Saturday, April 27, 2013

Blu-ray Review: ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (1979)


Label: Arrow Video
Region Code: B
Rating: 18
Duration: 91 Minutes
Audio: Italian and Engish 
LPCM 2.0 Mono with Optional English SDH Subtitles

Video: 1080p Widescreen (2.35:1) 
Cast: Tisa Farrow, Ian MucCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, Auretta Gay, Olga Karlitos
Director: Lucio Fulci

Tagline: We Are Going To Eat You!

Synopsis: An abandoned boat in New York Harbor unleashes a deadly flesh crazed Zombie cargo... A Young American woman and a journalist investigate a tropical island where a deadly disease is making the dead walk... Soon, thoughts of getting to the bottom of the murderous curse will be forgotten, as Fulci’s walking corpses overwhelm the living and reports come in that the Big Apple is swarming with the living dead...

My first recollection of watching ZOMBIE aka ZOMBI 2 (1979) aka ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS was on a beat-up VHS back in the early 90's, on a VHS cassette bought for 50 cents at a garage sale. 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. Already a rabid fan of George A. Romero's Dead trilogy I was frothing to check out this 'unofficial sequel' to DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) that was one of the infamous Video Nasties and it did not disappoint in anyway, whatsoever! ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS was my introduction to both Italian horror cinema and the mad-genius of 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 unsuspecting Harbor Patrolmen one of 'em is attacked by a grotesque and obese zombie who tears a chunk of his throat out, we're a just a few minutes in and the and already the blood is gushing, it's a classic opening.

It's revealed that the derelict boat belonged 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 NYPD offer very little in the way of answers 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 fun cameo from Lucio Fulci). Sensing there's more to the story the two join forces and fly 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 (sexploitation, gotta love it!) along a reef where she encounters not just a predatory tiger shark but a zombie who 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 strange attack and back on boat I'm sure no one really believed her story about the zombie encounter, who would, right? So, oddness aside they continue on to Matool where they meet Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson, THE HAUNTING) at the local Christian mission. We find out that the island has been 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 whom has the most striking eyes (Olga Karlatos, CYCLONE). The Doc keeps her under lock and key back at their home where 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 in all of cinema. While she futilely attempts to force a door shut a zombie splinters the wooden entrance, grabs a hold of her by the hair and slowly pulls her into the pronounced sliver of wood ever so sloooowly until it penetrates her right eye socket - it's a master-stroke of tension, practical effects and editing, it alone is worth the price of admission.

At this point in the film things really starts to pick-up steam, having been up to this point eerily creepy but not exactly jam-packed with wicked thrills, trust me, it's the best kind of a slow burn. Our foursome find themselves besieged by a mass uprising of the undead includingancient Conquistadors and 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 brilliant, 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 do love that these are voodoo derived zombies, too. 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 with 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 in horror cinema, it's haunting stuff.

ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS 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 FLESH-EATERS is right there at the side of Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD as one of the finest undead films, in fact I think the  atmosphere of ZOMBIE FLASH EATERS bests DAWN 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!

Blu-ray: Arrow Video bring Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS (1979) to Blu-ray with a stunning AVC MPEG-4 encoded in 1080p widescreen (2.35:1), which according to the 40pg. booklet included with the release was exclusively restored by Arrow Video using the original 2-perf Techniscope 35mm negative and scanned at 2K resolution, it also benefits from a new color timing plus dirt and scratch removal. it's an outstanding achievement. Blue Underground's 2-Disc Ultimate Edition of the film was pretty great (and still is) but I would have to give this new restoration the definitive visual edge, it's pretty sharp. There's a nice layer of fine film grain intact, fine detail and clarity are noticeably improved, black levels are strong and colors are vibrant without over saturation. The restoration has also afforded the film more image information on the top and sides of the screen, so we get even more of cinematographer Sergio Salvati's great camerawork up on the screen. It's interesting to note the not so subtle differences between the Blue Underground transfer and Arrow Video's, both minted from the same camera negative but quite different in regard to lighting and color. I prefer the Arrow version in comparison with the elevated contrast but appreciate both, I just think it's interesting to note the differences between the two different but great transfers.

