Also Importing Lars von Trier's Manderlay

Ever since I covered Lars von Trier's Dogville, I've been meaning to swing back and take a look at Manderlay. It's kind of the same situation, where there is no blu-ray, only DVDs, and the US DVD is missing a bunch of features from the previously released native Denmark set from Zentropa and Nordisk Films. And Zentropa beat them by a large margin of almost a year. I remember people were buzzing about Manderlay opening up in theaters soon, and I was surprised because I already had the DVD at home. But is this import DVD truly 100% superior? Should you track it down and replace your IFC Films DVD?
Manderlay is the second part of his "Land of Opportunities" trilogy (Dogville being the first), and it's interesting to note that both of Trier's narrative trilogies to date - the other being The Kingdom - have only made it to the second chapter. Fortunately, unlike The Kingdom I & II, these are more distinct stand-alone stories, so you don't feel like you're left at a dangling cliffhanger by the end of this film. But the connection to the first film is strong. It's presented in the same style, with all the actors placed on a mostly blank stage with only the props essential to the story and locations marked on the floor. And while Nicole Kidman has been replaced by Bryce Dallas Howard (who isn't quite as compelling in the part, but still more than adequately lives up to the film's dramatic challenges), the lead character persists, having left the town of Dogville and arrived on the estate of Manderlay.  Lauren Bacall, Chloë Sevigny, Jeremy Davies and Udo Kier are all back, and John Hurt once again narrates.
If Dogville offended some Americans, Manderlay doubled-down, this time tackling race issues and slavery, and not necessarily in the most politically correct way. Leaving Dogville, Howard and her gangster family drive into Manderlay and stop to take a rest at what they discover to be a plantation where slavery exists despite the film taking place in the 1930s, long after it had been abolished in this country. Howard is appalled and decides to stay with her lawyer and a few of her family's gunmen long enough to set things right at Manderlay. But obviously things don't fall into place as smoothly as she'd imagined, and we delve into commentary on cultures imposing their way of life on other cultures (i.e. spreading Democracy), the contemporary state of African Americans being in some ways worse than slavery, and of course all the wild layers of interpersonal drama that you can expect in a Trier film.

We've got some great additions to the cast this time around, including Danny GloverIsaach de Bankolé and Willem DaFoe. And while reactions to this film weren't quite as strong as the previous, because the look and style of the film wasn't so new and innovative, I think that actually puts us in a better place to appreciate both films. Now we're left in a position to appreciate the film on its narrative and other qualities, as opposed to its novelty value. And fortunately, it's a pretty smart and engaging film underneath its unusual presentation.
2006 IFC DVD on top; 2005 Zentropa DVD on the bottom.
These transfers look pretty dang similar. Both are anamorphic widescreen images, although IFC's is a smidgen more open, at 2.32:1, giving us a sliver extra vertical information. Although Zentropa's framing is probably the more accurate composition. The main difference, though, is that IFC's DVD is a hair brighter and redder, and Zentropa's is a touch smoother and more yellow. Whether that smoothness is a pro or a con, though, is a tough call, because it's not faithful grain that we're getting on the IFC disc, since this film was shot digitally. So is Zentropa better for having less digital noise, or is it too scrubbed? I'm inclined to say the former, because they both still have digital artifacting and haloing, so it's nothing good that we're losing. And the difference is pretty minimal, anyway, to the point that you'd only notice it in direct close-up comparisons like this anyway. It's basically just like the differences between the two Dogville discs, except they're more subtle and minimal here. Basically, for SD transfers, they're both fine and would rate basically the same grade on a scorecard.

Both discs offer 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks, though only Zentropa also offers a 5.1 DTS mix. On the other hand, only the US disc offers English subtitles, whereas Zentropa has optional Swedish and Danish subs.
Oh, and did I refer to Zentropa's release as a "set" earlier? Yeah, that's because, unlike IFC's release, theirs is a 2-disc set, with an entire second disc devoted to additional special features. And the US DVD has bupkis. Bub. Kis. At least the US DVD of Dogville had the commentary, but not Manderlay. We didn't even get the trailer.

