A little low-budget exploitation flick with absolutely zero aspirations is technically superior in many other ways
Zombie Flesh Eaters Blu-ray ReviewThe film commences quite brilliantly with a provocative pre-credits sequence. To the accompaniment of voodoo drums, a mysterious, indiscernible character raises a revolver and blows a shrouded head apart before then issuing the gruff and enigmatic command, “The boat can leave now. Tell the crew.” After the titles, and our first introduction to Fabio Frizzi's compelling and irredeemably catchy Carpenter-inspired synth-fuelled main theme, we find “the boat” sailing adrift into New York's busy Hudson Bay. Narrowly missing other vessels – the chopper pilot who spots the derelict aptly claims it is “on a collision course with every other ship in the Bay” - and clearly skippered by a “turkey”, two Harbour Patrol officers board it and begin to investigate this queer Mary Celeste. As one wrestles with the listing sails, his companion goes below to discover chaos, sinister slime and worms, a severed and severely nibbled hand … and the only inhabitant left aboard – a ravenous zombie who comes through a locked door liked a rampaging rhino to overpower him.
Much screaming and torn jugulars swiftly ensue … and New York, it would appear, is about to become host to the coming apocalypse.
When investigative journalist Peter West (Ian McCulloch) senses something amiss with this crime-scene boat, he does some detective work and finds that it came from the Caribbean island of Matul. Thus, knowing there must be a good story in here somewhere, he tags along with Ann Bowles (Tisa Farrow), the concerned daughter of the boat's missing owner, and they head off to the Caribbean. Meeting up with an adventurous couple, Brian (the great Italian supporting bodybag, Al Cliver) and Susan (the simply jaw-droppingly beautiful teenage-wet-dream of Auretta Gay), they stumble upon the island and find that all is not well. The dead are rising and attacking the living. Anyone bitten by a zombie and not completely devoured will succumb to the plague and will also return as a zombie. Pretty soon, the hands thrusting up from the ground are as thick as the weeds all over the island, and only a handful of survivors are forced to make a final stand against the hordes of the undead in a dilapidated shanty hospital. Voodoo, bacteriology, virology, even radiology … who knows what's causing it? Certainly not Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson, who is having a ball with the Italian crew) that's for sure. He spends his time divided between giving bogus hope to a disgruntled and spiteful wife (Olga Karlotos) far too lovely for him, and wrapping up the heads of those who have given in to the mysterious plague in sheets … before putting a bullet through them. He’s simply run out of ologies to test for.
Zombie Flesh Eaters Blu-ray Picture Quality“Whatever it is, it makes the dead get up and walk!”
What we have here is a 2K transfer taken from the original uncensored camera negative. For the first time, Arrow – who have a chequered past with the quality of their hi-def releases of European movies – had complete control over the encode, with the process overseen by James White, who was responsible for the painstaking work undertaken on Tokyo Story and The Passion of Joan of Arc, so the potential for a good job certainly seemed greater than ever before.
Now, without wanting to muddy the waters any further, I am of the understanding that BU’s transfer was also minted from the OCN. But the results are certainly different, and this comes to how the 2K harvest has been dealt with after the scan.
This disc offers us the choice of watching the movie with any of three different title sequences - Zombie Flesh Eaters, Zombi and Zombi 2. But the film remains the same, folks, with no differing cuts. Opting for Zombie Flesh Easters results in a grainier set of titles, though. That’s one thing I noticed. The black backing on the other two, like in the BU transfer, is much smoother and less noisy.
Print damage is minimal. We still have the dancing yellow streak that flickers about during the shark-attack scene, of course, and something that is a little odd is that the small hair, or bit of debris that is caught at the top of the frame as Peter finishes his phone-call to his boss (cameo’d by Fulci) to inform him that he is travelling out to Matul with Ann is longer in the Arrow print than in the BU. Otherwise, the image is very clean.
