All of the predominant hoo-ha doing the rounds this week, the week of the release of Prometheus, makes extensive mention of the massive genre influence of Ridley Scott and the dark, artful genius of Hans Rudi Giger. Very little mention has been made of one of the men behind the original concept of Alien, the late Dan O'Bannon. Yet this week, amidst the torrent of back-and-forth arguments as to the merit of Scott's new foray into the fertile territory that O'Bannon and his erstwhile writing partner Ron Shusett ploughed and seeded, one of the most entertaining and influential genre flicks of the 1980s slipped out of the shadows aboard a gloriously packed and sumptuously appointed blu-ray disc release.
Return of the Living Dead was the first non-Romero zombie movie to make an appreciable stamp on the mainstream horror genre and to this day the film is the only reason that the general public hold dear the tragic zombie's craving for 'Braaaaaaains!' It was also the first non-European risen dead flick to feature the 'modern', more energetic hyper-zombie, something widely and falsely attributed to the appallingly derivative 28 Days Later. For even more talented animated cadavers see Umberto Lenzi's Nightmare City.
ROTLD was originally to be directed by John Russo, the co-creator of the seminal Night of the Living Dead, based upon his own script, but studio shenanigans resulted in the appointment of O'Bannon. By that point in his career O'Bannon had a string of screenwriting successes to his name including Dark Star, Alien, Dead & Buried and, most recently, Blue Thunder. It was undoubtedly O'Bannon who would bring the fresh, unique and humourous edge to Russo's script and, in spite of his status as a first-time director (something O'Bannon himself disputed as he frequently claimed co-directorship of Dark Star, the breakthrough film for which his college buddy John Carpenter received sole directing credit), and in spite of stories regarding tension on the set and the director's prickly nature, the finished product is a tremendous slice of scary, funny and endlessly quotable horror goodness. Anyone who has had the misfortune to see John Russo's risible 'official' sequel to 1968's NOTLD, Children of the Living Dead, will probably agree that this was an incredibly sage decision on the part of the studio. In O'Bannon's hands Russo's script took on an altogether more grounded focus, whilst managing to inject killer dialogue, efficient characterisation, mostly top quality gore and animatronics and a much more front-and-centre, blackly but loudly comic form of satire than Romero's bleak and often clumsy social commentaries. His injection of punk sensibilities also managed to separate ROTLD from the parade of hair metal and/or lightweight hip-hop accompanied horror flicks that were its contemporaries at the time and that consequently now look substantially more dated and cheesy. The opposite is true of Dan O'Bannon's effort. After more than 25 years it successfully retains a sense of freshness and utter quotability. And scream queen Linnea Quigley gets nekkid and dances around a graveyard. That can only be described as a top result.
A quality movie deserves a quality release and Second Sight have undoubtedly done O'Bannon proud with well over five hours of special features, including an entertaining talking heads making-of documentary heaving with anecdotes from the everyone involved. The sad exceptions to that are O'Bannon himself (represented by a brief but moving interview recorded before his death) and actor Mark Venturini, a victim of leukemia at the tender age of 35. Purists will be pleased to learn that, although the US edition has a slightly altered soundtrack due to unresolved rights issues, this UK edition includes both the remastered track and the original 2.0 soundtrack as released.
Additional interest is provided in the form of short featurettes examining the first two sequels and why they generally failed to match the quality and appeal of O'Bannon's original. No mention is made of the futher two sequels filmed in Eastern Europe in the early noughties, probably for the best becasue the less attention that is brought to them the better.
Overall this is one of the best blu-ray releases of 2012 so far and Second Sight have set a very high bar for future releases of classic horror flicks. I would dearly love to see the O'Bannon scripted and Gary Sherman directed Dead & Buried get similar treatment. It's just a shame that O'Bannon is no longer around to be involved. For those who see Prometheus over the coming weeks take a moment to remember O'Bannon and Shusett's massive looming presence. In fact, to some extent, Prometheus could be described as an alternate take on their original Alien script, Star Beast.
Anyhoo, thank you Second Sight for a fantastic release of a fantastic film.