And there is a commentary. Lars von Trier and cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle jump onto the Zentropa DVD for a great forthcoming and irreverent discussion, that drifts from the technical to anecdotes with the cast and themes behind the story. You get that, brief interviews with Bryce Dallas Howard, Isaach de Bankolé, Danny Glover and Willem Dafoe, plus, yes, the trailer, all on disc 1. Again, the US DVD has nothing.
And disc 1 is just the beginning! Open up the case for the Zentropa set and staring you in the face is a second disc cheerfully labeled "ADDED VALUE." And I'll certainly go along with that, because this disc is packed. First we get two documentaries, which combined add up to feature length: The Road to Manderlay, a traditional but in-depth 'making of,' and The Cannes Experience: Manderlay, which is pretty self-explanatory. Then there's an excellent featurette showcasing the complex shooting method they used to film this picture using cameras in arrays. There's another featurette on the set design (uniquely important, of course, in the case of Dogville and Manderlay), and a short silly one about actor Jeremy Davies running around fetching coffee for everybody on set.

And don't get up yet, there's plenty more. There are short, on-camera interviews with Danny Glover (not the same one as on disc 1), Willem Dafoe (also different from disc 1), Lauren Bacall, Joseph Mydell, Anthony Dod Mantle and producer Vibeke Windelov, plus a long one (23 minutes) with Trier himself. Then there's a half-hour Danish television piece on Manderlay, which is essentially one giant sit-down interview between Trier and their host. And finally, there's a collection of three filmed press conferences for the film, one with Trier, one with Howard, and one with Bankole, Glover and DaFoe all together, which add up to about 50 minutes of additional interviews. There is so much here, you are not going to want to attempt it in a single evening.
Manderlay was shot with HD cameras, so a blu-ray would be nice to see sometime in the future. But there's nothing on the horizon so far, and I imagine this title's pretty low on anyone's list of priorities. After all, if the studio considered this a high profile title, they would've bothered to at least include the extras that were already created and released for this film. So we'll have to make due with DVDs, but we don't have to make do with a boring, plain old barebones American DVD. The Danish set is the very definition of a fully loaded special edition, and the differences between the two transfers are so subtle you have to push yourself to pick a side. So unless you need English subtitles, there's really no reason to hang onto the cheap native disc. And even then, I'd recommend double-dipping.

Bride of Re-Animator: It Keeps Getting Better (DVD/ Blu-Ray Comparison)

Update 8/13/15 - 6/27/16: Adding Arrow's 3-disc limited edition blu-ray/ DVD set to the mix. Let's see wow does this stacks up against Capelight's own 3-disc limited edition blu-ray/ DVD set. Prepare for a crazy long list of matching screenshots...

A couple months ago, I posted about how the German blu-ray company Capelight brought Re-Animator back to life with a stunning new transfer. Well, they've done an equally definitive job for its delicious sequel, Bride of Re-Animator. Now, they didn't do an "Integral Cut" this time, because that wouldn't really make sense for this film (I'll explain that more later), but they issued Bride a beautiful new transfer that blows all past releases out of the water. It helps, this time, that this is Bride's only blu-ray release, so the competition is weaker. But this new transfer would impress regardless of what else was out there.
Brian Yuzna, producer of the original Re-Animator, takes over for director here, and he does a great job of matching the tone and level of Stuart Gordon's previous work. This never feels cheaper or hackier, although, as with almost any sequel, the story does rely on a little more spectacle and a little less heart. It helps immeasurably that lead actors have all returned to reprise their roles that they'd already mastered in the first film. Even David Gale is back, despite having been decapitated in the previous film. He's now got himself a fresh pair of bat wings to fly his head around in one of the more ingenious touches that make this sequel so worthwhile. He even opens the film by addressing the audience directly, in a macabre homage to the work of old school horror meisters like William Castle. Only Barbara Crampton, disappointingly, missed the reunion, but Yuzna does a good job of writing around her character, so the actress replacing her doesn't face a whole lot of scrutiny. He also goes back to Lovecraft's original story, using a lot of what happened in there that the original film skipped over, giving the film a very legitimate, sturdy groundwork. I can agree with critics that this isn't as great an all-around film as the first one; but I couldn't accept that this isn't another wonderful time at the movies.
So, Bride of Re-Animator has always been in the hands of Artisan and Lions Gate here in the USA, which isn't the most promising set of names. Artisan first released this in 1999 as a pretty nice double-sided special edition, which was a terrific step up from Image's generic, full-screen laserdisc. It had both the R and unrated cuts, in both fullscreen and widescreen, and a huge selection of extras. It was great for 1999, but unfortunately has remained our definitive edition well past its shelf life, when Capelight eventually stepped in last year. What was fine for 1999 looked pretty shoddy after the advent of widescreen televisions - Whoops! This disc isn't even anamorphic.
So there's your anamorphic picture, surrounded on all four sides by black, unused space. Artisan did that weird way of using the same encode of the film as both the wide- and full-screen version of the film by making the mattes removable bars like subtitles. So there's just two encodes of the film (R on one side, unrated on the other) on the disc, but the removable matting turns it into four versions of the film. If you look closely at the screenshot above, at the very top and bottom of the image you can actually see the film above and below the matting!

