Release Date(s)1988 (August 14, 2018)
Studio(s)Lorimar Motion Pictures/Warner Bros. (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: A+
Return of the Living Dead Part II is one of the odder horror sequels to come out of the 1980s. Taking the almost Evil Dead II type approach of bringing back some of the same elements and remaking them in a more comedic tone, it was a project that ultimately didn’t pay off for anybody involved. Panned by critics, hated by fans of the original, and dying a horrible death at the box office, its unlikely cult status grew amongst its small but devoted fan base through repeated cable airings and home video rentals. Long unavailable in its original form due to the altering of its soundtrack for DVD, it now resurfaces on Blu-ray in a Collector’s Edition presentation.
Even I will admit that when I first saw Return of the Living Dead Part II, I didn’t like it very much. It’s nothing like the original film, of course, where the comedic elements were almost a byproduct of the outrageous situations that the characters found themselves in while still being surrounded by horror elements. Part II, by comparison goes full-on into camp territory, pulling a plethora of sight gags, inside jokes, and parodies. However, like a lot of movies you see when you’re younger, you begin to appreciate them a little more the older you get. I would not dare say that Part II is some misunderstood masterpiece, but I find it much more palatable now than I did initially, particularly with its original soundtrack restored which I believe makes a big difference.
The story of the film is also highly derivative of the first film in that a sealed canister belonging to the army is opened, unleashing a gas that whomever is nearby, living or dead, slowly turns into a zombie. Then the high jinks take over from there. Making a direct sequel to the first film would probably have been a better idea, but I also firmly believe (as do most of the people who’ve seen the film) that director Ken Wiederhorn was the wrong choice for it. He doesn’t seem to have the ability to mix horror and comedy successfully. The scales are tipped in the comedic direction so blatantly, but at the same time, the film still tries to maintain a story with characters that we’re supposed to be rooting for during, what are supposed to be, dramatic moments. A tonal mess, in other words.
However, for all of its obvious flaws, Return of the Living Dead Part II has plenty of things to appreciate about it, particularly the cinematography and excellent special make-up and mechanical effects. It’s also one of the nice things about home video, especially in the DVD and Blu-ray era. A massive amount of extras containing interviews with the cast and crew who go into detail about the making of the film will definitely give you a different slant on things, if not make you appreciate their efforts even more. Meanwhile, the passage of time has allowed the film to stand on its own two feet. Even though it will still garner plenty of negativity for years to come, it’s good to see it having a bit of a resurgence.
Scream Factory dips into the Warner Bros. vault once again for Return of the Living Dead Part II’s Blu-ray debut. The artwork for this release accidentally states that the transfer is taken from a new 2K scan of the interpositive, but also says on the reverse that it’s taken from a 4K transfer of the original camera negative. I asked the disc’s producer about this and he confirmed for me that it is, indeed, sourced from the interpositive. Regardless, it’s a fantastic presentation and bears little resemblance to its standard definition counterpart in nearly every category. It’s presented in its proper aspect ratio of 1.85:1, whereas the original DVD release filled the screen with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, meaning that there’s now slightly less information along all edges of the frame. Grain levels are even with deep, solid blacks and an enormous amount of fine detail while the color palette is warmer with more aggressive hues, particularly during daytime scenes. Skin tones have also improved, looking a bit more natural comparatively. Brightness and contrast levels are excellent and the frame is completely stable throughout. Some mild softness that’s baked into the original cinematography is still present, which is a bit random in spots, and there’s also some leftover film artifacts including a few mild scratches and instances of speckling.
The audio selection comes in two options: the original theatrical audio in English 2.0 DTS-HD and the Warner Bros. DVD audio in English 2.0 Dolby Digital. The latter, as I stated before, includes a completely different soundtrack, including the addition of an unnecessary opening narration. It’s nice to have its inclusion just for completists’ sake, but the original audio is the way to go, without question. It shows its age a bit with some extremely mild hiss, but it’s clean and clear otherwise. Dialogue is perfectly discernible while the score and music selection is given a major boost in clarity. There isn’t much in the way of panning, but sound effects are mostly strong with some nice depth. Optional subtitles in English SDH are also included.
The supplemental package for this release is chock full of goodies, many of which are newly-created by Red Shirt Pictures. First up is a new audio commentary with actress Suzanne Snyder, moderated by Michael Perez (the executive producer on More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead), both of whom provide somewhat laid back but informative remarks; another new audio commentary with Gary Smart (co-author of The Complete History of The Return of the Living Dead and filmmaker Christopher Griffiths, which is actually my favorite of what’s presented here as it’s basically a lively debate between two fans about the film’s merits and its failings; a third audio commentary with writer/director Ken Wiederhorn and co-star Thor Van Lingen, which has been carried over from the Warner Bros. DVD and provides some much-needed audible insight; Back to the Dead: The Effects of Return of the Living Dead Part II, a new 25-minute featurette that includes interviews with special make-up effects creator Kenny Myers and special make-up effects artists Andy Schoneberg and Mike Smithson about their work on the film, including that infamous Thriller zombie; The Laughing Dead, a new 20-minute interview with writer/director Ken Wiederhorn who openly discusses the film and its flaws; Undead Melodies, a new 13-minute interview with composer J. Peter Robinson about his career and his work on the film; Troy Fromin – ROTLD2: Extravaganza!, a new 2-minute interview with the actor and stuntman about his role as the pot-smoking army truck driver at the beginning of the film; They Won’t Stay Dead: A Look at Return of the Living Dead Part II (included an extra on the More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead DVD release), which is 30 minutes in length and contains many interviews with both the first and second films’ cast and crew; a vintage 6-minute Video Press Pak entitled Live from the Set; nearly 3 minutes of vintage interviews shot for the Video Press Pak with Ken Wiederhorn, James Karen, Thom Matthews, and Kenny Myers; 5 minutes of B-roll behind-the-scenes footage (also shot for the Video Press Pak); the film’s teaser and theatrical trailers; 4 TV spots; a still gallery of 70 behind-the-scenes stills from make-up effects artists Kenny Myers and Mike Smithson; and last but not least, another still gallery containing 20 poster artwork and on-set images.
Without fail, Scream Factory has once again dug up another lost fan favorite and given it the kind of treatment that has only been dreamed of. Return of the Living Dead Part II is one of the better horror home video releases of the year; with a top notch A/V transfer, complete with the film’s original soundtrack and a multitude of entertaining and fascinating extras, this definitely belongs in every horror fan’s library. Highly recommended!
- Tim Salmons