Color, 2011, 119m.
Directed by Bill Philputt
MPE (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / DD2.0
More than any other genre, horror and sci-fi films have adapted to the special features era of home video with remarkable ease. Perhaps due to the constantly expanding and devoted fan bases, the most popular titles have spawned a wide array of retrospective pieces ranging in length from a few minutes to long-form pieces with multiple participants. One particularly gratifying development of this trend is the feature-length documentary devoted to a film or a franchise, an approach whose roots go back to films like Document of the Dead and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: A Family Portrait. With the advent of DVD, the format began to explode and led to a succession of tributes like Halloween: 25 Years of Terror, His Name Was Jason: 30 Years of Friday the 13th, and The Psycho Legacy, with the depth and quality of the presentations increasing noticeably as the bar began to rise over the years. Easily the masterpiece of this documentary offshoot is 2010's wildly entertaining and revelatory Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, one of the finest examinations of a horror series in any format; whether that one will ever be topped is anyone's guess. However, it gets some surprisingly strong competition from More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead, courtesy of several Never Sleep Again alums including director Bill Philputt (who was previously an associate producer) as well as the participation of co-writer Christian Sellers, who also co-penned the book The Complete History of the Return of the Living Dead.
Unlike those previous docs, this one switches things up by focusing completely on one film, 1985's punk/comic/gore masterpiece Return of the Living Dead, directed by the late Dan O'Bannon (of Alien and Dead & Buried fame). The film originated as a direct sequel to Night of the Living Dead, as co-writer John Russo legally owned the right to make more films and novels using the term "Living Dead" while George Romero utilized the term "Dead" for his own film series. Russo even wrote a forgotten novel sequel with the same title in the late '70s and kicks off this documentary talking about his concepts, including a thankfully abandoned concept of a religious cult and an opening scene blatantly cripped from Kiss of the Vampire. Incredibly, the rest of the doc runs nearly two hours by flies by in a flash as all of the significant living participants (and a few minor ones as well) pop up on camera to talk about the creation of the feature. (O'Bannon, producer Tom Fox, and actor Mark "Suicide" Venturini have all passed away.) Obviously there have been a few cast/crew permutations over the years for the film's two DVD special editions (including an ill-advised comedy commentary with zombies killing off the participants when they die in the film), but this is easily the final word on the cult classic as it goes far more in depth than ever before.
Actors present here include James Karen, Clu Gulager, Thom Mathews, Don Calfa, Beverly Randolph, Linnea Quigley, Miguel Nunez Jr., Jewel Shepard, John Philbin, Allan Trautman (the Tarman), plus FX and makeup artists like Tony Gardner, Kenny Myers, and William Munns, Orion marketing exec Paul M. Sammon, production designer William Stout, co-producer Graham Henderson, cinematographer Jules Brenner, casting director Stanzi Stokes, and SSQ lead singer Stacey Q ("Tonight"), with genial actor Brian Peck (who played the mohawked Scuz) pulling double duty as both an interviewee and the narrator of the doc and the bonus features. Everyone is extremely candid here and full of great stories, so brace yourself. Which cast member was homeless during the shoot? Which one accidentally had her mic on while she was trashing a fellow cast member on the set? How did they shoot Quigley's legendary graveyard dance? Who thought director O'Bannon was too rough? These questions and much more are answered in a very colorful, often hilarious two hours of ghoulish fun.
The doc itself is also very well assembled, including some nifty but sparing animated credits and transitions using pivotal characters and moments from the film along with great comic book-style illustrations of some of the more vivid onscreen comments. Apart from some questionable spaghetti western-style credits music, it's also well scored and skillfuly edited together with everyone positioned in front of vibrant props related to the film (along with some strange digitally-tweaked colored smoke in the background of a few shots).
The main two hours would be enough to recommend this without hesitation, but the special featuers are also worth checking out. The half-hour "They Won't Stay Dead: A Look at Return of the Living Dead Part II" features several of the cast and crew talking about the troubled genesis and production of this much-derided comedy sequel (not helmed by O'Bannon) and generally trashing it from top to bottom, with good reason. The 18-minute "Love Beyond the Grave: A Look at Return of the Living Dead 3" features some of the same participants and director Brian Yuzna talking about the minor but much-improved second sequel, which is still crying out for a truly decent DVD release. Not surprisingly, the godawful 2006 and 2007 installments are completely ignored. "A Conversation with Dan O'Bannon" is a very welcome 28-minute final interview with the director, who talks about much of his genre work including some particularly interesting opening remarks on the direct-to-video oddity The Resurrected, which is a bit more worthwhile than his stories might indicate. Other goodies include 14 extra deleted scenes from the doc (including a funny bit called "Miguel's Hidden Secret"), a recent live video for "Tonight," a "Resurrected Settings" video tour of the filming locations for 10 minutes, a three-minute recap of the film itself with the cast members offering hammy renditions of the film's major quotable dialogue, and trailers for both More Brains and Never Sleep Again. All in all, it's another amazingly comprehensive testament to the durability of '80s horror-- but if these guys ever decide to get their hands on the Children of the Corn or Ghoulies series, God help us all.