Artisan reissued the film in 2003 as a generic, fullscreen single-sided disc with none of the extras... Gee, thanks for that. And the film eventually became just another title in one of Lions Gate's Horror Collection multipacks in 2012. Suffice to say, this film was very much in need of a new blu-ray edition, but you know Lions Gate doesn't like to let their catalog titles out to breathe. So we have to look overseas for our upgrade. Capelight finally provided that with a fully loaded, 3-disc media book edition in 2014. Then Arrow came out with their own 3-disc set in 2016. So now we've got some dueling HD options to explore.
Capelight's R-rated blu 1st, unrated blu 2nd, and unrated DVD 3rd. Then Artisan's R-rated
matted version is 4th, R-rated unmatted 5th, unrated matted version 6th and unrated unmatted 6th,
Next, Arrow's R-rated blu is 7th, unrated blu is 8th and unrated DVD is 9th.
Whoo, yeah, just a couple versions to compare there. Maybe a bit excessive, but you know me, I've gotta be thorough, so I've included both R and unrated versions of the film in all the ways it's been presented on both the original Artisan DVD, Capelight's 3-disc set and Arrow's 3-disc set. Essentially, Arrow is using the same 2014 restoration transfer as Capelight, so they're awfully similar. They use a new 2k scan of a second generation intermediate interpositive for the R-rated version and almost all of the unrated version, but the excised unrated elements had to be sourced from master print, which looks almost as good, but those moments do wind up looking a bit flatter than the rest of the movie.

But just look at how much sharper and clearer the new blu-ray transfers are. Both Artisan and the newer blus matte the transfer to 1.78:1 (excluding Artisan's fullscreen versions, of course), but the blu-rays' new 2k scan of the original film elements manages to include a little more picture on the top and left sides. Their new color timing seems to be the most natural, as you'd probably expect, but what I was surprised to find out is how different Artisan's colors were between their R and unrated cuts. Look at the buildings in the first collection of shots - is the building red or yellow? Both seem too extreme, pulling in different directions, with Capelight and Arrow having found the happy middle that looks best. They also un-crush some blacks, uncovering hidden detail.
Now, Capelight has provided an uncompressed 2.0 English audio track, but unfortunately it seems a little troubled. There's some of fuzz behind it (on both cuts), that goes away during moments without dialogue or music, which suggests they've cleaned up a bad audio track with a noise gate or something. The German dubs are perfectly fine, if you care about those. The English track isn't unlistenable - it doesn't make dialogue hard to understand or anything - but it's definitely not clean, and therefore a disappointment. Optional English and German subtitles are also included.