Immediately, we can see differences from the Blue Underground transfer. This version does not have the same colour-boosting, thankfully. I much prefer this more natural, far less exaggerated palette. Now, granted, the BU disc was often gorgeously redolent and EC-style lurid, but I personally had a couple of problems with it as well. The throat-rippings of both the harbour-cop and of Auretta Gay, as well as the head-mashing that Peter does of the Worm-Eye zombie with the wooden cross, were so over-saturated that they seemed to contaminate the entire frame, ironically lessening the shock-value of the effects with gaudy overkill. There are no such problems here. The colour-balance is much more akin to how I have always seen it in Zombi. Skin-tones, for the living, are nowhere near as ruddy as they are on the US disc. The vegetation on Matul isn’t as lividly presented, the gore not as lurid. Don’t complain about the latter, though. This looks much better, with the contrast between flesh, clothing and backdrops and the blood that we see gushing against them is far keener and, therefore, considerably more effective. It sounds a bizarre reference-point – the blood contrast and its visual consistency – but you know how much it matters here.
There is no smearing and no banding. The pale blue skies still have a propensity to appear grey/white in some shots, but then they always did. Without the frozen grain, they certainly look better now.
Regardless of which version you prefer, there is no uniformity to the presentation of film grain. The original photography from Sergio Salvati, especially in the opening scene in the New York Harbour, for example, changes from shot-to-shot. Some are surprisingly well-textured and highly detailed, whilst a couple (throat-bite cop going below deck) look very soft and clean-swept of detail. Grain is not as apparent on this version. Yep, in the BU there was plenty of it at times – but it frequently took on that frozen, crystalline appearance that can look quite horrible and artificial. On the Arrow release, it has been dramatically smoothened, and allowed to look more even, more consistently spread across the frame. This opening segment highlights the differences quite dramatically. The UK transfer has none of that glistening noise in the skies. Now before you go screaming about DNR – I have been informed by James White, himself, that there has been absolutely no noise reduction made at all, and, to my eyes, this results in a picture that is considerably less waxy than evidenced in those troublesome shots that the American disc seems to have in abundance, such as the close-ups of Auretta Gay as she turns to face the zombie uprooting himself from the ground, for instance. There was clearly a loss of detail on the US disc that was being compensated for with the horrid grain. Here, however, there is a lot more texture on display right across the board.
And it doesn’t look smudgy beneath a veil of silver-stippled grain. The softer, smoother shots are a direct result of the source photography, and retained on the transfer from the original negative.
In terms of detail, both versions are probably pretty much the same when you first compare them … although, as you would expect from someone scrutinising a film that he knows so damn well and looking for anomalies, I actually discovered a couple of things that I’d never noticed before. Good things to look out for are people moving about on Liberty Island, the red van trundling along beside the Hudson, the stringy striations on latex wounds, the spit that travels down the sinew being chewed by one of the zombies as he savours a chunk of flesh from Mrs. Menard’s severed hand, the covers on the books strewn about the floor of the derelict, and the leaves and twigs that litter the frame when our heroes stop off for that unfortunate rest in the Conquistador graveyard. Without a doubt, these things looked incredibly clean and crisp and clear in BU’s version, but I wouldn’t hesitate in saying that they look better here. The appearance of foliage and detritus on the shabby streets in deeper shots is no longer as “clumpy” – it is much better defined. Now the colour cast and suffusion that swathed the BU edition may have something to do with this, possibly losing some of the finer resolution as a result of the saturation, but this transfer seems to yield many more improvements on top of that.
The woodgrain in the clapboard hospital, the material in clothing (the badges and leather jackets on the harbour cops, the pattern on Peter’s shirt), the bottles and jars on the shelves, the torn threads as a dead-head pushes through its shroud. All of this seems crisper to me. Even the plants underwater and the stripes on the shark, the bubble-streams in the sea, the mangled flesh, the wisps of gunsmoke from Dr. Menard's revolver, and the bullet hits in the side of Lucas’ head and just under the eye of the zombie who eats Dr. Menard’s cheek off. These last two elements you could never really see until the film arrived on Blu, and they look clearer here than on the BU disc. Facial close-ups can be extremely detailed, especially those of Richard Johnson, and the various clay-pasted cadavers. Again, there is more finite clarity and resolution in eyes and hair than evidenced in the American transfer.
