Plot: What’s it about?
An abandon prison is eerie enough, but when a mad doctor is involved, it becomes a true house of horrors. This doctor isn’t doing routine experiments within the prison either, instead he is trying to reanimate the deceased. So if his plan works, executed criminals will be brought back and unleashed upon the world. The men won’t be the crooks they once were, they’ll be even worse monsters this time around, revived as bloodthirsty zombies. As it turns out, the doctor’s plan works and soon enough, the living dead begin to roam the streets and devour those in their path, with no end in sight. As the creatures are already dead, they cannot be killed in traditional ways, but will someone come up with a plan to stop them? The potential solution comes in the form of teenager Jonathan (Scott Schwartz), who used a laser from his laserdisc player to create a special weapon, one which proves to be effective against the zombies. Along his with girlfriend and grandfather, Jonathan tracks down the zombies and tries to fend them off. At the same time, a reporter delves into the story to look for clues with the help of an old librarian. A final showdown seems imminent, but which side will prevail in this ultimate conflict?
With a title like Raiders of the Living Dead, you might assume this one is loaded with gore, zombies, and adventure elements. A kind of splatter version of Indiana Jones, with the living dead instead of Nazis, perhaps. While this movie has ample zombies and some action involved, this is not the blood soaked epic it sounds like. Instead, we have a film that plays more like an action movie than horror movie. The premise seems to be ripe with horror potential, but this is pretty much a bloodless affair and the main horror element is atmosphere. So yes, it is rather eerie when the zombies go on the prowl and the tension is present, but the payoff isn’t a Dawn of the Dead style showdown, not by any means. The battles are more like sci/fi conflicts, with high tech weapons that dispatch the enemy without bloodshed, as opposed to shotgun blasts that leave pieces of brain splattered against the wall behind them. I was more than a little let down by the lack of blood and traditional horror elements, a feeling I assume others will share. But this is not a total loss, as it has some solid moments and if nothing else, its humorous to see Scott Schwartz fighting legions of the undead. I have to think some bloodshed and gore would have amped this one up considerably, but as it stands, this one is only recommended to genre diehards. You have to admire Image’s work on this set though, which should generate some additional interest in the release.
Perhaps the best known of the stars here is Scott Schwartz, who found success as a child actor, but soon turned toward other venues in the movie business. Yes, Schwartz moved from mainstream cinema into the adult film industry, where he has remained until recent years and found minimal success. You would assume his childhood fame would have been enough to give his films some extra draw, but he never became much of a force in the porno business and these days, he’s back in the mainstream realm. Of course, he isn’t finding his return too much of a success either, with only minor roles in low rent productions. But when he was a kid, Schwartz was in several popular productions and seemed to have some real potential. Even in a movie as bad as Raiders of the Living Dead, he manages to turn in a solid effort. You wouldn’t want to judge his skills by this performance, but for the material involved, his work is more than acceptable. Other films with Schwartz include The Toy, A Christmas Story, The Wrong Snatch, New Wave Hookers 5, Scotty’s X-Rated Adventure, and Skinwalker. The cast also includes Robert Deveau (The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra), Robert Allen (The Black Room, Hells Angels on Wheels), and a number of folks who would only appear in one or two other motion pictures.
Video: How does it look?
Raiders of the Living Dead is presented in full frame, which seems to be an acceptable presentation. I am unsure of the intended aspect ratio here, but since the framing seems decent and no pan & scan is evident, I won’t raise much of a ruckus. This was a low budget project and it shows, but Image has done about as good as can be expected. The image is often bathed in darkness or blue hues, but black levels seem a little too dark at times, so detail is lessened in some of the darker sequences. The colors appear acceptable and stable, but not as vivid or bold as we might like. As far as source materials, I imagine Image rounded up the best elements they could find, but the print still looks rough. I do have to say it looked better than expected, as grain and nicks aren’t that serious here. On a normal scale, this wouldn’t rate too high, but given the material involved, I’m using a slanted scale in this case. Yes, the image is soft and too dark, but I can’t help but think this was as good as Image could manage.
Audio: How does it sound?
A mono option is used here and while it isn’t too remarkable, the elements come across in solid, passable fashion. The production limitations are evident at times, with thin audio in some scenes and some muffled moments, but on the whole, this is an acceptable presentation. I mean, we can’t expect this movie to sound pristine, it was a low rent horror flick from the 80s, one which probably hasn’t been that well cared for since its release. So hiss, muffled dialogue, and thin moments are simply unavoidable in this case, as the film’s appeal doesn’t warrant a restoration. The audio is basic and unmemorable, but since the material wasn’t created to push surround channels, the flaws never detract that much.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This might be a bad movie, but this two disc set is terrific and offers a glimpse into the evolution of this project. In addition to the finished product, Raiders of the Living Dead, this set includes two previous incarnations of the material. It all started with Dying Day, an 80 minute unfinished project purchased by Sam Sherman, who would seek to not only complete the picture, but enhance the material involved. So he produced a reshoot & reworking of the material, which would be known as Dark Night. This version was an improvement in the eyes of the buyers, but Sherman would revisit the material once more. The final rendition would be called Raiders of the Living Dead, the finished product from all that time and effort. In this collection, you’ll be able to watch Raiders of the Living Dead, as well as Sherman’s original workprint of Dark Night and of course, the original Dying Day material. The video is less than impressive on the previous editions, but it is a pleasure to watch the elements change and evolve over the three versions, until they were completed in Raiders of the Living Dead. This is a fantastic idea and I think it adds a lot of insight into the ways movies are produced, or at least how it used to be. I commend Image for their work here, but the supplements don’t end with the alternate versions, however.
No, the extras continue beyond the added pictures, including an insightful audio commentary with Sam Sherman himself. As he was very involved with this project from the start, Sherman has a lot of information and isn’t shy in letting us in on the process, from the first viewing of Dying Day to the completed Raiders of the Living Dead. Sherman is candid throughout the session, talking about the different versions and the changes that were made, as well as why the changes were done and how it impacted the finished version. I know film scholars and books often have valuable insight, but there’s no substitute for hearing the facts from an involved source, as Sherman proves in this excellent commentary session. This release also includes a rare House of Terror promotional spot, a slew of bonus trailers, some still photos, and the theatrical trailer for Raiders of the Living Dead, quite a solid assortment of goodies.