So the question for 2016 is: did Arrow fix the audio fuzz? Yes! But their LPCM stereo track still isn't perfect. I guess the original audio elements are just messed up. So Arrow had to clean up noisy audio, which sounds a lot better, but not as clean or dynamic as audio that wasn't damaged in the first place would. It's certainly superior to Capelight's, though. If you have the Arrow set and are curious how the Capelight sounded, listen to the Brian Yuzna solo commentary. There are a few moments where he pauses and they boost the volume of the film to normal, and you can plainly hear that they've got the Capelight fuzzy audio track playing. English subtitles are also included.
Far less trivial is the excellent collection of extras. It's not quite as fully-loaded as the original on the one hand, there's a distinct lack of on-camera interviews, but on the other hand, there are two audio commentaries that bring in pretty much all the relevant personnel: Brian Yuzna, stars Jeffery Combs & Bruce Abbott, and the incredible special effects roster of Tom Rainone, John Buechler, Mike Deak, Bob Kurtzman, Howard Berger & Screaming Mad George. There's also a 23+ minute making of featurette, two behind-the-scenes clips, and the trailer. All of that was on Artisan's disc and all of that has been ported over to Capelight's edition. Capelight has also added a couple extra bits and pieces, including an hour-long radio play of the Lovecraft's original Re-Animator story. There's also a podcast, but that's in German only. Everything on Capelight's 3 discs is English friendly except for this podcast and a couple bonus trailers. Then the only other extra is a restored version of the opening credits of the original Re-Animator, which... yeah, I have no idea why that's here.
And Arrow? Do they have any cool features? Ha ha, what are you nuts? Of course! They have everything Capelight has, except the German podcast, radio play, bonus trailers, and the credits from the original film. For English speaking audiences, the only loss worth noting from that list is the radio play, and even that's not a big hit. But they've also added some cool, new content. First, they have a new audio commentary by Yuzna. Now, he was already on the one older commentary, but he didn't get a lot in compared to all the effects people. So there are a few repeated anecdotes, but most of his commentary his new and insightful - one thing he fills us in on a lot is how Bride compares to the Lovecraft stories. Then there's a new on-camera interview, where he talks a bit about the House of Re-Animator idea and some other interesting tidbits. Again, a little repetition, but also plenty of new content. And finally, there's a featurette on the effects which talks to just about everybody who worked on any of the many wild gags in this film, and any more time spent with Screaming Mad George is a big plus in my book.

So that's it for disc content, but as you can see in the photo above, Arrow also went all-out on the deluxe packaging, including some serious physical content. Primarily, there's an attractively bound copy of the Dawn Of Re-Animator comic books from the 90s, including the full color covers. There's also a 24-page booklet on the film with notes by Michael Blyth, one of Arrow's traditional postcards of the film, and it all comes in a cool (if a un-sturdy) slip-cover box. Plus, if you ordered this from Diabolik, you also got a very neat Bride of Re-Animator pen, designed to look like a hypodermic needle full of green re-animation fluid.
So, why no integral cut this time? Well, for one thing, the original film was an unusual case where both the unrated and R-rated cuts had some exclusive, great - nearly essential - footage. In this case, the two editions are much more similar, with the R just being the traditionally slightly censored version. So the unrated already is the definitive version of the film. Also, what changes that were made for the R-rated cut isn't a question of extra or missing shots, but alternate shots. So scenes wouldn't make sense if you combined all the footage together. So, that's what's cool about the 3-disc media book editions; they give you the R-rated cut for the serious completists who want to have it for the minor variations. But otherwise, the original unrated cut is the only version you need.
Both Bride of Re-Animator's blu-ray releases are pretty sweet, but unless you only speak German, I'd say Arrow's wins. It has better audio and some nice, new extras. Artisan's old DVD still gets minor novelty points for having the open matte transfer, for those curious to see the extra information the film has in the wrong aspect ration. I'm slightly disappointed neither Capelight or Arrow opted to sneak another old VHS version transfer as an easter egg; but of course, it's really a trivial matter either way.

I should also point out that Arrow and Capelight both offer regular versions of their 3-disc limited edition sets. Capelight's is a single disc release of just the unrated version, and all the extras. And Arrow's is a combo-pack of the unrated blu and unrated DVD. That has almost all of the extras (not including the physical stuff, of course), except for the fifteen minute reel of behind the scenes footage, which is only in the limited set.  In both cases, the R-rated cut is only available in the 3-disc sets.

