Monday, November 21, 2011

Blu-ray Review: ZOMBIE (1979)

ZOMBIE (1979)
Label: Blue Underground
Region Code: Region FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 92 mins
Audio: English and Italian 7.1 DTS-ES; 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX, Mono
Video: 16:9 Widescreen (2.35:1) 1080p
Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Tisa Farrow, Ian MucCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, Auretta Gay, Olga Karlitos
Tagline: We are going to eat you!

Wow! I remember watching this film for the first time on a beat-up VHS dub back in the early 90's, now look at it with a sweet 2-disc Blu-ray edition from Blue Underground, very cool. That well-traded VHS was probably a 4th or 5th generation dub and while the presentation was nothing more than poor the savage power of the film definitely shown through even then. At that point in my mid-teens I was already a ravenous Romero fan following the iconic Dead trilogy and when I found out about what was considered the 'unofficial sequel' to DAWN OF THE DEAD in Italy I made it a personal quest to obtain it. Let me tell you that it did not disappoint in anyway, whatsoever. ZOMBIE was both my introduction to Italian horror cinema and director Lucio Fulci, it was love at first sight from the intensely eerie scene of the seemingly abandoned yacht drifting in to New York Harbor. When it's boarded by Harbor Patrolmen one of 'em is attacked by a grotesque zombie who immediately tears out his throat. It's gore-tastic stuff and when the zombie is shot by the other officer it falls into the harbor, this was and still is a fantastic opening to this day.

Turns out the derelict boat belongs to the father of Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow, ANTHROPOPHAGUS), her father having visited the tropical island of Matool recently on a research mission. When the police turn out to be of little help Anne starts her own investigation which leads to a fun encounter with reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch, CONTAMINATION) whom is sent to investigate the attack on the officer by his editor (a cameo from Fulci). Sensing there's more to the story the two join forces and board a plane to the tropics where they charter a boat Captained by Brian Hull (Al Cliver, THE BEYOND) and his super cute wife Susan (Auretta Gay) to the island of Matool. En route Susan takes a moment to scuba dive topless (thank you!) along a reef where she at first encounters a predatory tiger shark but is then sorta saved from certain doom when a zombie just appears outta nowhere and attacks 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.

Susan survives the attack and back on boat I'm sure no one really believe her story about the zombie, who would, right? So, oddness aside they continue on to Matool  where they meet Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson, THE HAUNTING)  at the local mission. It's here that we find out that the island is plagued by a zombie epidemic, the dead are returning to life and feasting upon the flesh of the living. Menard, of course, believes there is a rational science-based explanation to the epidemic and stays on to seek a cure much to the dismay of his stunning wife Paola (Olga Karlatos, CYCLONE) who's kept under lock and key back at their home. She's assured by her husband that she's safe, but she's doubtful and rightfully so because after a wonderfully voyeuristic shower scene she falls prey to a zombie, the attack resulting in the greatest eye-piercing scene of all time. While she attempts to force a door shut a zombie splinters the wooden door, grabs ahold of her by the hair and slowly pulls her into the sliver to end all slivers of wood until it sloooowly penetrates her eye socket - it's a master-stroke of tension, old school practical effects and editing and worth the price of admission on it's own.

Well, I find it hard to believe that if you're reading this that you haven't seen this film and if by chance that's the case I implore you to get thine self to one of the better video retailers in your area (or to the Amazon link below, thank you) and buy this film sight unseen. I won't continue to spoil the film other than to say that at this point in the film it really starts to pick-up steam, having been up to this point eerily creepy but not exactly jam-packed with thrills - it's the best kind of a slow burn. Our foursome find themselves amidst a mass uprising of zombies that include long dead Conquistadors and islanders, among them the iconic dirt-covered, worm-headed zombie so famously seen in the film's advertising.The zombie effects in this film are very simple but quite brilliant looking, nearly besting any of the Romero's archetypes in my opinion. 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 tension, atmosphere and a real sense of 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.

ZOMBIE has it all; memorable set pieces, a eerie score, keen 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 throughout, it's through and through awesomeness. I might get a lot of shit for what I'm about to say but in my estimation ZOMBIE is a better watch than Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD. Not to say DAWN's not one of my favorite films, it is, but having watched both recently I feel that the dread and atmosphere of ZOMBIE bests DAWN on several fronts and holds up better without the shellacked on social commentary. What say you to that?

