Although viewed as one step away from being pornography by its own studio, Orion Pictures, the low-budget spin-off from George A. Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" proved to be an instant hit with audiences and critics, even overshadowing Romero's own "Night" sequel that summer, "Day of the Dead." Today, "Return" continues to enjoy a healthy fan following, thanks to writer/director Dan O'Bannon's then-unique mix of corpses and comedy.
Unfortunately, having passed away two years ago, O'Bannon (co-screenwriter of "Alien") couldn't actively participate in this retrospective, but virtually everyone else has, from cast to crew heck, even singer Stacey Q, who just had a song on the soundtrack album! They're quite open, too, mocking producer Tom Fox's lack of filmmaking knowledge and recalling how hateful actress Jewel Shepard appeared to be toward her fellow performers; she remembers it differently, having constantly combat the rumor that she landed her part by bedding O'Bannon.
Many great anecdotes ensue. James Karen's refusal to become a zombie resulted in the creation of one of the movie's most memorable scenes. Linnea Quigley's infamous graveyard dance yielded a behind-the-scenes argument about her pubic hair being visible, so O'Bannon's solution was ordering her shaved, yielding yet another confrontation. Actor Miguel Nunez was enjoying his big break, praying that no one would learn he was homeless.
There are plenty more, helping fill a never-wavering two hours, ending with a really touching video clip of O'Bannon's last interview; the rest of that conversation resides in the disc's many extras. However, chief among those are mini-docs on the 1988 and 1993 sequels, Ken Wiederhorn's "Return of the Living Dead Part II" and Brian Yuzna's "III," at roughly 30 and 20 minutes, respectively.
While it'd be nice to see them incorporated into the overall work after all, the same creative team's superb "Never Sleep Again," a retrospective on the "Nightmare on Elm Street" franchise, runs a long but lively four hours at least they're here, although their effectiveness is diminished without clips from the films they're discussing. It's also too bad this disc ignores the pair of 2005 sequels, Ellory Elkayem's "Necropolis" and "Rave to the Grave"; although both are truly, totally wretched, I'd still love to see them acknowledged as existing, if only to be torn a new one that's the only point of advantage the book, "The Complete History of the Return of the Living Dead," has over the documentary.
I'm a sucker for these type of franchise-encompassing documentaries, and "More Brains!" is another solid reason why. Rod Lott