So, ultimately, Arrow's is the superior set, but not by a large margin. The transfers are the same, though they cleaned up the audio a bit better. And their extras package is better, but the older editions were already pretty loaded. Fans should be pleased with either set, and while you might consider replacing your Capelight set with the Arrow set, I'd rate that as a low priority. But if you haven't gotten any yet and are deciding which way to go, Arrow's the easy and correct choice.

The Even More Essential Return Of the Living Dead (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Update: 3/29/16 - 6/24/16: Wow, Scream Factory has just released their fully loaded 2-blu-ray... definitive(?) release of Return Of the Living Dead, with all new features, a new transfer and more! And just to make things that little much more interesting, I've also gone back and added the original 2002 MGM DVD, which is interesting because it has an open matte fullscreen version. But mostly the big new thing is comparing Scream Factory's and Second Sight's blus.

Now let's talk Return Of the Living Dead. There are a bunch of Return of the Living Dead DVDs out there, but you can really boil it down to just a pair of essential discs. Even if you're serious about owning all of the special features and alternate versions, these are the only two releases you'll ever need. That exact pair has changed since wrote the first version of this post, but it still comes down to two releases.
Return Of the Living Dead is definitely in the running for best zombie film of all time. Dan O'Bannon brings a ton of wit and humor to the Romero-style zombie film, but it still works on a completely earnest, genuine horror level as well. In Return, the original Night Of the Living Dead film was based on a true story, and a pair of night shift employees at a medical supply warehouse have a couple of the zombie corpses in barrelled up in the basement. Of course, they wind up setting them loose, as well as reanimating all the bodies in a nearby cemetery where a gang of punk rockers - including Linnea Quigley in the role of a lifetime - are partying down.

This is just one of those situations where everything clicks. It's got a great cast, diverse cast headed by Clu Gulager which clearly benefited from an extended period of rehearsal before filming. Of course there's O'Bannon's clever writing, and thankfully this is one of his films where he really had the budget to see his vision all the way through (as opposed to Bleeders, where you really have to struggle to find the qualities of his material). It's got a great 80s rock soundtrack and top of the line special effects. It's a blast.
So Return Of the Living Dead's been released on DVD several times, including as part of a recalled 4-film set, because of some copyright issue with the movie Frogs. But that's a superfluous release anyway. MGM first put Return out on DVD in 2002, on a pretty respectable special edition flipper disc. It was widescreen on side A, had a director's commentary and a cool making of featurette, and even threw in an open-matte fullscreen version on the B-side. The only bummer of it was that a lot of the audio had been changed compared to the old Image laserdisc, from the effects on zombie voices (yes, they speak here; Return is the film that started the notion that zombies call out for "braaaaiiinnnss") to songs that couldn't be cleared. They released it again 2007, with the same transfer but all new extras, and that's one of the discs I'm holding up as essential here today. You could just as easily go with the HD blu-ray edition released as a combo pack in 2010 and repackaged as a single blu in 2011. But the reason I'm recommending the DVD is because it's basically just for the extras, so you might as well save a few bucks. Because to really get the full experience, you're going to have to import the definitive presentation of the film, Second Sight's 2012 blu-ray, which among good other things, finally reinstates the original audio track!

