Tuesday, November 27, 2018

ZOMBIE (1979) (3-Disc Limited Edition Blue Underground Blu-ray Review/Comparison)

ZOMBIE (1979) 
3-Disc Limited Edition BD/CD 

Label: Blue Underground
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 92 Minutes
Audio: English, Italian, French 7.1 DTS-HD; 1.0 DTS-HD; Dolby Digital 1.0 with Optional English SDH, Français, Español, Português, Deutsch, Italiano, Dansk, Suomi, Nederlands, Svenska, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, English for Italian Audio
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.40:1)
Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, Olga Karlatos

Top: 2011 2K Scan 
Bottom: 2018 4K Scan  

My first time watching Lucio Fulci's Zombie (1979) was on a beat-up VHS back in the early 90's, it was on a dubbed tape I bought for 50 cents at a garage sale. That well-worn VHS was murky and obscured by scan lines, the presentation was nothing more than poor but the haunting tone and savage power of the film still definitely shined through. Already a rabid fan of George A. Romero's Dead trilogy I was frothing at the mouth to check out this 'unofficial sequel' to Dawn of the Dead (1978)!

Top: 2011 2K Scan 
Bottom: 2018 4K Scan 

That viewing of the infamous Video Nasty did not disappoint in anyway, whatsoever! The film was my introduction to both the fevered world of Italian horror cinema and the mad-genius of director Lucio Fulci, and it was love at first sight, right from start, that intensely eerie scene of the seemingly abandoned yacht drifting in to New York Harbor. When it's boarded by an unsuspecting Harbor Patrolmen he's attacked by a grotesque and obese zombie who tears a chunk of his throat out. We're just a few short minutes in and already the blood was gushing, it's a classic opening.

Top: 2011 2K Scan 
Bottom: 2018 4K Scan  

It's revealed that the derelict boat belonged to the father of Anne Bowles (the less famous sister of Mia, Tisa Farrow, Anthrophagous), her father having visited the tropical island of Matool on a research mission. When the NYPD offer little in the way of answers Anne teams-up with reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch, Contamination) who is sent to investigate the attack on the officer by his editor, a fun cameo from director Lucio Fulci. The pair fly to the tropics where they charter a boat, captained by Brian Hull (Al Cliver, The Beyond) and his wife Susan (Auretta Gay), to the island of Matool. On the way they don't seem to be in too much of a hurry, with Susan taking a moment to scuba dive topless along a scenic reef where she encounters not just a predatory tiger shark but a zombie who appears from nowhere and takes a bite out of the shark! Truly some ingenious Jaws-ploitation action that's both WTF crazy and OMG awesome. It's pretty amazing stuff as the zombie grabs a hold of the drugged-out shark, tussles with it and then tears off a chunk of flesh.

Top: 2011 2K Scan 
Bottom: 2018 4K Scan  

Susan survives the doubly-strange attack and gets back on boat, where I'm sure no one believed her story about the zombie/shark encounter, who would, right? Continuing onto Matool they meet Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson, The Haunting) who has a rudimentary medical station set up at the Christian mission. He describes how the island has been plagued by an epidemic of the undead, with corpses rising from the grave and feasting upon the flesh of the living. Menard, of course, believes there is a rational science-based explanation to the epidemic and has stayed on to pursue a cure - much to the dismay of his stunning wife, Paola (Olga Karlatos, Cyclone). 

Top: 2011 2K Scan 
Bottom: 2018 4K Scan 

The doc keeps his wife under lock and key back at their estate where he assures her that she's perfectly safe, but she's rightfully doubtful because after a wonderfully voyeuristic shower scene she falls prey to the undead! This attack on the Euro-beauty results in the greatest eye-piercing scene in all of horror cinema history. While she futilely attempts to force a door shut to keep a zombie away the wood of the door splinters, the zombie grabs a hold of her by the hair and oh-so slowly pulls her into the sliver of wood until after what seems like minutes it penetrates her right eye - it's a master-stroke of suspense, gooey practical special effects and editing, it alone is worth the price of admission.

Top: 2011 2K Scan 
Bottom: 2018 4K Scan 

At this point in the film really starts to pick-up steam, having been so far been eerily creepy but not exactly jam-packed with wicked thrills, but trust me, it's the best kind of a slow burn. Our foursome find themselves besieged by a mass uprising of the undead including long-dead Conquistadors and more recently deceased islanders, among them the iconic dirt-covered, worm-infested zombie so famously seen in the film's advertising. The zombie effects in this film are very simple but brilliantly iconic, perhaps besting any of the Romero's archetypes in my opinion. What's so disturbing about them to me would have to be how rotting they are, truly revolting, you can practically smell the undead stench in 1080p high-definition. The scenes of the zombies unearthing themselves are fantastic, rising from the ground, dirt covered and creepy. I also love that Fulci has gone pre-Romero and made this undead uprising have voodoo origins.

