We are reliably informed that this Blu-ray edition of Zombie has had a 2K scan made from a full, frame-by-frame restoration of its original camera negative, and that this process was overseen by the film's cinematographer, Sergio Salvati.
It is presented in fabulous 2.35:1, which the film really appreciates and makes good use of, and comes via an AVC encode.
And it looks tremendous, folks and fiends. With a couple of caveats.
What we have here has been re-timed under supervision and, with the exception of two shots for which it is detrimental, the new colour scheme is rich, deep, well-saturated and incredibly vivid. Now, before we go any further, let's look at those two scenes in question. The first one we encounter comes as the harbour-cop gets chomped on the derelict boat. The image is now pushed much deeper into the reds and browns, the whole frame now looking pinkish and overly warm. Well, the effect of this, in my opinion, lessens the shock impact of the spurting jugular considerably as the blood now blends-in far too easily with the palette of the rest of the frame. And, even sadder, the same thing happens during the Auretta Gay throat-chewing. Admittedly, the whole film now has this more redolent aesthetic, but these two classic scenes seem to suffer unduly as far as I am concerned.
But the palette, on the whole, is improved. It is deeper, more radiant and suffused with a stronger, more fulsome attitude of visual atmosphere that doesn't succumb to smearing. The underwater sequence looks less washed-out (pardon the pun) and less monochromatic, with cleaner blues and greens, more variance in the shading, and a better contrast that provides the blacks with more vigour. Topside, the foliage of Matul is more inviting, and there is more variety to the leaves and plants and scratty earth in and around the Conquistador graveyard. Is this the original colour scheme of the film, or has it been boosted? Well, I'd have to say that it has been. But if it has been undertaken at the auspices of the man who filmed it, then who are we to argue … no matter how many years have passed under the bridge since he last peered down the lens at grungy-faced Fulci zombies.
Grain is present, but there are numerous occasions when it attains that frozen appearance that has plagued other BD's of Italian films, such as Django (which was terribly stricken with it) and City Of The Living Dead (which didn't fare as badly, but was still troubled). Seen against white or lighter backgrounds such as the sky and the clouds, this can look pretty artificial and weird. It does not resemble film-grain at all – too sharp, crystalline and gleaming. But this is only a problem if you go poking your nose up against the screen. So, don't go poking your nose up against the screen, then. Seated normally, you won't be anywhere near as bothered by this as you would be with the two previous examples, which were unbelievably overt and glaring. DNR has been applied the image can look smooth and waxy beneath this thin patina of possibly digital noise, but I am still impressed with the level of detail that has been revealed as opposed to being stripped-away. Zombie, in every version that I've seen of the film, including two theatrical presentations, has always been clean and bright and smooth. It has never had a grainy-looking image to my knowledge, occasional spikes (which are still apparent) notwithstanding. So the picture on this disc looks just as I expected it to, albeit now with a deeper saturation of colour.
Detail, then, is actually very good in terms of both close-up imagery – wounds, rotted teeth, earth, costumes, whiskers, freckles (in Tisa Farrow's case) and eyes – and background information. The shuffling zombies gathering in the distance, the lush tropical foliage of Matul in the long shots, the yacht drifting about in New York Harbour and the skyscrapers picketing the horizon, and even the distant appearance of the island in that zoom shot when our heroes realise they've made it – all of these elements stand out with greater definition than home video has ever supplied before. Which is what you want. Perhaps a little more unpleasantly, we can even peruse the horrible mucus around the plague victims' mouths a lot better than we could before. Mind you, this is aided by the more colourfully icky aspect of the palette. 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.
Artefacts, edge-enhancement, blocking or banding? Nope. Print is pretty much clean as a whistle. Just the odd vertical line that barely even registers, to be honest.
Ironically, two usually huge hurdles are encountered with this transfer – noise reduction and colour-re-timing – and yet neither hampers what is, essentially, a very attractive image that is surely the best Zombie Flesh Eaters has ever looked on home screens.