And of course, now we also have Scream's 2016 blu-ray. I remember before Scream even announced this disc, and people were just discussing the possibility of them putting out Scream in the USA. People were saying that, after Second Sight's definitive release with the original audio and all, Scream wouldn't be left with anything to add to the discussion unless they somehow dug up the old workprint version of the film. Well, Scream has dug up the old workprint version of the film. Check out for a detailed breakdown, but in short it has many instances of additional dialogue, alternate takes and even a different ending. Furthermore, they've also created an all-new transfer with a fresh 2k scan of the interpositive. And they've... mostly restored the original audio like Second Sight did. They couldn't clear one song, so like Second Sight, they have both audio tracks - the original and the revised - but Scream's original track isn't 100% restored, but it mostly is. So, okay, let's look at how all these varying transfers stack up.
1) MGM 2002 widescreen DVD 2) MGM 2002 fullscreen DVD 3) MGM 2007 DVD
4) Second Sight 2012 blu-ray 5) Scream Factory 2016 2k blu-ray 6) Scream Factory 2016 workprint blu-ray
[Note: there's no #6 in this first set of screenshots, because the
workprint doesn't include the close-up shots of the canister zombie.]
So you'll see there's not a vast difference between the Second Sight and all the MGMs. Return's always had roughly the same HD master since MGM's initial DVD, so in terms of transfer, it barely matters which edition you get. They're all sightly letterboxed to 1.85:1, anamorphic, non-interlaced, good looking editions, although the 2002 DVD's a bit more saturated and framed a sliver lower. Well, Second Sight's blu also has a super skinny sliver of extra vertical information on the top and bottom. The only really important distinction, of course, is that the blu-rays are in high definition, so they have better compression and clarity. So you do get that nice HD bump with the blus, there's absolutely no question of upscaling or anything like that. But otherwise, just in terms of what you see as the film plays, it doesn't matter which of the older editions you get.

But Scream blu does look noticeably different. It's pretty much the only shot in the first set of photos to stand out, because of the richer colors. You can see that in the second set of shots and throughout the movie, too. The colors are deeper, while the picture's a bit darker in some scenes and brighter in others... generally I'd describe it as a bit more intense and vibrant. And yes, the new 2k scan does yield a little more clarity.
Second Sight 2012 blu-ray left, Scream Factory 2016 blu-ray right
Grain really stands out here, where it got a little lost on the Second Sight blu. But more importantly, lines are more clearly defined and subtle detail is picked up. Looking at this close-up selection here, Casey's jewelry has a hazy, soft focus look on the older blu compared to Scream Factory's new transfer on the right. It's not as huge a difference as some discs we've looked at in the past - you're not going to suddenly see additional zombies in the background of shots or anything - but we do have a stronger image here.

Oh and meanwhile, both the 2002 DVD and the 2016 workprint are fullscreen. The 2002 DVD is open matte, so while it's in the incorrect aspect ratio, at least it's only guilty of showing you extra picture on the top and bottom, rather than losing anything on the sides. The same can't be said for the workprint, which is missing picture on all four sides, so can't be said to be a proper open matte transfer. But you don't watch the workprint version for the picture quality - it's also clearly duped from video tape, super soft and saturated, missing detail (the checkers have been erased off Chuck's jacket!) and I could go on. It's an Nth generation videotape dub that's just included for archival purposes, so we can see all the differences between it and the final edit.

What you hear, on the other hand, is a different story. Now, the DVDs just have your standard 2.0 stereo and mono tracks (plus French and Spanish dubs and optional English and Spanish subtitles), but Second Sight's blu-ray has a DTS 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 of the revised audio, and of course, it has an LPCM 2.0 track of the original, unedited audio as well. Disappointingly, however, it doesn't have subtitles. Scream Factory's about the same, with a DTS 5.1 and DTS 2.0 of the revised track, plus a DTS 2.0 of the mostly original audio. Scream Factory does also bring back English subtitles.
So, Second Sight's and Scream Factory's blu-rays are competing to be the definitive release of the film, with Second Sight still ahead in the audio department, but Scream leading in picture quality. But there are also a ton of great extras now that need to be taken into account. Now, the great thing about the 2007 DVD (and the 2010 blu-ray) from MGM, is that it includes all the extras from the original special edition as well as adding a bunch of new stuff. And the original extras are some of the most essential, because they were made while Dan O'Bannon could still participate. So he provides a solid, informative audio commentary track with production designer William Stout, and they both also appear on-camera in a good (and not too repetitive) featurette called Designing the Dead. These are great to have, and can never be replicated, so we want to hang on to those.

Then, MGM added a bunch of new stuff to their later editions, some of which is kind of silly and disposable. But there's some really good, value-adding content as well, so it only makes sense to go for the 2007 instead of the 2002. Firstly, there's the slightly controversial audio commentary. Stout returns, this time with cast members Don Calfa, Linnea Quigley, Brian Peck, Beverly Randolph and Allan Trautman, who played the infamous Tarman. There's a weird little gimmick, where the sound of zombies enters the track, to supposedly remove cast members from the commentary when their characters are killed off on-screen, which the cast doesn't really cooperate with. You can't be mad at MGM for trying to add some fun to the proceedings, but it is kind of a dopey idea. Overall, it group is feels a little low on enthusiasm, but it's still worth the listen.

