Return Of the Living Dead 3, Finally Done Right!! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Most of you guys, if you've found your way to this blog, probably already know the rough deal with Return Of the Living Dead 3. The US disc from Lions Gate is cut, though with a nice widescreen print, and the UK disc is uncut but fullscreen. Director/ producer Brian Yuzna is rumored to ask a lot for his titles, so they've been slow to arrive from the labels you'd expect, like Arrow and Scream Factory. There are a few questionable blu-ray releases from Austria (upscaled, 1080i?), but there doesn't seem to have been any official new masters struck.

Update 1/1/15 - 11/22/16: Oh man, am I happy to be updating this one! Lions Gate have finally come through for this film, via their terrific Vestron line.  RotLD3 in uncut, widescreen, HD, and with all new features to boot.  Finally.
It's a charming, little movie. Unlike Part 2, Return 3 doesn't really connect to Dan O'Bannon's original, except for a few token references and the fact that it takes place in a world with a zombie problem stemming from military barrels of a gaseous chemical weapon. Some military scientists (including Waxwork director Anthony Hickox in a cameo) are performing some fun, gruesome experiments on zombies safely in the isolation of their secret bunker. But when the Colonel's son decides to sneak his girlfriend (Mindy Clarke) in for a private tour, all Hell quickly breaks out with the zombies getting loose and the girl getting infected. It was actually a pretty original take on zombies at the time (it's since been ripped off and aped a few times; and zombie premises have been pretty over-mined in general over the last decade or so), where the zombie is the heroine of a love story, struggling to maintain her humanity as she decomposes, all the while on the run from military and monster alike. Despite the premise, it still retains some of the humor but actually turns the RotLD series back towards the horror end of the spectrum. And it features a bunch of wild, creative zombie effect gags that suffer in the cut version.
R-rated on top; unrated below. has already done a perfect breakdown of what's different between the two versions, although as of this writing, all their images seem to be broken? Anyway, the screenshots above give you a quick, fun way to tell which version you're watching.  Does the zombie have a piece of the guard's face in his mouth when it looks up at 32:35 mark (30:05 on PAL)? Then it's the uncut version.  And suffice it to say, that's the one with pretty much all the best parts. Interestingly, the R-rated cut doesn't just cut stuff, but replaces most of it with alternate shots. One shot of a zombie eating its victim, for example, was replaced with a shot of a security camera recording the moment. So hardcore completists might actually want to hang onto their R-rated DVDs.  But that's not to suggest that there's any question of which is the preferable cut. While the film does a good job of interesting character and emotion where there usually isn't any (i.e. a zombie in love), a lot of the appeal of this movie still hangs on the wild, over the top monster and gore sequences, so cutting them really spoils the film.

So you really want an uncut version. And of course, you really want an OAR version. That really shouldn't be too much to ask, but until 2016, it absolutely was. At least the uncut DVD is open matte:
I've matched them up vertically so you can see how much was cut from the top and bottom.
It's the Cinema Club (UK) DVD on the left, and Lionsgate (US) on the right
Basically, the widescreen disc is just the fullscreen disc cropped. I mean, that's not a criticism. A film should be matted into its proper AR, but an open matte transfer is a lot less offensive than your average pan and scan job. Also notice the color timing is very different (is the sky pink or orange?).  The picture quality there looks like a nearly perfect match, though; but let's look at some later shots. And more importantly, let's look compare them both to the brand new, 2016 blu-ray.
Cinema Club 2001 UK disc on top; Lions Gate 2001 US DVD middle; Vestron 2016 blu-ray bottom.
Okay, I left the black bars around the first set of shots to illustrate the ever-changing aspect ratio here.  Yes, we're certainly seeing more picture on the UK disc, but that's because it's open matte.  That might be a little bit cool for some of the awesome effects shots, but otherwise the proper compositions of the original AR are vastly preferable.  And the US DVD got closer to that at 1.74:1, but Vestron's new blu finally brings the framing all the way home with a correct, slightly letterboxed 1.85:1.