Blue Underground give Zombie a lossless makeover with a DTS-HD-MA 7.1 mix. Aye, that's right. 7.1. Sadly, I found this track to be quite underwhelming. It barely stretches out the DD 5.1 EX option that we also get, although it does effectively add some weight to the ominous score, which I like. For the purists, we also have English and Italian mono tracks, which both sound great and faithful, and just don't carry the extra clout or spread of the newer mixes. Dialogue is hardly synched-up (just the way we know and love it), but it is always clear and crisp and never muffled or swallowed-up by the score or the action. It does quite flat at times, however. Surround activity? Erm, there is some ambient carry-over … but I'll be damned if I can recall anything worth mentioning right now. Considering that there is ample opportunity for creepy wraparound, it could be seen as a shame that nothing more was done to spice up the track, especially in light of the addition of a 7.1 mix.
Gunshots have been given a bit of depth, echo and a curious solidity. Now, I'm not saying that the effect isn't convincing – in fact, having fired a fair few guns in my time, I would concede that it is – but it just sounds a little bit strange in its solid, yet restrained freshness. The blasts won't rock the house and won't have the neighbours alerting the police, but they do have some space and breadth to them. But I think the thing is that they are the only element that has. Everything else seems a touch flat and limited. Hemmed-in. Listen to Brian's shotgun do a crazy triple-blast roar when he blows the head off the zombie looming in at the window. Wow! How does it do that? In the DD 5.1 EX the three-tier effect is still present, but in the original English mono, it is lost amid the sound of the collapsing wooden shutter. Whether it is meant to be there or not, it still sounds bizarre – although I'll admit that I quite like it.
The moaning of the zombies and the sound of their rasping, dead lungs is quite well presented. It certainly possesses more vigour in the DTS than in any of the other tracks. 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 more unsettling presence in the lossless surround track.
Fabio Frizzi's alarming score gets a kick out of the new mix. His wild and energised electronic pulsing shines bright and punchy. The hand-theme, as a zombie paws the window at a nude Olga Karlotos, and later, as one comes clawing out of the ground to close in on Farrow, is wickedly clean and charged with synth-steroids. The main theme, with its doomed chanting is also bestowed a resonance that the other tracks lack. So, to be fair, I think I probably enjoyed the new mix most of all, despite its occasional curiosities.
Of course, whichever mix you opt for, this is still a dated audio track. The source was mono, and even if it contained a surprisingly active and dynamic sound design, it was never intended to stretch out around you.
This is billed as an Ultimate Edition, and Blue Underground spread the gory goodies over two discs.
Disc One contains the movie, obviously, and a plethora of marketing blurb, such as trailers, TV and Radio Spots, and a nine-minute montage of posters and lobby-cards accompanied by the film's score. It also contains the old 1998 Laserdisc commentary from Ian McCulloch and Diabolik's Jason Slater. I really wish that they had recorded a new chat-track as this is a major disappointment. It is great to hear McCulloch, of course, but this is the first time that he has seen the film since shooting it, and I'm positive that he would have seen it more often and learned more from his cast-mates in the last decade or so, having joined the convention circuit with them. As this track stands, it is ruined by Slater, who is, hands-down, the worst interviewer/moderator/commentator that I have heard. He asks the most ridiculous questions - “I was wondering, who's Landrover is that?” - and doesn't take McCulloch up on lots of opportunities to glean more. The actor often sounds like he is just talking to himself, utterly abandoned by his companion. Slater, being a prat, even finds the time to attempt some blatant laddishness towards the ladies on the screen. Now, there's nowt wrong with flattering the girls, but Slater does it in such an inept manner that it just leaves McCulloch, who is the one we want to hear from after all, left out, and such moments then become awkward. Slater even tries to sound excited and spontaneous at one point – the eye/splinter scene - “Sh*t!!!” he cries in mock-shock as Karlotos cops an eyeful, totally destroying the professionalism and vague modicum of chemistry that exists between the two men. Things like this, and many other lead-balloon moments, make this a cringe-worthy track of embarrassing proportions. McCulloch tells us time and time again that this is his first viewing of the film … and yet he tells us things that are coming up and mentions what we should look out for in the performance of Richard Johnson. He's well seen the film a few times before, so I'm not buying this virginal approach, I'm afraid. Despite some genuinely amusing anecdotes along the way, we really should have had better than this pathetic and now terribly dated sham.