Depth too, is increased. The shambling ghouls in the streets of the shanty-town, and those we see in portrait shots loitering outside the hospital at dusk, have a keener sense of three-dimensionality that it is very welcome. The zombies looming up through the shuttered windows. The image is now even more luxuriously cinematic, though I appreciate that this could well be down to the eye of the beholder. But look at Peter with his revolver outstretched towards Susan, and see that little stem of a dried plant waggling out of the frame as the camera moves in on Peter and Ann as they settle down on the ground. Suddenly, these apparently small images become more pronounced than previously – and the US disc was no slouch in this department, itself. But then, how about the zombie hand that emerges from the ground and moves for Ann’s head? Or the ghastly fingers that paw at the glass as Mrs. Menard takes a shower? Once more, there is a degree of three-dimensionality that, as good it seemed in the BU image, looks better again, here.
Good contrast and strong blacks compliment the growing sense of approaching menace and depravity. Shadows are reliably deep, and there is no detail lost within them.
There is no edge enhancement to the image. Delineation is smoothly handled. I wasn’t distracted by any artefacts, or aliasing.
Some people had their doubts about how good this was going to look, especially after a very rewarding hi-def debut on the US disc. Could it actually look any different, they reasoned, with it being taken from apparently the same source? Well, it certainly can, and it does. This new restoration is tremendous, and a bloody feather in Arrow’s cap.
I gave the BU transfer an 8 out of 10, which pretty much means that I should award this a 9, doesn’t it? It most certainly is better, but a 9???? Come on, now.
Then again, for a low-budget Italian gut-muncher from 1979, this looks fantastic. So hey … bite me!
Zombie Flesh Eaters Blu-ray Sound QualityWhereas the Blue Underground edition sported 7.1 and 5.1 options, as well as the original mono tracks in both English and Italian, Arrow have the film presented with just the an LPCM 2.0 track, in either English or Italian.
There’s nothing wrong with this, of course. I mean let’s be honest, there isn’t a great deal that was done with the original audio elements in BU’s surround options, despite Zombi having quite a clever and ingeniously in-yer-face sound design from Bruno Moreal. So purists shouldn’t have much to moan about regarding any unnecessary manipulation.
Dialogue is blissfully warped out by the bugaboo-dubbing that we all know and love from Italian Cinema. It doesn’t fit the mouths, and you shouldn’t expect it to. But the speech is clear and clean, even Al Cliver’s (erm … Nick Alexander’s) occasionally chunky and mumbled words, and faint babbling of those stricken, snot-covered patients about to succumb to the mysterious plague. Tisa Farrow's simply dreadful screaming is still sure to set the teeth on-edge.
The creaking and yawing of the derelict boat is still presented quite atmospherically, the sudden whumpff of the sail landing on the older copper still makes me jump. The horrible fat synth effect – whuh-whuh-whuh-whuh – when his doomed partner goes below and makes some horrible discoveries is deep and suitably repulsive. The sudden crash of timber as the rampaging zombie comes thundering through the door to get him makes me jump even more. Bass levels for crunches like this, and other impacts, aren't too shabby considering the limitations of the mix.
Fabio Frizzi’s score is a splattery belter, and it has some depth and appreciable vigour in this mix. There’s not a great deal of range or warmth to it, but it hits all the right notes with the sort of nerve-jangling nastiness that is required. The glittering, bubble-burst cue when Susan goes for a swim sounds nicely ethereal. The doomed chanting of the main theme is solid, though undeniably dated, and the steroidal synth-shrieking when we stumble upon the banquet being made of Mrs. Menard lacks any sort of senses-paralysing high ends, yet still delivers a fine jolt. But you can’t complain about what was originally just a hemmed-in mono mix sounding flat.
Personally, I enjoy the added oomph afforded the gunshots in the meatier surround mixes on the US disc. Brian’s shotgun is much more formidable and chunky-sounding, and as daft as the triple-blast effect is when he blows the zombie apart who has been poking his rotting head through the hospital window, I love the boosted shockwave as the timbers rain down. Here, in Arrow’s more faithful soundtrack mix, this echoing effect is nowhere near as pronounced. But it is more accurate to the source, though.
Although completely frontally presented, there is still some subtle ambience that works reasonably well. The moaning of the zombies and the sound of their rasping, dead lungs is quite decently presented. When the yacht is just approaching Matul after the “eye” scene, we can hear an unseen deadster lurking in the bushes just off the beach, and this effect certainly comes over with some unsettling presence, although this sort of thing did, perhaps, sound more effective in the lossless surround track of the BU disc.
