the best it’s ever looked on home video.

Here are a few more screen comparisons:

Top: Old MGM // Bottom: New Scream Factory
Top: Old MGM // Bottom: New Scream Factory
Top: Old MGM // Bottom: New Scream Factory
Top: Old MGM // Bottom: New Scream Factory

One last thing — Scream Factory has noted that the song “Dead Beat Dance” by The Damned could not be cleared for this release, so it’s not included. I’m not familiar enough with the film to have noticed the change, but for some fans, this may be reason enough to hold on to your old MGM discs.

Top: Old MGM // Bottom: New Scream Factory


4 Audio Commentaries (2 of which are NEW)
NEW …With Gary Smart And Chris Griffiths — Gary Smart is co-author Of The Complete History Of The Return Of The Living Dead
NEW …With Actors Thom Mathews & John Philbin and Make-up Effects Artist Tony Gardner
…With Director Dan O’Bannon And Production Designer William Stout
…With Cast And Crew — Featuring actors Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph, and Allan Trautman; and Production Designer William Stout

The Decade Of Darkness (20:23)
A cool, short exploration of MGM/Fox 80s horror flicks, featuring lots of familiar horror icons.

Theatrical Trailers (8:31) and TV Spots (5:22)
4 unique trailers (this one’s my favorite), and a staggering 10 different TV ads in surprisingly pristine quality.

Still Galleries
Press Gallery (7:21) — Posters, Lobby Cards, and BTS photos
Effects Gallery (2:06) — BTS Photos Courtesy of SFX artist Kenny Myers

“Zombie Subtitles”

In Their Own Words — The Zombies Speak


The FX Of The Living Dead (32:49)
NEW half-hour documentary featuring many of the film’s effects artists. Produced by Severin.

Party Time! The Music Of The Return Of The Living Dead (29:31)
NEW half-hour documentary with music consultants Budd Carr and Steve Pross, and various artist/band members from the soundtrack. Also produced by Severin.

Horror’s Hallowed Grounds: Return Of The Living Dead (10:15)
NEW — This series, in which the host checks out horror film locations, is becoming a regular recurring feature on Scream Factory discs, and I quite enjoy these episodes.

More Brains: A Return To The Living Dead (119:43)
NEW Blu-ray debut (previously available as a standalone DVD). This 2-hour documentary, featuring interviews with tons of cast and crew members, wasn’t on the previous MGM disc, and is probably the single coolest highlight of the features. It’s actually longer than the movie it’s paying tribute to! Contains lots of Comics Sans, though — gross. Look, I can handle brains and blood splattering, but we’ve gotta draw a line somewhere.

The Return Of The Living Dead Workprint (1:47:49)
4:3 SD, unfortunately in very poor sub-VHS quality. Even so, cool to have it included. New, sort of. Or at least not on the prior MGM release.

A Conversation With Dan O’Bannon: The Final Interview (28:32)

The Origins Of The Living Dead (15:12)
Very interesting interview with John A. Russo, who co-wrote the film as well as Night Of The Living Dead. Produced by Severin.

The Dead Have Risen (20:34)
A carryover featurette with lots of cast interviews

Designing The Dead (13:39)
Interviews with writer/director Dan O’Bannon and production designer William Stout

Top: Old MGM // Bottom: New Scream Factory

A/V Out.

Get it at Amazon:

Previous post Arrow Heads Vol. 18: HIRED TO KILL and THE ZERO BOYS Showcase a Great Cult Director
Next post The Starkness of BETRAYED is Still Sadly Relevant