Still glowing nicely in 2016.
MGM also adds some other silly stuff, like an additional subtitle track that adds commentary by the zombie characters, and an easter egg for a second subtitle track, that supposedly shows their real thoughts. Again, it's not really giving you much, but it's at least nice to see someone at MGM trying to get into the spirit of things. More worthwhile, though, is a new featurette called Return of the Living Dead: The Dead Have Risen, which is an excellent and upbeat 20 minute piece with the cast giving on-camera interviews about their experiences on the film. And there's another featurette which comes from further out of left field, called The Decade of Darkness. It isn't really about Return Of the Living Dead, but just 80s horror in general. But it has some fun interviews with people like Stuart Gordon, John Landis, Joe Dante and Elvira, so you won't want to pass over it. It includes two trailers as well, and comes with a fold-out insert with detailed notes and a glow-in-the-dark slip cover, which is probably the neatest of this DVD's gimmicks.
Unfortunately, the Second Sight blu-ray doesn't have any of that. It doesn't have the original O'Bannon and Stout extras or the newer MGM ones. None of it. Well, except for the trailers. It has those. But it also has a nice collection of other stuff, that both rivals and compliments even the fuller MGM collection.

It's biggest weak point is that it doesn't feature any audio commentaries. That does make it feel a little incomplete. But on the other hand, it has the most comprehensive look at the film yet, the feature length (2-hour) documentary More Brains. This doc interviews everybody minus O'Bannon (except for a little vintage footage, which was nice) and covers everything about this film. Now, More Brains had already been released on a United States DVD as a stand-alone film in 2011, and that DVD had a lot of extras. Like with Best Worst Movie, I was initially worried those extras - essentially special features for a special feature - might be left out, but no, they're all here. And they're excellent, so that was really important. For one thing, it included 30-minute additional documentaries about Return Of the Living Dead 2 and Return of the Living Dead 3. There's a substantial, nearly 30-minute vintage interview with Dan O'Bannon, 15 minutes worth of additional interview footage/ deleted scenes from the doc, a cool feature visiting Return's original filming locations and extended interviews from the doc, with more anecdotes. Plus there's a silly Return Of the Living Dead in 3 Minutes piece and a newly filmed music video for one of the songs, which are more forgettable, but what the heck.

And Second Sight also put together some cool new stuff of their own. They've created three new featurettes, roughly 20 minutes each. One is an interview with John Russo about the original Night Of the Living Dead and the legacy of "Living Dead" films including Return. The second is about the film's soundtrack, including the head of the label and lead singer of one of the bands. That might be the only thing More Brains barely touched on, so it's a great inclusion. And finally, the third one is on the special effects, talking to Bill Munns, William Stout and Tony Gardner, including a lot of concept drawings and behind-the-scenes stills. And there's even more of those to be found in Second Sight's 20-page booklet. And their release is available in a limited edition steelbook [pictured at the top of this post] or standard case [right].
Speaking of limited editions, we've really got to dig into Scream Factory's new release, because they've essentially released this in three different sets. There's the standard version you can get from Amazon or anywhere, which includes the 2-disc set with reversible artwork and the Tarman slipcover [pictured above, left] shrinkwrapped inside. If you order it from Shout Factory directly, you also get the Tarman 18"x24" poster [pictured left, on the right-hand side]. BUT, you could also have pre-ordered the "Deluxe Limited Edition" direct from Shout, which includes both slipcovers [above] and both posters [left]. I personally was hoping they would have made one slip cover a hair bigger than the other, so you could slip one over the other, as opposed to having to store one separately. But that's not what they've done. The case can only wear one at a time, and the other one is shipped flat. Anyway, the Deluxe was limited to 1000 copies and has long since sold out, so if you want that now, you'll have to check EBay or bargain with another collector. There is no difference in disc content, however, in any of these versions. They all have the same extras and everything; the only distinctions are in posters and slipcovers.

