The Dead Next Door Ultimate Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Tempe Digital
Written and directed by J.R. Bookwalter
1989, 79 minutes, Not Rated
Blu-ray released on December 18th, 2015
Peter Ferry as Raimi
Bogdan Pecic as Dr. Moulsson
Michael Grossi as Mercer
Jolie Jackunas as Kuller
Robert Kokai as Rev. Jones
Floyd Ewing Jr. as Capt. Kline
Scott Spiegel as Richards
Joe Wedlake as Dr. Savini
Welcome to Akron, ground zero for an epidemic sweeping across the nation thanks to the experiments of a local scientist and his daughter. In the wake of this plague that brings the dead back to life, a Federal task force known as The Zombie Squad is sent from Washington D.C.in search of answers and in hopes of developing a cure. Squad 205 is led by a man named Raimi, who is paired with fellow officers Mercer and Kuller to clear out the ghouls and retrieve research data. Their mission is all the more urgent when one of their team is infected, and they race against time to find a cure before their man becomes a walking corpse. Further complicating matters is the appearance of a group of social activists campaigning to preserve the rights of the living dead. Rev. Jones, a charismatic cult leader, believes all of this is God’s will and uses religious fury to inspire his followers to strike back against those trying to end the outbreak.
The Dead Next Door is a film that best exemplifies the spirit of a can-do attitude, as then teenaged filmmaker J.R. Bookwalter managed to pull off an impressive feat, four years in the making. His is an ultra-low budget movie that carries the distinction of being the most expensive film shot on Super 8. Despite the financial and technical limitations, the plot tells a surprisingly grand tale that echoes the themes and spirit of classic horrors that came before. The shadow of legendary director George A. Romero (Day of the Dead) looms large, as this picture owes more than a passing debt to his hallowed zombie trilogy. Bookwalter rises to the challenge and infuses his story with social commentary, dark comedy, surprising special make-up effects and a generous number of scenes filled with hundreds of shambling zombies. The young director’s ambition also led to an exciting sequence filmed at some famous landmarks in Washington D.C.
This ambitious teen somehow impressed up-and-coming director Sam Raimi (Darkman), and secured funding from him for this project. This bit of trivia is an open secret in the world of independent film and though he served as executive producer, Raimi is credited simply as “The Master Cylinder”. Additional help came from writer Scott Spiegel (Intruder), who has a small acting role in the film, and Bruce Campbell (Army of Darkness), who supervised post production and helped with the sound design. As if receiving assistance from these fine gentlemen wasn’t enough to ask, Bookwalter also surrounded himself with a hard-working crew and a very enthusiastic town. Many Akron residents came out to lend a hand and even more showed up to appear as extras in the massive crowd scenes. J.R. Bookwalter has gone on to direct several low-budget genre films and even started his own distribution company, Tempe Video, to help other independent directors get their work seen. The Dead Next Door is fun and infectious and moves at a steady clip that will make it easier for viewers to look past the limitations. Rarely does a picture like this get so many chances at reaching new audiences, but this one is truly deserving of the opportunity.
Video and Audio:
The film has been lovingly restored using an all-new 2K scan of the original film elements, presented in the 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Thousands of instances of dirt and scratches have been removed and the picture has never looked better. The inherent grain structure and limitations of Super 8 film stock remain, but the overall improvement in brightness and color saturation result in a truly impressive transfer.
Contemporary audiences used to viewing movies on widescreen televisions are in for a treat, as the director has included a second viewing option that opens up the frame in a newly created 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Some of the image at the top and bottom is lost, but this was not an arbitrary zoom-in, as each shot was re-framed for this edition resulting in only minimal composition loss.
Some of the original film elements have been lost over the past few decades, and as a result there are a few brief moments that are sourced from lower quality video prints. These shots usually last only a few seconds and they are noticeable but not too distracting.
A pair of DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio tracks offer viewers the option of listening to the film’s “Original Cast Mix” or the “Classic Dubbed Mix”. The former features a restored but still muddy presentation of the rarely heard production audio that includes the voice talents of the actors on screen. The latter is a more polished presentation and has been the designated audio for years, but since not all of the cast members were available for looping during post production, their voices were replaced by other actors. The “star” of the dubbed track is actor Bruce Campbell, who voices not only the lead character Raimi, but also a few other smaller roles.
