The Dead Next Door: Collector’s Edition Blu-ray Review

Low-budget Zombies Involving Bruce Campbell and J.R. Bookwalter

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: It’s the zombie apocalypse and civilization has broken down. A team of brave people go hunting for a supposed cure to the zombie plague at the behest of a government scientist, encountering isolated groups of violent survivors that have formed their own strange belief systems about zombies. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Years before The Walking Dead would start out as a comic and then become a huge television hit, The Dead Next Door was a semi-cult classic on VHS. Lovingly made on Super-8 film in Akron, Ohio of all places by director J.R. Bookwalter (Ozone, Witchouse 2: Blood Coven), the 1989 film is a fun tribute to the zombie films that preceded it. Taking a strong cue from George Romero’s beloved zombie trilogy, The Dead Next Door tackles ideas that would later become staples of the genre. From creepy religious cults to misguided government scientists, The Dead Next Door amplifies elements from Romero’s films and even anticipates a few other zombie trends in gory detail.

The ultra-low-budget zombie film also has a loose connection to a big name in the horror field. Actor Bruce Campbell, star of the Evil Dead movies and eventual Hollywood celebrity, helped record and create the movie’s entire dubbed soundtrack before he became a real player in Hollywood. The movie’s location sound recordings were found unusable in post-production, forcing director J.R. Bookwalter to re-record the entire movie in a studio using dubbed voices. Bruce Campbell had a huge hand in the remade sound design and lends his voice to the film’s lead character, Raimi.

It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Robert Kirkman caught this movie before he wrote The Walking Dead

For a zombie film made on a shoestring budget, the scrappy horror film has surprisingly effective practical effects and well-done gore. If you enjoy the bloody zombie effects seen on The Walking Dead, you’ll feel right at home. There are no recognizable actors in the cast, though the local Ohio cast give largely professional performances. Included here is the dubbed soundtrack, which is how most audiences will have heard this movie before. For the first time, the original cast recording has been salvaged and remastered on this edition. It’s an interesting alternative for long-time fans that have only heard the re-recorded, dubbed soundtrack.

The narrative starts with a simple premise that has fueled dozens of movies. The zombie apocalypse gets unleashed by a doctor’s mistake in Akron, Ohio, quickly engulfing society and transforming it into a free-for-all. Skip forward several years, where government-run zombie squads out of D.C. hunt the creatures in a country that has been overrun by zombies. A small team of agents are sent by a scientist to Ohio, in hopes of finding a cure to the zombie plague. It’s personal for them, as one of their soldiers has been bitten and is slowly turning into a zombie. What the team will find in Ohio is a creepy religious cult run by a Reverend Jones. His cult protects the zombies for misguided reasons.

The Dead Next Door is an interesting early entry in the zombie genre from the 1980s, coming on the heels of genre classics like Dawn of the Dead. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Robert Kirkman caught this movie before he wrote The Walking Dead. There are obvious similarities to the early Walking Dead’s plot that can’t be missed. The Dead Next Door shows an obvious enthusiasm for zombie filmmaking, unapologetically embracing everything that makes it popular with fans. It’s remarkable that writer and director J.R. Bookwalter was only nineteen when he first started the movie, crafting an entertaining, if derivative, b-movie.

Video

For this collector’s edition, brand-new 4:3 and 1.78:1 1080P HD masters have been painstakingly created from a 2K restoration using the original Super-8mm film elements. Supervised by the director himself, both are relatively strong transfers with film-like authenticity. A few shots have been preserved from the original VHS release, as a few of the film reels have gone missing over the years. The movie’s original aspect ratio is the 4:3 presentation. Encoded in fully transparent AVC, the movie clocks in at a short 78:34 on a BD-50.

The film is distributed by Tempe Digital. The label seems to have gone the extra mile with The Dead Next Door. The new transfers blow older releases away in picture quality, including the older Anchor Bay DVD. While the video is still muddy and murky in patches due to the high-speed film used in production, this is the very best the Super-8 film could look. The serviceable definition and clarity aren’t going to overwhelm anyone used to Hollywood Blu-rays, but everything turns out about as well as can be expected for what was a disposable horror movie made for the VHS market.

Audio

The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack restores the voices of the original cast members for the first time ever. Also included is the more familiar dubbed soundtrack with Bruce Campbell in 5.1 DTS-HD MA.

The original cast mix is muddier with milder separation than the classic dubbed mix. Both contain some moderate surround activity, albeit it’s clear the dubbed production offers a more exciting aural experience. Limitations in the original cast recording make it a less convincing horror movie, though the director believes the film with it is a better movie. Personally I enjoyed the dubbed recording more with its stronger sonic palette and better clarity.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a white font.

Extras

The Dead Next Door has seen heavy action on home video of late and gets this playful edition loaded with goodies. This “collector’s edition” comes in the wake of last year’s “ultimate edition.” The two-disc set here has a Blu-ray and DVD, dropping last year’s extra CD. A collectible slipcover with all-new 2017 artwork is included with the first 1,000 units only.

Interestingly enough, the included DVD has some special features not found on the companion BD. That involves at least two different commentaries recorded years ago for other releases. Listed below are the BD’s special features, some new to this set.

Audio Commentary – Director J.R. Bookwalter, producers Jolie Jackunas (she also was the co-star) and Scott P. Plummer give this fine discussion on their memories of making the film. The friends get along together on this loose but engaging commentary.

Restoration of the Dead (19:20 in HD) – Bookwalter goes over the extensive restoration process for this edition, going all the way back to this film’s history on VHS and DVD.

Capitol Theater Screening (12:22 in HD) – A 2015 Q&A session with some cast and crew.

The Nightlight Screening (16:29 in HD) – A 2015 Q&A with Bookwalter.

Behind the Scenes Footage (19:13 in upscaled SD) – Rare footage of Bookwalter and crew making the film with commentary by Bookwalter. A hold-over from the 2005 DVD.

Deleted Scenes & Outtakes (07:11 in upscaled SD) – Another 2005 featurette with the movie’s deleted material.

Still Galleries (4 of various length in HD)

The Dead Next Door Trailer (01:47 in HD)

Platoon of the Dead Trailer (01:15 in HD)

Poison Sweethearts Trailer (01:31 in HD)

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.