This is a good, consistent track that sounds faithful and accurate to me.
Zombie Flesh Eaters Blu-ray ExtrasI am viewing a PR copy of Zombie Flesh Eaters and not all of the extra features are available for me to comment upon. I just have disc 1 of the set. Curses. I will return to this, when I have seen them all.
But, for now …
You can choose to watch the film with any of three separate opening titles – for Zombie Flesh-Eaters, Zombi or Zombi 2. The film, itself, is exactly the same in each case, merely the title changes.
There is also an Introduction from Ian McCulloch lasting for around a minute and a half. Most fans already know that he only watched the film for the first time about ten years previously, and he was stunned by good he thought it was.
We have two chat-tracks to enjoy.
The first Audio Commentary is from Elisa Briganti, the wife of Zombi’s screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti. Her name, of course, is the one credited in the film. Joined by Calum Waddell, this is a quite a frothy and engaging discourse on the making of the film and its impact upon the burgeoning Italian gore-market. Briganti tells us of her contributions to her husband’s script and how the plentiful gore-gags mattered so much to the genre. We hear about other productions she worked on, and other directors. The whole is nice and convivial, but I noticed that the nudity doesn’t get referred to. Calum must have been biting his tongue. She is happy and enthusiastic, and the chat flows pretty well.
The second Audio commentary is from genre critic Alan Jones and Fulci biographer, Stephen Thrower, is much better. You can’t beat listening to a couple of experts who are basically reduced to the level of fanboys. There’s a lot of anecdotage here though. Both men have met Fulci in their time, and both received short-thrift from the Italian ogre, despite them both being champions of his work. Alan Jones, especially. I still have all of his reviews of the main Fulci canon from Starburst Magazine, to which the pair allude. Lots of obvious points are raised about the production – the Romero link, the dubious screenwriting credit, the voodoo influence, the guerrilla shoot in New York, the performances and the story, itself, and how it changed to suit the new trend for cannibalistic zombies – but whilst they acknowledge the failings of the film, they certainly carry the bloody flag for the elements that work. Because those elements work spectacularly well.
We hear about the surrealism of the shark, the eyeball sequence, the throat-ripping of Auretta Gay, the resurrection scene, and the siege, with a gleeful and appreciative verve. The looks and the sheer style of the film are also thoroughly discussed.
A great time is had with these two speakers. The devotee won’t learn much that they didn’t already know, but this is still a fabulously cosy chat with two like-minded disciples.
From Romero to Romeis a 59-minute documentary from High Rise Productions that charts the emergence of the Italian zombie movie, as evolved from and hugely influenced by Night of the Living Dead and, most especially, Dawn of the Dead. There are a few participants called-up for duty, here, including some unusual names. Russ Streiner, co-writer of NOTLD and Kim Newman are standards, alongside Dardano Sachetti and Luigi (Contamination/Starcrash) Cozzi, but the likes of David McGillivray, screenwriter for Pete Walker and Norman J. Warren, Antonio Tentori, Fulci’s writer on Cat in My Brain, Darren Ward, director of A Day of Violence, Andy Serkis lookalike Alex Chandon, director of Inbred, James Moran, writer of Severance, and Shelagh M. Rowan-Legg, critic from Twitch Film add a little bit of personal insight and fan-mentality.
This is the sort of doc that I would love to relish, but it doesn’t really provide much in the way of genuine critical dissection of the genre, and after ladling on the affection for the Romero catalyst and Fulci’s classic quartet, actually seems to seek clues to its popularity in the unlikely crevices of Erotic Nights of the Living Dead and the travesties of Zombi 3 and 4. Rowan-Legg waffles on about titles that add absolutely nothing to the trend, titles that even the most devoted of fans have no time for. McGillivray scores an own goal right from the start when he appears to denigrate the Val Lewton/Jacques Tourneur classic I Walked With A Zombie for not having a flesh-eating dead-head in it! Even the usually reliable and highly entertaining Kim Newman lacks the spark and considered opinion that I expected. There are lots of clips from the films used in reference. Things like Andrea Bianchi’s savage Burial Ground and Umberto Lenzi’s daftly outrageous Nightmare City get some fun airtime, but I’m surprised that the Egytian/Italian co-production of Dawn of the Mummy (even though they are wrapped-up in bandages, these munchers from the afterlife are pure zombies) if Jorge Grau’s excellent Italian/German/Spanish consortium of The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue does. In the end, this merely becomes a rather uneventful and unenlightening stroll through the gut-munching antics of the Spaghetti zombie-boom.
