MORE BRAINS! A RETURN
TO THE LIVING DEAD
U.S.A. | 2011
Directed by Bill Philputt
Featuring
Brian Peck, James Karen
Clu Gulager, Thom Mathews
Linnea Quigley, Miguel A. Nuñez Jr.
Color | 119 Minutes | Not Rated
Format: DVD (R0 - NTSC)
MPE
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Review by
Doug Red

Film:8
:
DVD:9
Do you like sex with death? The creators of The Return of the Living Dead obviously did, so they set out to unite sex and death on film, along with liberal doses of black humor. This list of film ingredients (sex, death, punk music, humor) was cooked to perfection by head chef Dan O'Bannon, making ROTLD a seminal cult hit and one of the most iconic horror films of the 1980s. More Brains! is a new documentary looking back on the film's production, reuniting the people who made it — instantly becoming the best DVD extra not included on a normal Return of the Living Dead DVD release.
    More Brains! goes about documenting ROTLD in true linear style, beginning with the original script treatment by Night of the Living Dead veteran John Russo (including details of the original opening he envisioned for ROTLD) and working its way through all the twists and turns of production, to finally end on its enduring legacy as a beloved cult film. In between the story is stuffed with a gut-bucket load of behind-the-scenes shots, footage, production art, and other ephemera for discerning fans who just can't get enough. The secret weapon of the documentarians, though, are the personalities of the stars and production artisans who worked on the film. When you see them all as real people, you realize just what a special group of folks eventually came together to gel as a team. It's also a little like a zombie Rashomon, wherein all the talent involved see events as happening in different ways, and the audience has to decide where the truth lies. James "Frank" Karen is a lovely old fellow who has many great memories of the shoot, and offers up the fact that he was hurt that nobody wanted to see him naked in the film. Hearing lovely Linnea "Trash" Quigley recounting the many bizarre events surrounding her grave-top striptease and the issues of nudity and public hair is a scream. John "Chuck" Philben has a wry sense of humor that makes his bits almost seem like standup, rendering him more memorable that his nerdy character was allowed to be in the original film. Still smokin' hot, Jewel "Casey" Shepard explains why she turned down the role of Trash (having been discovered by director Dan O'Bannon as a stripper, she just didn't want to be naked at that time on film), and comes across as a genuinely quirky and somewhat bashful individual. Miguel A. Nuñez Jr., alias "Spider", is a lively interview who reveals he was homeless when he got the part, and talks quite a bit about his awe of Linnea. Brian "Scuz" Peck (also the narrator of the documentary) turns out to be a secret horror geek who went above and beyond the normal call of duty as an actor, even appearing anonymously as the infamous "anthill" zombie during the resurrection of the dead scene. Alan Trautman discusses how his experience as a professional puppeteer enabled him to bring humor to the role of the shambling zombie horror known as "Tar Man". Thom "Freddy" Mathews talks about how much fun it was to finally get to go after Tina's brains; Beverly "Tina" Randolph seems exactly as sweet and guileless as her character in real life (and she reveals that Tina's outfit was based on something Miguel was wearing to the set one day!). Clu "Burt" Gulager is a wild card, a completely dedicated actor, as he talks about his last-minute casting and (sometimes) heated clashes with first-time director O'Bannon. Don "Ernie" Calfa talks about his preparation for the role and the Aryan blond dye job sported by his eccentric character. Conceptual artist William Stout has plenty to say as well, and it's easy to discern that his participation in ROTLD is perhaps an unsung reason for its success. Surprisingly, some of the darker aspects of the film are not glossed over, namely fights over special effects (including sub-par work on the headless "Yellow Man" zombie at the Uneeda Supply Co., brutally exposed with surviving photo evidence) that ended with FX creator William Munns being fired, and Dan O'Bannon's slow falling out with producer Tom Fox, in part because Fox wanted his family to have cameos as zombies.
    More Brains! is a solid, loving look at a landmark horror film, but there are two issues that keep this film from being a perfect 10. One is that Dan O'Bannon, while he was interviewed, is largely a ghost in the machine for the duration of the documentary, only showing up in some interview footage in the last five minutes. However, there is a full interview included as an extra on the disc. Considering how integral he is to the making of this film in particular, it is maddening to not have had more of that interview in the documentary proper. I understand from a production POV why they didn't include it, because it doesn't look as nicely shot and lit as the rest of More Brains!, but I think that putting in O'Bannon in the context of everybody else's memories would have highlighted why his work — along with all the talented individuals on the film — made ROTLD such a cult favorite. The other issue is that they don't cover any of the problems surrounding the film's soundtrack (such as the draconian level of control the record label has over the songs included in ROTLD to this day), even though Stacy Q of SSQ is an interview subject. The filmmakers showed a willingness to talk about the other difficult issues surrounding the production, so it seems like an oversight not to detail this integral part of its history to a greater degree. Even with these caveats, however, More Brains! is brains enough to tide over the most ravenous fans of Return of the Living Dead.

The anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 presentation of More Brains! looks great. The new footage is flawless, and older footage and stills are kept in their proper aspect ratio and not stretched or distorted to fit the screen. Audio is Dolby 2.0 Stereo (with optional English subtitles), perfectly sufficient to the task.
    The disc is also stuffed to the gills with extras. Already discussed in this review is Dan O'Bannon's Last Interview, which is a long look at his creations and ROTLD from his perspective. For fans, this is an absolute must-see extra. For one specific example, earlier in the film Beverly Randolph talks about being frightened at Dan's house when she visited and there were guns lying all around. In the O'Bannon interview, he explains this and talks about the fact that he had an unhealthy paranoia of Charles Manson-type home invasion that led to him placing guns around the house just in case. Fascinating stuff all around, and it's great to get an audience with O'Bannon, who's mental clarity shines through his obvious late stage of terminal illness. Other extras include two documentaries detailing Return of the Living Dead II and 3, shot in the same style as More Brains! and showing how a considerable number of production personnel from the original ROTLD continued with the two sequels, as well as behind-the-scenes footage and production art. There are deleted scenes from More Brains! itself, 14 sequences of varying length which are quite interesting tidbits left out of the main feature, such as Beverly Randolph's eyebrow problem that became a teeth problem, or William Stout's memories of visiting morgues and crematoriums with Dan O'Bannon (including some surprising events that occurred there involving sex, death and clumsiness), or Jewel's inability to say "choke a chicken". Stacy Q does a new music video version of her seminal ROTLD song "Tonight" (complete with zombies on stage); it's not exactly spectacular but fun nevertheless. The Resurrected Settings extra has affable Brian Peck and lovely Beverly Randolph visiting the locations where ROTLD was shot and seeing how they look today (Uneeda, for example, is a private residence now). Aside from trailers for More Brains! and the Nightmare on Elm Street documentary Never Sleep Again, the final extra is billed as Return of the Living Dead in 3 Minutes. This genius bit of fun features all the actors saying their various iconic lines and editing them together roughly in order of how they happened in the film, making for an amusing conclusion to a DVD stockpiled with nuclear goodies. 11/10/11
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