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October 16, 2011

Movie Review: More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead

This may come as a shock to some readers but the very first zombie movie I was exposed to as a youth wasn't Night of the Living Dead, nor was it Dawn of the Dead. Amazingly, it was Dan O'Bannon's cult classic Return of the Living Dead. I love all three films with "Night" being at the top, but ROTLD really molded my genre tastes when I watched it at the tender age of eight years-old. The documentary More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead compiles some enjoyable facts from the first film and a heaping helping of extras in one handy dandy package.

Director Phil Philput and company have gathered some of the key players to the success of the original film. That includes actors - Thom Mathews, James Karen, Clu Gulager, Don Calfa, Beverly Randolf ( who co-produces) Linnea Quigley and Brian "Scuz" Peck. Also appearing in the documentary is co-writer John Russo, producer Graham Henderson, set designer William Stout and FX guru Kenny Myers. There are plenty more that I haven't mentioned as this really is as thorough a documentary on the subject of Return of the Living Dead that you will ever see.

The stories told by the Return of the Living Dead alum are generally very interesting and even amusing. The late Dan O'Bannon and his directing style are brought by both sides several times. From the recollections he sounds very passionate about his vision but somewhat difficult. O'Bannon truly made what was an ok idea by John Russo - cashing in on the success of Night of the Living Dead, into his own unique take on the zombie film.

Brian Peck, James Karen and the amazing Clu Gulager really take charge with the best memories. Peck was kind of a jack-of-all-trades on all three films and also acts as narrator on the documentary. Karen and Gulager are hilarious at times and show even at their advanced age both seem to recollect so much information about the movie.

Coming into this DVD I had thought this was something similar to the superb Never Sleep Again documentary covering the Nightmare on Elm Street films. "More Brains" just covers the first film but as supplements there are a couple featurettes on the second and third film that are as good as anything in the feature. There's plenty of background on the disastrous sequel that went for more laughs than chills and it's apathetic director, Ken Weiderhorn (Shock Waves).

Part three is another story however, even with its lackluster take at the box office. Brian Yuzna and writer John Penney add originality to the series with the Shakespearean tragedy angle experienced by the Julie and Curt characters. J. Trevor Edmonds, Yuzna, Penny and FX artist Steve Johnson are all here.  Mindi Clarke is unfortunately absent, although her naked prosthetic boobs are thankfully on hand - so not all is lost.

If you're wondering at all where Return of the Living Dead part four and five are it appears the producers decided to not give them any attention. That's a good thing as both of those paltry installments make part two look like the original. It doesn't end there. We're also treated to some deleted scenes that don't prove to be too amazing but are a nice watch if you dug the documentary. Dan O'Bannon is featured in what was his final interview before his passing which proves to be bittersweet. Also, Stacy Q. performs live and some trailers round out the supplements.

More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead is undoubtedly the "definitive" guide, as no gravestone is left unturned. Anybody with an admiration for zombies of the brain-eating variety will love every minute of this solid release.

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