Disc 1 also contains a selection of Trailers and TV spots.
The full release, however, comes well-stocked with a Collector’s Booklet featuring brand new writing by Stephen Thrower, a new interview with Olga (there’s something in my eye) Karlotos, a history of Zombie Flesh Eaters and the BBFC, and extracts of the original Nightmare Island script.
Aliens, Cannibals and Zombies: A Trilogyof Italian Terror – Ian McCulloch looks back upon his three-movie tour of duty with Spaghetti and Gore.
The Meat-Munching Movies of Gino De Rossi– now, I haven’t seen this one yet … so do they mean Gino or Giannetto?
Zombie Flesh Eaters – From Script to Screen– Dardano Sacchetti showing us key pages from his original screenplay.
I will return to this review with full coverage of these extra supplements as and when I am able to view them. so far, this gets a 6 -. but that will surely increase when I appraise the goodies in full.
Is Zombie Flesh Eaters Blu-ray Worth BuyingDespite some reservations about this release from Arrow in certain quarters, this new restored edition of Zombie Flesh Eaters is very definitely worth your while.
“The boat can leave now. Tell the crew.”
One of the greatest gore-flicks ever made, and certainly one of the most notorious, Zombi, Zombi 2, or Zombie Flesh Eaters as many of us know and love it, chews its bloody way onto region-free UK Blu-ray to ravage itself into the ghoulish dark hearts of a new generation, and to warm the exposed and steaming cockles of those of the die-hards. The pantheon of the cannibalistic undead had been long established even by the time that Spaghetti-horror troll Lucio Fulci unveiled his own brand of zombie-gut-muncher, thanks to George Romero and Jorge Grau. But their classic films had the artistic merit of being societal observations and deliberate sticks of cultural dynamite. Fulci had no such aspirations. He loved the concept of endless slaughter – both of the living and the already dead – and wanted to out-gross the past-masters at their own game. And he definitely succeeded.
Zombie is infinitely nastier than anything Romero would conjure up, but even if it’s sole raison-d’être is to turn stomachs and to sensationalise close-up uber-violence, Fulci, perhaps unwittingly, opens the door to a few metaphysical concepts that he would certainly go on to pursue in the following three horror classics he would make straight afterwards.
The story is simple and saturated with gore.
A mysterious plague brings back the dead on the Caribbean island of Matul, and makes them hungry for the flesh of the living. The local doctor, Menard (Richard Johnson), battles to find a cure or a solution to the epidemic, but his attempts are in vain. Carnage and mutilation ensue as an investigative reporter escorts a dim damsel on a search for her lost father on the island and, together with another couple, discover the horror of the living dead. A desperate battle for survival leaves the tropical enclave awash with blood … and when it becomes clear that the plague has reached civilisation, it seems as if the apocalypse has arrived.
Zombie’s second scooping of Blu entrails has been much ballyhooed by fans, and with good reason. Made in 1979, on a sinew-taut shoestring, Fulci’s splatter-tacular has never looked better. Its AVC transfer is vibrant, clean and detailed. The concerns about the colour timing that I had about the Blue Underground release do not figure in this very impressive, frame-by-frame restored transfer from the OCN. There are no audio surround remixes here, but the LPCM 2.0 track is not lacking in atmosphere or 80’s synth ferocity. A slew of fine new extras seal the deal on this unparalleled cult classic, and it is hard to imagine fans left feeling unsatisfied by Arrow Video’s sumptuously grisly UK Blu-ray release.
Nubile young ladies served-up as tasty titbits? A zombie grappling with a real live Tiger Shark? Bugaboo dubbing and a script that makes only a modicum of sense? More fresh offal than an abattoir, and the longest, nastiest wooden splinter in cinematic history? Aye, that’ll be Uncle Lucio’s Zombie Flesh Eaters. Good wholesome family entertainment guaranteed … provided your family live in Texas and have an obsession with chainsaws and head-cheese.
Highly recommended for those with souls as jaded as mine.
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