• Return Of The Living Dead Part II (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: August 14th, 2018.
    Director: Ken Wiederhorn
    Cast: James Karen, Thom Mathews, Dana Ashbrook, Thor Van Lingen, Suzanne Snyder, Philip Bruns
    Year: 1988
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    Return Of The Living Dead Part II – Movie Review:

    Ken Wiederhorn’s Return Of The Living Dead Part II is a fairly tepid sequel to Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 original. The violence and gore is considerably toned down to the point where the movie was almost given a PG-13 rating. There’s very little foul language. There’s no nudity! The effects aren’t nearly as good, the sets aren’t as interesting and the story is fairly meh. Still, the movie has its moments and as such, it has its fans. Some of us remember it reasonably fondly from our younger days, even if we’re well aware that it’s not a great film. Shout! Factory, on the other hand, seem to have no gotten that memo as they’ve rolled out a serious amount of red carpet for this release.

    But first, the movie!

    We learn that while the army was transporting drums of the Trioxin gas featured in the original Return Of The Living Dead that one of them literally fell off the back of a truck and landed in a river near the suburbs. It winds up stashed away in a tunnel of sorts and is found by a boy named Jesse Wilson (Michael Kenworthy) when he tries to hide out there from local bully Billy (Thor Van Lingen) and his pal Johnny (Jason Hogan). When the two elder kids track Jesse down, they find the barrel there and, being both dumb and curious, lock Jesse in the mausoleum of a nearby cemetery and try to get the thing open. Eventually they do just that, releasing the Trioxin into the air and breathing plenty of it in themselves.

    While this is going on, a graverobber named Ed (James Karen) and his new hire Joey (Thom Mathews) hop into a van for a little nighttime excursion to the same graveyard. Joey’s girlfriend Lucy (Marsha Dietlein) is along for the ride but not particularly impressed by any of this. When they get the their targeted mausoleum and Jesse pops up, the kid runs home to his snotty sister Brenda (Suzanne Snyder) who is more intrigued by hunky cable guy Tom (Dana Ashbrook) than anything her kid brother might have to say.

    Eventually, the dead start to rise and those that have been contaminated by the Trioxin start to turn, unleashing a full-blown brain-eating zombie plague upon the town… oh, and there’s a weird old drunk guy named Doc (Philip Bruns) along for the ride.

    At one point Joey says to Ed “I feel like we've been here before. You... Me... Them!” There’s a reason for that – they’re basically playing the same characters that they did in the original film. It’s funny at first, but then it sort of seems pointless. Still, the movie, if nowhere as good as the original, has its moments. There’s humor here that works even if there’s very little actual horror that leaves much of a lasting impression. It’s almost as if this were a horror film made for kids – the film only got an R-rating because of some stronger than usual gore in one scene. There are some fun pop culture references here, a Michael Jackson zombie stands out, and it’s cool to see Dana Ashbrook here playing a character pretty far away from the one he did in Twin Peaks. Philip Bruns, who starred in all sorts of stuff from Flashdance to The Stunt Man, steals more than a few scenes as the lush of the group. Overall the performances are fine.

    The effects are… okay. Not great, but okay. There are a few too many times where it’s clear that the zombies are just people with masks and appliances on, you can see the skin around their eyes in the eye holes that they’re peeking through. The movie is reasonably bloodless, which is odd considering that a lot of people have their brains eaten, but you’ve got to love it when one of the zombies tells the living characters to “Get that damn screwdriver out of my head!.”

    Return Of The Living Dead Part II – Blu-ray Review:

    Presented on a 50GB disc and framed at 1.85.1 widescreen, the transfer on Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release of Return Of The Living Dead Part II is taken from a new 2K scan of the interpositive and generally speaking it looks excellent. Detail is solid throughout, though some of the photography is a little soft, and there’s good depth and texture here as well. Colors look great, black levels are fine and the image is very clean, showing no real print damage while retaining the natural amount of film grain you’d expect to see. No problems with any noise reduction or edge enhancement to note, and the disc is free of obvious compression issues.

    The original English language track, with the unaltered music, is presented here in an okay sounding DTS-HD 2.0 Mono mix reportedly sourced from a VHS tape (the original elements are gone). There is some mild hiss but distortion is a non-issue. Balance is fine throughout. There’s a fair bit of range here with the effects and the music, but dialogue is a bit flat. The track is reasonably clean and serviceable enough, but given the elements used it isn't surprising to note that it is less than perfect. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. The alternate track, with the goofy voiceover and alternate music, that was included on the DVD is also here for posterity’s sake, but the original mix is the way to go.

    Carried over from the older release is the vintage audio commentary with writer/director Ken Wiederhorn and actor Thor Van Lingen but new to this release is a commentary with actress Suzanne Snyder and another commentary with Gary Smart (co-author of The Complete History of the Return of the Living Dead) and filmmaker Christopher Griffiths. The Snyder track does a fine job of explaining how and why she wound up in the movie, her thoughts on the cast members that she acted alongside, her thoughts on the movie overall and more. The Smart/Griffiths track is a more analytical one, offering up plenty of trivia about what we see on screen as well as behind the scenes information alongside their thoughts on what works in the movie and what doesn’t.

    From there we dig into the first of four new featurettes in the form of Back To The Dead: The Effects Of Return Of The Living Dead II which is made up of including interviews with Special Make-up Effects creator Kenny Myers and Special Make-up Effects artists Andy Schoneberg and Mike Smithson and runs twenty-five-minutes in length. These guys are pretty blunt about the direction of the picture and its sometimes very obvious flaws but they give a spirited talk about their work, discussing some of the challenges that they had to overcome and talking up some of the techniques that they used to get the job done. In The Laughing Dead we spend nineteen-minutes with writer/director Ken Wiederhorn who, also, is pretty upfront about his feelings on the film. Interestingly enough, as the movie he had made prior go retitled and turned into Meatballs 2 without his blessing, he was kind of gun shy about working on this, but he’s in good spirits here as he talks about studio expectations and what it was like on set. In Undead Melodies composer J. Peter Robinson talks for thirteen-minutes about his work creating the score that is featured in the picture while actor Troy Fromin speaks for just over two-minutes about his part in the film.

    Carried over from the More Brains! documentary is They Won’t Stay Dead: A Look At Return Of The Living Dead II including interviews with James Karen, Thom Matthews, Brian Peck, Kenny Myers, Susan Snyder, Michael Kenworthy and a few others. It runs just under half an hour in length and if you haven’t seen it before it’s worth checking out. There’s also an archival featurette entitled Five From The Set that runs five-minutes and features Wiederhorn talking about his comedic aspirations for the picture, and just shy of three-minutes’ worth of archival interviews with Ken Wiederhorn, James Karen, Thom Matthews and Kenny Myers.

    Closing things out is four-minutes’ worth of behind the scenes footage, theatrical and teaser trailers for the feature, a handful of TV spots, two different still galleries, menus and chapter selection. Shout! Factory also graces this release with a slipcover and some nice reversible cover art featuring their newly created art on one side and the original poster art on the reverse.

    Return Of The Living Dead Part II – The Final Word:

    Return Of The Living Dead II is not a great film but that hasn’t stopped Shout! Factory from giving it a great release. The presentation is top notch and the extras are exemplary. If the movie itself misses more than it hits, it still has its moments and those who do appreciate it for what it is will definitely get a lot out of this collector’s edition release.

    Click on the images below for full sized Return Of The Living Dead Part II Blu-ray review screen captures!