So now let's get to the more important stuff, the actual features on the disc. Scream Factory has a whole second blu-ray disc just filled with extras, so there's a lot. First of all, everything from MGM is back in the picture. All the extras from the original DVD, including the commentary and featurettes, plus the newer commentary from MGM's reissues. It even has the silly "what the zombies are saying" subtitle track and alternate easter egg "what the zombies are thinking" track. So you can pretty much chuck your MGM discs now.
Scream also has a lot of what was on the Second Sight blu, including the complete More Brains doc, the O'Bannon interview, the Russo interview, the soundtrack featurette and the special effects featurette. But it's also missing some of the other features, like the More Brains deleted scenes, two half-hour segments on RotLD 2 & 3, the location featurette, the music video and the Return Of the Living Dead in 3 Minutes. It makes up for that, though, with some new, original special features. Of course there's the workprint, which we've discussed a little already. It runs an hour and forty-nine minutes, without any credits. It also features another terrific episode of Horror's Hallowed Grounds, where they explore the filming locations of the movie... so this sort of makes up for the loss of location featurette on Second Sight's blu, though both obviously would have been ideal. Scream Factory also includes two more, all new, audio commentaries: one by Gary Smart, who wrote a book on this movie, and one by actors Thom Mathews, John Philbin and effects artist Tony Gardner. And finally, Scream has added some additional TV spots and two stills galleries.

So, just to be clear, since it gets pretty confusing with each disc sharing some extras and keeping others exclusive, here's a color coded list of which blu-rays have which extras:
  • Audio commentary with Dan O'Bannon and William Stout 
  • Audio commentary with Stout, Dan Calfa, Brian Peck, Linnea Quigley, Allan Trautman and Beverly Randolph
  • Decade Of Darkness featurette
  • The Dead Have Risen featurette
  • Designing the Dead featurette
  • Zombies talking subtitle track
  • Zombies thinking subtitle track
  • Audio commentary with Thom Mathews, John Philbin and Tony Gardner 
  • Audio commentary with Gary Smart and moderator Chris Griffiths
  • The workprint
  • Horror's Hallowed Grounds
  • Stills galleries
  • TV spots
  • Trailers
  • More Brains feature-length documentary
  • The FX Of the Living Dead featurette
  • Party Time featurette
  • Dan O'Bannon interview
  • John A. Russo interview
  • More Brains deleted scenes
  • They Won’t Stay Dead, RotLD 2 doc
  • Love Beyond the Grave, RotLD 3 doc
  • Resurrected Settings featurette
  • Return of the Living Dead In 3 Minutes
  • Stacey Q music video
Blue = Scream Factory exclusive, Red = Second Sight exclusive, Purple = Second Sight & Scream Factory, Dark blue = MGM & Scream, Dark Purple = on all three
So, in short, the Scream Factory blu pretty much invalidates the MGM. But Second Sight and Scream both have a bunch of exclusive stuff, so you've got some tougher decisions there.
So wow, yeah. Scream Factory really brought the heat. Their new scan tops the old ones (which were all pretty equivalent), and they recovered at least almost all of the original audio track. Plus, they're the first to give us the workprint, all of MGM's extras (though I'll miss their glow-in-the dark slip), and a solid little batch of new ones. But, still, Second Sight is the only disc with 100% of the original audio, and it has a nice collection of unique extras, too. I imagine most fans will wind up going with the Scream set, with hardcore fans opting for both the Scream and Second Sight. They really compiled the most satisfying single package. So that's what I'm doing, personally, with the Second Sight blu just serving to plug the little holes. Of course, it's not impossible, or even all that unlikely, that another region will be able to license both the new 2k scan and the complete original audio down the road. Could we see an ultimate, perfectly definitive edition down the road, maybe from Australia, Germany or Japan? I wouldn't be surprised, but even then, they might not be able to get all these amazing extras, so we might always wind up with more than one Return Of the Living Dead release in our collections. But that's alright, because it's truly one of the great 80s horror films, so a double-dip is pretty reasonable.