Release Date(s)1989 (September 26, 2017)
Studio(s)Suburban Tempe Company/Amsco Studios (Tempe Digital)
- Film/Program Grade: C-
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: B+
Shot over the course of 4 years on 8mm film with a budget around $125,000, The Dead Next Door is an attempt to do a post-apocalyptic zombie movie on a low budget. While a number of films from the last couple of decades have done many of the same things on various-sized budgets, this film did it long before it became mainstream. It’s also notable for featuring the support and participation of Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, and Scott Spiegel, all of whom contributed to the film in one way or another.
I personally first heard about The Dead Next Door sometime in the 1990s. After coming across a website that covered horror films that wrote about it, it always stuck out as something to watch out for. Little did I know that several years later, Anchor Bay would release a very fine DVD of the film. Since then, there have been a plethora of zombie movies, and while the genre itself is as stale as they come, there’s still something special about The Dead Next Door. The DIY nature of it and the commitment to it by the folks who put it together means that it’s coming from an honest place, and not a movie studio looking to capitalize upon a trend. In 1989, zombie movies were still something seedy to most folks outside of the horror genre. Now overexposed by the sheer number of them, as well as their place in popular culture, films like The Dead Next Door may seem rather archaic in retrospect. However, in the context of a horror film made by amateurs, it sits comfortably alongside many others that were released during the same era.
For its Blu-ray debut, The Dead Next Door is presented in 2 ways: the original full frame presentation and a new widescreen presentation. Both are sourced from a new 2K restoration, carried out by the director himself. It’s worth noting that the film had to be rebuilt from scratch for Anchor Bay’s 2005 DVD release, and for this new Blu-ray release, it had to be rebuilt again. What you gain and lose are mostly new title cards, as well as clarity. The film has always been rough around the edges, but by using modern digital technology to fix many of its inherent flaws, it’s the cleanest and sharpest presentation of the film to date. Sadly, several reels from the original film are still missing, so upgraded VHS shots had to be inserted in their place (as before on DVD). As is, it’s still an organic presentation, even after the heavy duty clean-up. Colors and skin tones are more natural than ever, and black levels are appropriately deep. Contrast levels also look natural without going overly bright. And while some wobble is still evident, it’s not overtly noticeable. Do keep your expectations in check though. It’s never going to be perfect, but it’s the best the film has ever looked on a disc-based format. For the audio, two options are available: the “Original Cast Mix” and the “Classic Dubbed Mix”, both in English 5.1 DTS-HD. I would have liked to have had the original soundtrack, as flawed as it might be, but that aside, both tracks support the film well. It’s always been notorious for having horrible and obvious dubbing, particularly on the “Classic Dubbed Mix”, which features the voices of Bruce Campbell and Scott Spiegel as a couple of the characters. However, the “Original Cast Mix” is something new, and if you’re interesting in hearing all of the original actors (or voice actors, in some cases), this is a welcome addition. I prefer the classic mix, as it’s what I’m accustomed to, but you be the judge. The film’s score definitely has more heft to it with the newfound clarity, and sound effects are appropriately squishy and slimy in all the right places. There are also subtitles provided in English if needed.
For the supplemental materials, this is a nice package, but it’s also sort of a “best of” from the previous Ultimate Edition Blu-ray release, which is now out of print. However, there’s still plenty of material here worth exploring. On Disc One, which is the Blu-ray of the film, there’s an audio commentary from 2015 with writer/director J.R. Bookwalter, line producer and co-star Jolie Jackunas-Kobrinsky, and associate producer Scott P. Plummer; the Restoration of the Dead featurette; the Capitol Theatre Screening Q&A; the Nightlight Screening Q&A; behind the scenes footage; a set of deleted scenes and outtakes with audio commentary by Bookwalter; a set of still galleries (Around the World Gallery, Storyboard Gallery, Behind the Scenes, Production Stills); a trailer for the film itself; and trailers for Platoon of the Dead and Poison Sweethearts. On Disc Two, which is a DVD that includes the full frame version only with the same audio options, but presented in Dolby Digital, the same audio commentary from the Blu-ray can be found; the 2005 Anchor Bay DVD audio commentary with Bookwalter, actor/associate producer Michael Todd, and cinematographer Michael Tolochko, Jr.; the 2001 German DVD audio commentary with Bookwalter and FX artist David Lange; Richard Returns!, an interview with actor Scott Spiegel; a 1999 Location Tour with actor James L. Edwards; the 20 Years in 15 Minutes featurette; a set of Video Storyboards; a music video for the band Three Miles Out that’s featured during the closing credits of the film; a set of Video Preshoots; Auditions; footage from the 2000 Frightvision Reunion; a trailer for the film itself; and trailers for Kingdom of the Vampire, Ozone, The Sandman, and Polymorph.
The previous Ultimate Edition Blu-ray was a 3-disc set and also included The Dead Up North Q&A; Local T.V. Appearances; Local T.V. Commercial; 1995 Making-Of Excerpts; a set of short films (The Flesh Eater, Zombie, and Tomorrow with audio commentary with J.R. Bookwalter and his son); two additional versions of the film: the original raw VHS tape master with the original dubbed & Spanish mixes and English subtitles, and the transfer used for Anchor Bay’s DVD release with the 5.1 track, a 2.0 downmix, and optional English subtitles; an audio commentary by the podcast No-Budget Nightmares for the VHS transfer; the previously-mentioned 2005 Anchor Bay DVD audio commentary with Bookwalter, Todd, and Tolochko, Jr.; the film’s soundtrack as a CD extra; reversible artwork autographed by the director himself; and finally, an 8-page insert booklet with liner notes by Michael Gingold of “Fangoria”. Curiously, the Ultimate Edition did not include the 2001 German audio commentary, nor did it feature the Scott Spiegel interview. It’s a shame that all of the video-based material couldn’t be included, but as is, what is presented on this Collector’s Edition release is still a nice package, albeit incomplete.
The Dead Next Door, in all honesty, is only going to be for a certain number of people: for those who’ve already seen it or for die-hard horror fans wanting to consume everything. While the film’s look and its acting performances leave something to be desired, it’s also one of the goriest entries into the genre. The Ultimate Edition might have been a more solid release overall, this new Collector’s Edition release definitely has merit, and just having the film in print at all is a good thing.
- Tim Salmons