The blu isn't terribly far removed from the US DVD, actually, which says more good things about the DVD than bad about the blu.  Even the UK DVD's image quality isn't too far off, apart from being a bit over-saturated.  There's no interlacing issues anywhere to be found, or swathing away of detail, so there isn't that much for the blu to correct.  Grain is... well subtle and natural now, and the DVD had some slight edge haloing that's been taken away.  Vestron's colors are a happy medium between the previous DVDs.  So a decent upgrade, just nothing mind-blowing.  But, of course, the important thing is that the US DVD was cut, so it was never a truly viable option anyway.

Each of these releases features Dolby Stereo audio, though the blu naturally has it in DTS-HD.  Both the US releases have English subtitles, and the DVD even has Spanish and French as well, while the Cinema Club disc has none.
The Lions Gate DVD also has something else going for it, though: two audio commentaries. There's one by Brian Yuzna, and one by Mindy Clarke and visual effects supervisor Tom Rainone. These are quite entertaining. Yuzna especially tells you pretty much everything you'd want to know, and clearly took the time to get to know Dan O'Bannon's original before jumping in. Clarke and Rainone, meanwhile, are more fun and breezy, but still take things seriously enough. Clarke asks and answers the question, "how do you play a zombie, believably, who wants brains?" Both are happily light on dead air, and they add a lot of value to the US disc. Both DVDs also include the film's trailer, with Lions Gate also including bonus trailers for four other Yuzna flicks: The Dentist, Dentist 2, The Progeny and Faust.

But at this point, you just know Vestron is going to come in and smash it in terms of special features, so let's get down to it.  First of all, the commentaries from the old DVD are both ported over here, plus the trailer (in fact, Vestron has also a second one).  So there's nothing missing from the new blu, unless you were really attached to that Progeny trailer.  But Vestron has once again teamed up with Red Shirt pictures to come up with a whole bunch of new goodies, too.  First off is a brand new, nostalgic chat between Yuzna and screenwriter John Penny.  Then there's a 19 minute interview with Mindy Clarke, and another with J. Trevor Edmond, who played the male lead.  If you really want to nerd out on the details, there's a featurette with production executive David Tripet and editor Chris Roth who talk about Trimark films and how they acquired the rights and initiated the RotLD3 project.  Then another featurette takes a look at the special effects, interviewing Chris Nelson and Steve Johnson, who's always fun on these things, and even Anthony Hickox to speak about his cameo.  You also see some nice glimpses behind-the-scenes in these featurettes.  There's also a brief featurette playing the original storyboards against the film's sound, a stills gallery and as always with the Vestron line, it comes in a shiny slipcover.
"At the end of the day, though, the cuts are just too important for me. I hang onto the US disc for the commentaries, and it's at least nice to be able to pop it in and see how it's supposed to look. But ultimately the cuts are too important, and the full-frame transfer not bad enough, that whenever I sit down to just watch the disc, I have to go with the UK one. So that's what I recommend: the UK disc for the superior version of the film, or both if you're a big fan. Fortunately, they're both cheap and plentiful. And all the while, of course, hoping Scream or someone will eventually deliver the total package: widescreen, uncut blu with the commentaries and a heap of new interviews. But we've been waiting so long already for that, we might wind up looking like one of those canister zombies before that happens."

^Ha ha! That's what I said last year, after decades of disappointment with this title.  I never would've guess I'd be here with a widescreen, uncut blu-ray the very next year. 'Cause really, having two versions on two different discs doesn't work.  What're you gonna do, watch the widescreen DVD until a cut scene comes up, pause it, then switch discs?  We fans have been crying out for this since the laserdisc days, and now it's finally here.  Viva le Vestron!


  1. I really like this movie. Nowadays there is a widescreen unrated version out there by Njutafilms (a Swedish dvd distributor). It doesn't have any commentaries or other extra's to speak of, but at least it's uncut and widescreen,

  2. I have been waiting for this film to come out on blu-ray and that day is finally here! Beautiful review.