Judge Patrick Naugle never did like you, but oh gawd hold him tight.
More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead is great viewing for only a handful of people. Well, maybe more than a handful. Still, this is a solid niche documentary that will appeal to horror/zombie aficionados and those with discerning tastes for movies about undead cannibals and punk rockers (I love faux elitism). No matter how well a documentary is made—and for the subject matter, popularity, and budget, this is a pretty good one—it's still going to boil down to who your audience is. The audience for this documentary will not be people who enjoy opera or most of the Criterion catalog.
I am one of the handful who find this subject endlessly fascinating. I'm a hardcore, down and dirty Return of the Living Dead fan. In fact, I might go so far as to say it's one of my top five favorite movies, and certainly one that gets the most spin in my Blu-ray player. Writer/director Dan O'Bannon crafted one of the most original and unsettling horror movies to shamble from the 1980s, and it has a large underground cult following. That's most likely why this documentary was made. Return of the Living Dead has become a true horror phenomenon.
Directed by Bill Philputt and narrated by actor Brian Peck (who had a substantial role in the classic original), More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead covers a lot of bases, including the genesis of the project (which was originally to have been helmed by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre director Tobe Hooper), the casting and pre-production, the grueling film shoot, post-production, its release, and eventual cult status. Along the way, viewers are offered interviews with the entire cast (all the way down to "Paramedic #2") and many of the behind-the-scenes talent, plus a bevy of photos and footage. The anecdotes aren't especially revelatory (a lot of the stories about the grueling production and O'Bannon's divisive personality can be found in various books and DVDs), but it's still a lot of fun to hear Clu Gulagar, Don Calfa, Thom Mathews, production designer Bill Stout, producer Graham Henderson, and others discuss their experiences making the film.
If I'm being completely honest, the whole thing feels like one big supplemental feature. If there's a solid disappointment here it's that O'Bannon isn't included anywhere in the documentary, except for a few brief moments as the film comes to a close. O'Bannon passed away in 2009 and it's a bit frustrating he doesn't get much of a chance to defend his directing choices, both professional and personal; the cast and crew often complain about how hard he was on everyone and his lack of social graces. Also missing is Mark Venturini (the lead punk rocker) who passed away in 1996 and producer Tom Fox. Their omissions are sorely missed.
More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead is essentially a very black and white experience. Are you a fan of horror films, or more specifically, zombie movies? Do you like hearing people talk endlessly about making a film dealing with the undead? Then I can heartily recommend this. Otherwise, stick with Michael Moore.
More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The image quality is serviceable, if unexceptional. The bulk of the documentary includes talking head interviews, old still photographs, some transitional animation and footage from the original Return of the Living Dead film. It probably could have looked better but I don't think it would have mattered—MPE's featured transfer gets the job done. The soundtrack is presented in what appears to be serviceable Dolby 2.0 Stereo (no mention is made on the package). There wasn't a large requirement for this to be a full-on 5.1 surround mix. Also included are English subtitles.
The bonus features are substantial, for the size of the production. The best are two short documentaries, each covering Return of the Living Dead, Part II and Return of the Living Dead 3 that include interviews actors Suzanne Snyder (2), Michael Kenworthy (2), J. Trevor Edmond (3), and director Brian Yuzna (3). There is also a final interview with director Dan O'Bannon (shortly before his death), some deleted scenes from the documentary, a music video by Stacey Q Live! ("Tonight," a song from the original film), a look at the shooting locations then and now, a short featurette with the cast saying lines from the movie, and trailers for this film and Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy.
More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead caters to the needs of a discerning few. Let's put it this way: If I mention the name "Tar Man" and you know exactly what I'm talking about, this doc is for you.
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