Top: 2011 2K Scan 
Bottom: 2018 4K Scan 

Our quartet find themselves back at the island mission alongside Dr. Menard where we are treated to one of the finest zombie-siege scenarios of all time, it's a thing of macabre beauty laced with dream-like suspense and a very real overwhelming dread, culminating in a haunting wrap-around finale that takes us back to NYC for a truly apocalyptic vision that remains one of the genre's most enduring and dour endings in horror cinema, it's haunting stuff.

Top: 2011 2K Scan 
Bottom: 2018 4K Scan 

Zombie has pretty much everything you need, memorable tropic set pieces, an eerie, gut-churning electronic score from Fabio Frizzi, fantastic cinematography from Sergio Salvati (The Beyond) and Lucio Fulci's signature gore and dread aesthetic. The zombies are iconic, the atmosphere is claustrophobic and there's a ton of great gut-munching courtesy of Gino and and Gianetto De Rossi's spectacularly gruesome make-up and special effects work. Zombie is right there at the side of Romero's Dawn of the Dead as one of the finest undead films ever made, in fact I think the atmosphere of Zombie bests DOTD on several fronts and holds up better without the anti-consumerism social commentary. What say you to that? Is it a spiritual sequel to Dawn of the Dead? Nah, but it'd make a great alternative prequel now that I think about it. One brutal film, two iconic sequences known to every horror geek: zombie vs. shark and the brutal eye piercing, that's quite a legacy and this isn't even Lucio Fulci's best film!
Top: 2011 2K Scan 
Bottom: 2018 4K Scan 

Audio/Video: Zombie (1979) arrives on Blu-ray from Blue Underground with a brand-new 4K scan/restoration from the original uncut and uncensored camera negative, presented in glorious 108op HD and framed in 2.40:1 widescreen. Blue Underground already took a stab at the film with it's 2-Disc Ultimate Edition in 2011, but guess what, it was good for it's time but this 4K scan is THE ultimate edition for real. Check out the screen grab comparisons between the two throughout this review for comparison, this is an amazing new transfer, the color timing is much improved, clarity, density and contrast are fantastic, and grain is better resolved, looking more natural throughout. The framing is also slightly different, revealing more information all four sides of the frame, with brightness levels looking adjusted for the better throughout.

When it comes to audio you get five options here, English DTS-HD MA 1.0 Mono, 7.1 Surround, Italian DTS-HD MA 1.0 Mono and 5.1 Surround, and French Dolby Digital Mono. I went with English for my viewing, toggling back and forth between the mono and surround, the surround offers some good use of the directionals, creating some ambience and spacial feel, but I still prefer the original mono mix, it's well-balanced, clean and has some nice depth, the score from Fabbio Frizzi is robust and wonderful sounding. Optional English SDH, Français, Español, Português, Deutsch, Italiano, Dansk, Suomi, Nederlands, Svenska, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, English for Italian audio are offered.

Onto the extras, disc one containing the main feature also sports a vintage introduction from director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy), plus two audio commentaries, one is a vintage track with star Ian McCulloch and Diabolik Magazine Editor Jason J. Slater. Then we get a brand new commentary from Troy Howarth, Author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite genre film commentators. Speaking of favorites, Stephen Thrower shows up for a 33-min appreciation of Fulci and the film, commenting on his career, how he ended up directing the film - he wasn't the producer's first choice, he was a director for hire here. Thrower is as ever a wealth of cult film knowledge, a wonderful, wonderful extras. Disc one is buttoned with an array of trailers, TV spots, Radio Spots and an extensive image gallery covering home video releases, soundtracks and loads of promotional materials.

Onto the second Blu-ray we get all the extras that accompanies the previous 2011 Blue Underground Blu-ray - including the Easter Egg! It begins with the 22-min 'Zombie Wasteland' which was shot during the 2010 Cinema Wasteland Zombie 30th Anniversary Reunion featuring interviews with cast and crew who offer the following Fulci recollections; Ian McCulloch recalls him as a bully, Richard Johnson remembers Fulci becoming so angry that he actually ate dirt! Al Cliver offers that Fulci really hated women and that it may have stemmed from a rocky personal history while stuntman Occtavio Dell'Acqua (the worm eyed zombie) recalls him being incredibly difficult to work with. It's all pretty one-sided and not really that surprising - the man is usually remembered as being difficult to say the least.

Up next is the 14-min 'Deadtime Stories' which features Italian screenwriting legend Dardano Sachetti on the origins of the film starting out as a zombie-western having been inspired by horror-adventure comics of the time and its transformation from the western setting to an island while co-writer Briganti speaks about the magic of the film and her own appreciation of it. In Italian with English subs.