English subtitles are provided for anyone in need.
This Blu-ray release earns the title “The Ultimate Edition”, as it offers a wealth of supplements spread across this three-disc set. Tucked inside the front of the case is a six-page booklet with an essay on the impact of the film written by the inimitable Michael Gingold.
Disc One (Blu-ray):
J.R. Bookwalter and producers Jolie Jackunas and Scott P. Plummer contribute an all-new audio commentary that looks back on the film’s origins and production challenges. This is a very interesting and informative track that is laid back and conversational in nature, but really is educational.
The most impressive new supplement is the Restoration of the Dead (19 minutes) featurette, in which Bookwalter leads viewers on a tour through the complicated task of bringing this low-budget feature to life for the twenty-first century. He details the challenges of scanning, cleaning, editing and preserving the original film elements while remastering and enhancing certain flawed shots.
In 2015, the restored film played to an eager crowd with members of the cast and crew in attendance. The Q&A that followed is included here in the segment Capitol Theater Screening (12 minutes). All of the participants appear genuinely thrilled that the movie has a following all these years later.
Similar to the Capitol screening above, the picture played in Ohio with Bookwalter assuming the Q&A duties in the piece Nightlight Screening (16 minutes).
The Behind the Scenes (19 minutes) footage offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective of the lengthy production process starting with auditions and following all the way through the shoot. Bookwalter provides a running commentary over the material, but sadly it is not an option to play the original audio that accompanies the footage.
The first two weeks of filming yielded unfortunate results thanks in part to a malfunctioning camera. A collection of Deleted Scenes & Outtakes (7 minutes) offers a look at the unfortunate results and also includes a glimpse at some material cut for pacing. This material is also narrated by the director but original production audio is not an option.
The original trailer offers a look at the marketing for the film.
A quartet of photo galleries are divided by category, including Around the World (4 minutes), Behind the Scenes (8 minutes), Production Stills (6 minutes) and Storyboards (26 minutes), presenting a look at different aspects of the making of the film.
Disc 2 (DVD):
The Dead Next Door was previously released on VHS (1990, 85 minutes) and a remastered DVD (2005, 78 minutes). This “Ultimate Edition” includes a DVD with both of these earlier versions and carries over the vintage supplemental material and offers all new bonus content too!
An all-new audio commentary with the guys from the “No Budget Nightmares” podcast is provided for the 1990 version, and they are clearly fans. They did not work on the movie, but can appreciate its limitations and accomplishments.
The Dead Up North (9 minutes) follows Bookwalter to Canada for a screening and Q&A in 2015.
A collection of vintage Local T.V. Appearances (15 minutes) offers a look at Bookwalter and company marketing their film in Akron, 1990.
Local T.V. Commercial (2 minutes) is a humorous ad encouraging people in Ohio to rent the movie on home video rather than making illegal copies of the VHS.
20 Years in 15 minutes (15 minutes) marks the anniversary of the start of production with reflections from members of the cast and crew.
Excerpts from the Making of the Dead Next Door (9 minutes) provide interview clips with the filmmakers discussing their efforts.
A trio of Bookwalter’s early short films is included with audio commentary from the director and his young son. Sadly, the original audio is not offered. Titles include The Flesh Eater (1979, 3 minutes), Zombie (1980, 10 minutes) and Tomorrow (1985, 9 minutes).
In anticipation of shooting a feature film, the director made a series of Video Storyboards (8 minutes) to serve as a visual reference for specific shots he wanted to include. Additionally, he entertained the idea of using analog video instead of film and created a series of Video Preshoots (6 minutes); tests to see what the scenes would look like if shot on video.
A collection of audition videos (14 minutes) provides a look at the casting process.
Highlights from a fifteenth anniversary reunion at the Ohio FrightVision convention (6 minutes) showcase everyone having a nice time with their fans and supporters.
A music video for the band Three Miles Out mixes performance footage with clips from the film for your listening pleasure.
Trailers for additional J.R. Bookwalter films including Kingdom of the Vampire (1991), Ozone and Sandman (both 1995), and Polymorph (1996) give a glimpse at some of the director’s other efforts.
Disc 3 (CD):
Fans of this film are in for a treat, as the complete soundtrack featuring songs from indie-rock bands as well as original instrumental pieces from the score are presented together for the first time on CD.
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