Okay, so it’s my birthday. I don’t like celebrating them, except that I suppose you celebrate the fact that you haven’t died yet, especially of something embarrassing. Burgomaster Hans Steininger died in 1567 when he broke his neck tripping over his own 4.5 foot long beard. Paul G Thomas, the co-owner of a textile company, got caught up in a spooling machine in 1987 and ended up suffocating inside a giant spool of wool. Chinese chef Pen Fang died last month when he was bitten by a cobra – or rather, a cobra head he’d chopped off twenty minutes before while preparing snake soup. Then there was actor Mike Myers, whose career died after THE LOVE GURU…
Enough procrastination; I’m old and don’t have much time left in this world. Nearly thirty years ago, I sat alone (because I was a friendless loner whose only girlfriend at the time was a devout Christian who wouldn’t see such things) in a cinema in Belfast on an afternoon after classes, watching a little film called THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. Pre-Internet, all I knew about it beforehand was an article in Starlog magazine. And it didn’t prepare me for a high-octane blend of horror and comedy the likes of which I had never seen before. It remains in my Top Ten Horror Movies Of All Time. If you have not yet seen it – why not?
Over the years, I’ve waited for a decent DVD copy, the main problem being that copyright issues have made distributors change the original soundtrack (one of many positives about the movie). I’ve resorted to digging out an old VHS copy of the movie and converting it to a video file. and I wore out my CD with the soundtrack. Does it sound like I’m a fan?
However, one of my birthday presents was MORE BRAINS! A RETURN TO THE LIVING DEAD (2011), a documentary on the making of this remarkable little film from Bill Philputt, who produced NEVER SLEEP AGAIN: THE ELM STREET LEGACY. I’ve always enjoyed documentaries on favourite movies (read my review of CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES here), and even movies that have never been made (I’m looking forward to watching JODOROWSKY’S DUNE, another gift). But this one was out of the blue…
Narrated by Brian Peck, who played the punk Scuz in the movie, MORE BRAINS! is a fast, informative, fun watch behind the making of the movie. They managed to assemble just about everyone involved in front of and behind the scenes: Peck, James Karen (Frank), Clu Gulager (Burt), Dona Calfa (Ernie), Thom Matthews (Freddy), Linnea Quigley (Trash), Jewel Shepard (Casey) and the rest (including Allan Trautman, who played “Tarman” the zombie who killed Suicide (the late Mark Venturini, who sadly died from leukaemia in 1996).
There’s also producers, editors, casting directors, the former head of Orion Pictures, and the movie’s writer/producer John Russo, who talks about his time with George Romero (after NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, when they parted ways, Russo retained the right to make movies with “Living Dead” in the title, which is why all of Romero’s subsequent zombies films were simply “Something of the Dead”).
It was also interesting to see how his original ideas and story for RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD changed by the time the late Dan O’Bannon, better known for writing scripts like ALIEN, BLUE THUNDER and LIFEFORCE, came in to direct the movie after Tobe Hooper left to do the aforementioned LIFEFORCE
(Russo later novelised the movie, making him an author who wrote two different novels with an identical title. I got a copy of that novelization, and was sorry I lost it, as it greatly expanded on the movie’s characters and their backgrounds).
Running at two hours, the documentary is longer than the actual film, but to its credit it’s not the marathon viewing experience of CRYSTAL LAKE MEMORIES or NEVER SLEEP AGAIN, but it’s still an entertaining slice of behind the scenes and retrospective. The interviews are consistently worth watching, with some of my favourite being James Karen and Clu Culager, veteran actors with a wry outlook on the business.
The actual shoot took only six weeks, but they were said to be contentious ones, with the inexperienced Dan O’Bannon clashing with Gulager, firing special effects artist William Munnis halfway through, the cast arguments, the interference from Orion Studios, and the surprise from all concerned (especially the backers, who derided it as something akin to a porn movie) when the movie went on to be a critical and box-office hit.
You’ll learn some really fascinating things about the movie, including:
- The Nazi origins of Ernie the Mortician (well, he does listen to German Afrika Corps marching songs on his Walkman, carries a Walther P38, and has a picture of Eva Braun in his morgue. You don’t need to be Columbo to figure that out)
- What famous comic actor was meant to take Burt’s role before Clu Gulager
- The embarrassing actions Linnea Quigley had to undergo surrounding her infamous nude scene
- What the eye test chart in Burt’s office actually reads
- How they made the reanimated butterflies in the warehouse appear to come to life (it was so simple and obvious I feel like a Kardashian for not knowing)
There’s a wealth of extras on the DVD set, though I’ve yet to view them all. One of them covers the production of the sequel, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD PART 2 (which I reviewed here), and which is interesting for the fact that almost no one tries to paint this as anything more than a cheap rip-off of the first movie, but lacking any appreciable comedy or horror (though at least the special effects people need not feel ashamed). There’s additional features on the later LIVING DEAD movies, none of which I’ve seen.
The main documentary ends with some footage from an interview with O’Bannon, a moving piece further expanded in one of the Special Features, and I wish they had added more to the main doc. Otherwise, MORE BRAINS! is a must-see for fans of the original movie.
Director: Bill Philputt
Plot: 5 out of 5 stars
Gore: 5 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 5 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Deggsy. BBBRRRAAAIIINNNSSS!!!