JANUARY 16, 2012
A couple months ago I wrote this article for Badass Digest, about all of the franchise documentaries that had sprung up over the past couple years. And having not yet seen it, I included More Brains, because I was under the impression that it was about the entire Return of the Living Dead series. In fact part of why I held off watching it was because I was waiting to see all of the movies first, so now with Rave to the Grave under my belt I figured it was time to hear about the films from their own creators. However, I was mistaken/misinformed; the film is actually only about the first movie in the series, with parts 2 and 3 covered only in the bonus features – 4 and 5 aren’t even mentioned in passing.
I’ll get back to that. As a full length (seconds under two hours) documentary on a single film, More Brains delivers. For starters, it assembles just about everyone of note – apart from Jonathan Terry (Colonel Glover), the only absentees are, sadly, deceased. But everyone else is on board – Clu Gulager, James Karen, Thom Matthews, all of the punks (save the late Mark Venturini), Don Calfa, FX man Tony Gardner, the producers, the DP, the casting director… EVERYONE! There’s even an exception to the “death” rule - Dan O’Bannon appears briefly, in a clip from his final known interview. Christ, even John Russo shows up, discussing his original (terrible-sounding) script and offering some thoughts about the film as well as the initial legal battle to get the film made (Romero’s lawyers got involved due to the title similarity).
It also covers the movie’s production in pretty great detail. The script development, getting the money together, casting, the problems with the makeup designs, production, the music… everything gets explored with the mix of candid “water under the bridge” stories and the always fun contradictory recollections. Only the post-production process is glossed over – there’s very little about the MPAA or deleted scenes. A while back there was a workprint version of the film floating around that ran 20 or so minutes longer, so obviously there was some tinkering, but these things aren’t really covered. They also skip over the army characters almost entirely; even if Terry couldn’t be brought in, it’s a bit odd to never discuss his character or any of the scenes involving him (especially since he has my favorite line in the entire film – “The usual. Crap.”).
But who cares, what kind of dirt is spilled?!? Let’s not pretend we’re all good people who just want to hear happy tales of a smooth production, we want to know who hated who! Well, you won’t be let down. Gulager v. O’Bannon, original makeup guy (name escapes me) vs. producers, and Jewel Shepard v. pretty much everyone at one point or another are covered. Again, their memories don’t always match up, but it doesn’t make these segments any less enjoyable (especially the stuff with Clu, who is one of my favorite people in the world). No one seems bitter or resentful toward anyone else, so it’s all in good fun.
However, even if the sequels weren’t considered worthy of inclusion, I do think they deserve a MENTION in the main film, particularly when it comes time to discuss its lasting impact. We see clips from Simpsons and Family Guy that reference the film, and everyone talks about how they still get asked about it and such, but it’s really odd that there isn’t even a “and it spawned four sequels” line in the finished film. Hell, the doc’s trailer even shows Brian Yuzna and the actors from 2 and 3, but they’re nowhere to be seen unless you access the bonus features, which won’t always be possible for viewers watching on Netflix Instant or whatever.
Then again, that just makes the disc more enticing to would-be viewers, because you get another two hours’ worth of stuff to enjoy. Both ROTLD2 and 3 are covered in 20-25 minute segments each, albeit with limited participants compared to the first film’s roster. Hilariously, the only one who has anything positive to say about part 2 is Michael Kenworthy, the little kid from the movie and thus would be the right age to enjoy that film's juvenile humor. Everyone else rightfully points out that it didn’t work; Thom Matthews and James Karen seemed to enjoy working together again but that was about it (and apparently even called Don Calfa – originally meant to return as well – and told him he was lucky for being left out). ROTLD3’s segment is much more positive; the film is the only good sequel in the bunch, after all, and thus most of the memories recollected here are positive. Shame that they couldn’t get Mindy Clarke to contribute a new interview, however.
The rest of the extras are again centric to the first film. Brian “Scuz” Peck (who also narrates the film) and Beverly “Tina” Randolph take us on a tour of the shooting locations and how they look today (the cemetery is now a housing development; don’t bother making a Poltergeist joke, they have it covered); I was surprised to see that the studio was right near where I work (I thought it was all downtown LA). Then there are about 20 deleted “scenes” from the documentary, mostly little anecdotes that wouldn’t really fit anywhere, as well as a trailer, a music video for “Tonight”, and a fun little piece where all of the actors say their classic lines in sequence.
But the real jewel here is the full interview with O’Bannon, used only once in the film for maximum impact (I suspect this is also because it was shot in his home unlike everyone else who was shot on stage). Surprisingly, he admits that he was a pain in the ass during the production, and doesn’t harbor any grudges toward anyone – with one exception (it’s hilarious). It’s just under a half hour, and every bit as entertaining as the film itself – O’Bannon was a character, and his portions were always highlights on documentaries about Alien or whatever, so giving him 30 minutes to himself is pretty much pure bliss. It’s a damn shame that he died so relatively young (in his 60s) – as Clu points out, the world was robbed too soon of whatever scripts he may have written or films he may have directed.
So if you’re a fan of the whole series for some reason you might be pretty disappointed – the recent book “The Complete History of ‘The Return of The Living Dead’” (from the same writers of the documentary) covers ALL five films, though I haven’t read it so I can’t vouch for the participants or if 4 and 5 are just given a page or two each to cover the bases. But if you only really care about the original, there’s little to complain about here – the doc itself is thorough and well-stocked with contributors, hits all the marks on the technical level (I LOVE the EC comic style transitions, by the way), and provides lots of info and reveals things I’ve never heard despite attending a couple of retrospective screenings and going through the original DVD. It may not have “belonged” in my article about the franchise documentaries, but it certainly measures up to them.
What say you?
P.S. If you still nurse a crush on Ms. Quigley, you might not want to watch the movie. I don’t know what the hell she has done, but YIKES. She looks like Robert Blake in a wig. Hopefully it was just a really bad makeup day or something.