'Flesh Eaters on Film' is a 10-min feature with co-producer Fabrizio De Angelis, who in contrast to some of the other interviews, speaks to Fulci's good humor on-set, the demanding nature of the shoots and it's many locations plus the importance of producers on a film set. In Italian with English subs.

'World of the Dead' is 16-mins of interviews with cinematographer Sergio Salvati and production and costume designer Walter Patriarca discussing the look of the film, set design, making the zombies harsh and ugly, shot in shadow and editing the infamous eye-scene, that being my favorite eye gouging scene in a catalog of films from a man who really enjoyed a good eye-gouge, no doubt. In Italian with English subs.

The director's daughter Annette shows up for the brief 6-min 'All in the Family' speaking about her father's crazy treatment of actors and his view on the gore in his films. In Italian with English subs.

'Notes on a Headstone' is a 7-min interview with frequent Fulci collaborator and composer Fabio Frizzi (The Beyond, The Psychic) speaking about Fulci's placement of music in his films, his restraint and his passion for filmmaking. In Italian with English subs.

The 17-min 'Zombi Italiano' features interviews with special make-up effects artists Gianetto De Rossi and Maurizio Trani and special effects artist GinoDe Rossi whom all discuss the film's iconic imagery and effects from the low-budget clay zombie applications to the eye-gouging perfection of splinter meets eye, alongside the difficulty of shooting on a shoe-string budget.In Italian with English subs.

And lastly 'Zombie Lover' is a 10-min appreciation from director Guillermo del Toro (The Devil's Backbone) talking about the film. It's pretty clear that del Toro is a great admirer of the film and of Fulci's work as he recounts seeing the film for the first time, paying respects to stuntman Ramon Bravo who was the zombie in the zombie vs. shark scene and just really laying on the love for the film. del Toro is such a supporter, his enthusiasm is contagious and his appreciation really ended up being my favorite feature on the set, great stuff.\

Special Features:

Disc 1
(Blu-ray) Feature Film + Extras:
- NEW! Audio Commentary #1 with Troy Howarth, Author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films
- Audio Commentary #2 with Star Ian McCulloch and Diabolik Magazine Editor Jason J. Slater
- NEW! When The Earth Spits Out The Dead - Interview with Stephen Thrower, Author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci (33 min) HD
- Theatrical Trailers (7 min)
- TV Spots (1 min)
- Radio Spots (2 min) HD
- Poster & Still Gallery (10 min) HD
- Guillermo del Toro Intro (1 min)

Disc 2 (Blu-ray) Extras:
- Zombie Wasteland – Interviews with Stars Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson & Al Cliver, and Actor/Stuntman Ottaviano Dell'Acqua (23 min) HD
- Flesh Eaters on Film – Interview with Co-Producer Fabrizio De Angelis (10 min) HD
- Deadtime Stories – Interviews with Co-Writers Elisa Briganti and (Uncredited) Dardano Sacchetti (15 min) HD
- World of the Dead – Interviews with Cinematographer Sergio Salvati and Production & Costume Designer Walter Patriarca (17 min) HD
- Zombi Italiano – Interviews with Special Make-Up Effects Artists Gianetto De Rossi & Maurizio Trani and Special Effects Artist Gino De Rossi (17 min) HD
- Notes on a Headstone – Interview with Composer Fabio Frizzi (8 min)
- All in the Family – Interview with Antonella Fulci
- Zombie Lover – Award-Winning Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro talks about one of his favorite films (10 min)
- Easter Egg (4 min) HD
- Collectible 24-Page Booklet with new essay by Stephen Thrower, Chapter Selections, CD Track Listing, Cast and Crew info, posters images, still images, newspaper print adverts.

The 3-Disc Limited Edition comes in an oversized, clear Blu-ray keepcase with a sleeve of reversible artwork, one side featuring the original movie poster artwork of the worm-infested zombie, the other featuring a similar image but re-imagined, that same image also featured on the limited edition lenticular slipcover, one of three variants available from Blue Underground for this release.

Disc 3 (Compact Disc)
- ZOMBIE Original Motion Picture Soundtrack CD by Fabio Frizzi - with exclusive Bonus Track. 10 Tracks (28 min)

There's not much more I could say about Lucio Fulci's Zombie (1979), it's my favorite Zombie film of all-time, a gut-munching, eye-gouging slice of Euro-cult perfection. Blue Underground have assembled what should be the definitive version of the film for quite some time, at least until we get a 4K UltraHD release. It's an exhaustive and loving restoration filled to the 3-disc brim with extras aplenty, all wrapped-up in a gorgeous package. This is by far the best the film has ever looked on home video, and the best release we've seen to date from Blue Underground, this is the version relegates all previous version to beer coaster status, effective immediately.

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