Blu-ray: Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE has quite simply never looked better on any format, ever. The brand-new 2K HD transfer is sourced from a nearly pristine camera negative and is presented in it's original "scope" aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Cinematographer Sergio Salvati personally supervised the film's restoration which looks brilliant in 1080p high definition. It's not reference material by any stretch of the imagination but it's quite sharp with it's fine layer of film grain gloriously intact, colors are accurate and vibrant, black levels are deep and the level of fine detail is pretty spectacular when compared to previous DVD editions. Gorehounds will be most pleased with how awesomely gore-tastic the presentation is, I saw sinewy bits of flesh I've never seen before. Audiowise the film gets both English and Italian language tracks presented in uncompressed 7.1 DTS-HD, 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX and original mono with optional English subtitles as well 8 other languages. Honestly the 7.1 and 5.1 mixes aren't gonna give your home theatre system much of a workout but the improvement in fidelity is notable and does open up the film a good bit, the Fabrizzi/Tucci score sounds pretty great, too.

Blue Underground have really gone all out for the fans here, when they tout "2-Disc Ultimate Edition" they aren't just blowing smoke up your ass, this handily bests previous editions, it's definitely worth the upgrade. Disc one starts with a short and appreciative intro from director Guillermo del Toro (CRONOS), the man clearly loves Fulci and this film in particular. Then it's right into an enjoyable audio commentary with star Ian McCulloch and Diabolik Magazine editor Jason J. Slater, fun facts and insights, it's pretty chill but but is a good listen. The first disc is rounded out with 2 theatrical trailers, 2 TV spots, 4 radio spots and a poster and stills gallery comprised of the US and German pressbooks, posters, stills, lobby cards, video covers and behind-the-scenes stills.

Disc two begins with Zombie Wasteland (22:19) 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 Deadtime Stories (14:30) 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 (9:38) features co-producer Fabrizio De Angelis, who in contrast to some of the previous 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 (16:29) features 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.

All in the Family (6:08) features the director's daughter Annette  speaking to her father's crazy treatment of actors and his view on his own film's gore. In Italian with English subs.

Notes on a Headstone (7:25) is an 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.

Zombi Italiano (16:34) 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.

Zombie Lover (9:36) features director Guillermo del Toro (HELLBOY, DEVIL'S BACKBONE) talking about ZOMBIE. 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.
Could there be a more ultimate edition of ZOMBIE? It's not likely, Blue Underground have really given the film their definitive stamp like no release before, one of the year's best releases. I'll add that there's an awesome easter egg featuring a story about filming the zombie vs. shark scene that I won't spoil, it had me rolling with laughter.
Disc 1 Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with Star Ian McCulloch and Diabolik Magazine Editor Jason J. Slater
- Theatrical Trailers (5:18) HD
- TV Spots (1:03) 4:3
- Radio Spots (1:56)
- Poster and Still Gallery (9:52) HD
 Guillermo del Toro Intro (0:27) HD

Disc 2 Special Features:
- Zombie Wasteland - Interviews with Stars Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson and Al Cliver, and Actor/Stuntman Ottaviano Dell'Acqua (22:19) HD
- Flesh Eaters on Film - Interview with Co-Producer Fabrizio De Angelis (9:38) 16:9 HD
- Deadtime Stories - Interviews with Co-Writers Elisa Briganti and (Uncredited) Dardano Sacchetti (14:30) HD
- Flesh Eaters on Films - Interview with Co-Producer Fabrizo De Angelis (9:38) HD
- World of the Dead - Interviews with Cinematographer Sergio Salvati and Production and Costume Designer Walter Patriarca (16:29) HD
- Zombi Italiano - Interviews with Special Make-Up Effects Artists Gianetto De Rossiand Maurizio Trani (16:34) HD
and Special Effects Artist Gino De Rossi
- Notes on a Headstone - Interview with Composer Fabio Frizzi (7:25) HD
- All in the Family - Interview with Antonella Fulci (6:08) HD
- Zombie Lover - Award-Winning Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro talks about one of his favorite films (9:36) HD
- Easter Egg (4:39) HD

Verdict: There's not much I could say about Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE other than it's pretty amazing and worth plopping down some bucks for. No matter what previous edition you own you need to upgrade ASAP and not just for the AV qualities alone, the special features are seriously great and make this edition a must-own. Gut-munching, eye-gouging perfection, 'nuff said. 4.5 outta