Cybill Shepard is a genius scientist in Scorpion Releasing's THE RETURN, from the people who brought you WITHOUT WARNING and PITCH BLACK!
Twenty five years ago, Jennifer – traveling with her scientist father Dr. Kramer (Raymond Burr, REAR WINDOW) – experiences a close encounter in a New Mexico town. The event is also experienced by local boy Wayne, as well as a prospector (Vincent Schiavelli, AMADEUS) who – along with his dog – is taken over by an alien force. Having followed in her father's footsteps, scientist Jennifer (MOONLIGHTING's Cybill Shepard) returns to the town to investigate the source of fogging that has only recently appeared in satellite images of the area. Jennifer's arrival unfortunately coincides with a series of cattle mutilations with laser precision, and she is the subject of aggression from rancher Walt (Neville Brand, EATEN ALIVE) and his spoiled, unstable son Eddie (Brad Reardon, THE TERMINATOR). As Jennifer and Wayne (AIRWOLF's Jan-Michael Vincent) – now a deputy – investigate the strange occurrences (including attacks by the prospector's dog), their lives may be in danger when the cattle mutilator switches to humans (including director Greydon Clark as a city slicker).
Scripted by Jim and Ken Wheat (PITCH BLACK) – who had just rewrote and reshot Denny Harris' SILENT SCREAM (also with Rearden) – THE RETURN is a slick low budget science fiction film with better than decent visual effects for the time (albeit more along the lines of the light shows from THE VISITOR than STAR WARS). Unfortunately, whether due to the script, the budget, or the scheduling, the end result is senseless. On the commentary track, Clark claims to have left the film ambiguous (although the ending would have been less infuriating had he dropped just one shot), but the plot isn't so much open-ended as full of holes with no answer at all as to the intent of the aliens or even if they were really evil as they seemed or benevolent as Sheppard's scientist claims. It's harder to buy Sheppard as a scientist than Vincent as a small town deputy, but they make for a pair of likable leads and characters that deserving of more substantive interaction in place of sinister incidents (including appearances late in the film by a pair of FBI agents – Candy Castillo and Ken Minyard, who had both played background toughs in Clark's ANGELS BRIGADE – who only add some gunplay to the third act).
A surprise here is Burr going on location in an 1980s science fiction film (although he figures only briefly into the climax as do a couple other characters introduced with some seeming importance including ORDINARY PEOPLE's Steven Hirsch as a seeming romantic rival), and a sober Brand has more than one cranky mode here. Martin Landau is a welcome presence as the town's sheriff, but he fares no better here fate-wise than he did in another low budget alien-on-the-rampage film: Jackie Kong's THE BEING. Darby Hinton (FIRECRACKER) and Susan Kiger (GALAXINA), who play Eddie's backwater friends, also appeared in Clark's ANGELS BRIGADE with Brand. Vincent's nephew Zachary plans Wayne as a child and young Jennifer was played by Farah Bunch, the daughter of the film's make-up artist Patricia Bunch (PINK MOTEL), and has herself become a make-up artist on several network TV shows. Dan Wyman (HELL NIGHT) provides a score with appropriately reverential synth notes for the effects scenes, and the cinematography of Daniel Pearl (TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE) also contributes the low budget film's production value. The make-up effects were created by Ken Horn (DEMONOID) and Tom Schwartz (HELL NIGHT).
Scorpion Releasing's dual-layer DVD features an HD-mastered progressive, anamorphic 1.78:1 widescreen transfer from the original negative. The image is immaculate apart from some black spots during a couple of the visual effects shots as well as a few radically mismatching shots during the fight scene between Vincent and Schiavelli that were presumably retimed in intermediate elements for the release prints. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio is in fine condition. Clark appears in an audio commentary track – as he did for JOYSTICKS, although he was absent from ANGELS BRIGADE – in which he discusses substituting California and Paramount Ranch for New Mexico, the long hours required of his cast, and speaks appreciatively of Sheppard, Burr, Brand, and cinematographer Pearl. Clark does reluctantly mention Vincent's substance abuse problems on the set and having to work around it by rescheduling scenes (thanking Shepard and Landau for adapting). Clark recalls that Burr wanted to use a teleprompter, and that he assumed that it was due to the technical jargon; but that Burr revealed that he had used a teleprompter going all the way back to his days on PERRY MASON because of the volume of dialogue and even had his own operator (more troublesome was the wardrobe truck accidentally driving off with Burr's costume jacket and delaying filming for an hour). He also identified Vincent's stunt double as Mike Tilman – who worked with him again on UNINVITED – and Diane Carter (BLADE RUNNER) taking Kiger's rough tumble down a hillside. Clark mentions a closing biblical quote that does not appear here, so there may be more than one version (or it may have been added to theatrical prints but not part of the original assembly). Of the optical visual effects, he said that he did not want the alien ship to look threatening, but the ambiguity may be an extension of the script's underdevelopment. The track has some rough edges such as when Clark asks the engineer to cut when he makes a mistake.
Clark also appears in a video interview (12:44) in which he discusses his beginnings under Al Adamson (having accompanied an actress auditioning for Adamson) with a small part in THE FAKERS before becoming his assistant and then the scripter of SATAN'S SADISTS and DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN. He then discusses his first films as director TOM and THE BAD BUNCH, and generally wanting only to be successful enough to make the next picture. Of THE RETURN, there is some overlap with the commentary as he discusses the cast and Vincent's on-set behavior and Burr's insistence on using a teleprompter. Up until he started doing commentaries, he reveals that he did not look back at his old films because of the mistakes he had made on them (he also talks about the MST3K takes on some of his films). The disc also includes the film's theatrical trailer (3:02) which seems longer than it really is because of the narration of the amateurish voice actor, as well as trailers for SORCERESS, DOGS, SAINT JACK, THE OCTAGON, LURKERS, DIE SISTER DIE, THE MONSTER CLUB, GRIZZLY, and DAY OF THE ANIMALS. "Katarina's Nightmare Theater" hostess Katarina Leigh Waters contributes an introduction and post-script in which she highlights the careers of the stars – including those who worked with Clark before or after – and voices some of the nagging questions left in the film's aftermath. (Eric Cotenas)
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