Disc One also offers us a great little Intro from Guillermo Del Toro, who must love this movie almost as much as I do!
Over on Disc Two, we feel the real meat of the matter.
Zombie Wasteland gives us a half-hour in the company of Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver and Maggot-Eye Zombie, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua as they reunite for a fan festival in Ohio 2009. This is great stuff. Filmed at the convention, itself, we get to meet the individuals in one-to-one interviews interspersed with seeing them talk with fans and sign articles and merchandise, as well as seeing them very briefly as they sit at a fan Q & A session. Lots of people in great zombie makeup – including someone made-up precisely like the fat boat-zombie go on the rampage at the end.
Deadtime Stories offers us some in the company of husband and wife screenwriting team Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti as they reminisce about how the plot for Zombie came about and on working with Fulci. Sacchetti was uncredited on the film, which is a situation very familiar to him, as he was uncredited on a huge number of others too. But the thing is it doesn't really matter what they put into it, Zombie and a slew of their other screenplays, are profound tripe in any literal or conventional sense. The success of this film, and others, is down to Fulci's bizarre direction, the outrageous gore and the fabulous cinematography. Definitely not the screenplay.
Flesh Eaters on Film allows co-producer Fabrizio De Angelis a chance to talk about how he sees the success of the film.
World of the Dead provides interviews with the film's wonderful cinematographer, Sergio Salavati, and its production and costume designer, Walter Patriarco. Actually, I found this section to be surprisingly tedious and more than a little unsatisfying.
Zombie Italiano is much better. Here we meet the great Giannetto De Rossi who, along with his occasional partner-in-crime, Maurizio Trani, dishes the dirt on the excessive special effects that made the film both so successful and so notorious. The other De Rossi, Gino, gets in on the act too. Naturally, the splinter-in-the-eye gets dissected.
Notes on a Headstone is possibly the most disappointing featurette. Here we meet the audacious composer Fabio Frizzi as he discusses his score for the film and working with Fulci. Actually, this piece is oblique and largely uninformative and something of a letdown. We learn little of what inspired his musical score, and the guy comes across as horribly vague.
All in the Family is an interview with Fulci's daughter Antonella Fulci, who discusses her father's work and legacy. Photos and home movie footage accompanies her frank memories.
A great final feature is the jubilant rhapsody that Guillermo Del Toro delivers for one of his favourite films of all time in Zombie Lover. A massive fan of the movie, Del Toro proudly bigs-it-up with gusto.
Oh, and find a special maggot wriggling about on the menu screen and you will be treated to a little hidden Easter Egg that tells us all about the crazy day when Auretta Gay stripped-off to take a dive underwater.
Although I like this roster of extras, I can't help but feel a little bit disappointed too. I think a full-on retrospective making-of would have been in order, as well as a brand new commentary track with anyone other than Jason Slater.
“The boat can leave now. Tell the crew.”
One of the greatest gore-flicks ever made, and certainly one of the most notorious, Zombie, or Zombie Flesheaters as many of us know and love it, chews its bloody way onto region-free US Blu-ray to ravage itself into the ghoulish dark hearts of a new generation. 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’etre 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 grue.
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 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 debut on Blu-ray 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. I have one or two concerns about the colour timing during a couple of scenes but, on the whole, this is very impressive. Don’t fall for the lossless surround badges though, the audio is subdued and lacking – yet still fairly faithful to the source without sounding overly elaborate or flashy – and you do get the original mono tracks in both English and Italian if you prefer. But a slew of fine extras seal the deal on this Ultimate Edition and it is hard to imagine fans left feeling unsatisfied by Blue Underground’s sumptuously grisly US 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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