On the audio front we get English and Italian language LPCM Audio 2.0 Mono with optional English subtitles including a newly translated subtitle for the Italian track.  Its well-balanced and sports very nice fidelity, aside from the poorly dubbed dialogue. The gruesome gut-chomping effects and Fabio Frizzo's throbbing synthesizer score come through clear and strong. The Blue Underground 2-Disc Ultimate Edition offered English and Italian 7.1 DTS-ES, 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX and Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono options. I prefer the original mono presentation but if you're dying to give your surround sound system some zombie action the 7.1 and 5.1 does modestly open up the sound field a bit. I give the upper hand in respect to the audio presentation to BU for their generous options.

Now onto the massive amounts of bonus content beginning with disc 1 and the UK exclusive Introduction from star Ian McCulloch (1:28), admitting until just ten years ago he had never even watched the film and was a bit embarrassed by it, her was quite shocked how much he enjoyed it now. Next we have the option of viewing the film with three alternate title sequences, offering choice of ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS, ZOMBI or ZOMBI 2. There are two brand new audio commentaries, the first is with co-screenwriter and wife of screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti, Elsa Briganti, moderated by Calum Wadell which is not so much scene specific as Briganti reflecting on her working relationship with her husband and director Lucio Fulci. The second commentary with Lucio Fulci biographer Stephen Thrower (Beyond Terror) and horror expert Alan Jones is quite fantastic, the two have a great rapport and throw out a great many nuggets about the film and they're experiences with the notoriously fickle Fulci, it's an authoritative track with plenty of trivia, factoids and anecdotes about the production. Blue Underground's edition contains a commentary with Ian McCulloch and Diabolik Magazine editor Jason J. Slater.

Also on disc are several High Rising Productions produced featurettes, interviews and documentaries beginning with From Romero to Rome: The Rise an Fall of the Italian Zombie Films (59:38) tracing the history of Italian zombie cinema beginning with the worldwide success of George A. Romeo's seminal NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968) and into DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978). The documentary features interviews with NOTLD producer Russ Streiner, critic Kim Newman, Fulci screenwriters Antonio Tentori (A CAT IN THE BARIN) and Dardano Sacchetti (THE BEYOND) plus writers James Moran (SEVERANCE) and David MCGillivray (FRIGHTMARE). Directors Darren Ward (A DAY OF VIOLENCE), Ruggero Deodato (LIVE LIKE A COP, DIE LIKE A MAN), Alex Chandon (INBRED), Luiggi Cozzi (STARCRASH) also chime in the spaghetti undead craze. On top of the great interviews we get artwork, posters and clips from some great (and not so great) zombie films inlcuding ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (1980), NIGHTMARE CITY (1980), CONTAMINATION(1980), and BURIAL GROUND (1981) plus many more.

Disc one features are rounded out by the US Trailer (1:23),  an awful VHS rip of the Vipco Trailer (2:35), TV Spot 1 (:30), TV Spot 2 (:30) and six Radio Spots (2:31). But wait, there's more, there are three Easter Eggs hidden away on the disc. What we find there are a ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST German Trailer (8:22), which features an extended clip from the film and a German language trailer, plus Critics of the Living Dead (1:04) featuring McCulloch commenting  on a humorous critique of his films. The last Easter Egg on the disc is Gino De Rossi's Wall of Fame (2:12) featuring Rossi guiding us through a series of framed movie stills and pics commemorating his work through the ears with Fulci, Rock Hudson, five 007 films and even the Disney feature BLAME IT ON THE BELLBOY (1992).

Special features on disc two start with Aliens, Cannibals and Zombies: A Trilogy of Italian Terror (45:53) featuring TV star turned Italian horror icon Ian McCulloch recalling his experiences making the trio of spaghetti horrors ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS, CONTAMINATION and ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST. It's a fun and quite honest account of his experiences, he states at one point that his role was to "carry the stupidity of it through", referring to the absurd American-ese translated dialogue. He offers fond remembrance of his time working with Richard Johnson on the set and not so fond recollections of Tisa Farrow ("very American") and the beauty of non-actress Auretta Gay, whom apparently once inspired Fulci to froth at the mouth, thrown himself to the ground and eat handfuls of dirt, I love it! When McCulloch also points out the similarity of Fulci to comedy legend Benny Hill, I may never see either man the same way again.

Zombie Flesh Eaters - From Script to Screen (3:18) is a very brief piece with screenwrite Dardano Sacchetti pointing out several scenes from the script  originally entitled NIGHTMARE ISLAND, including the infamous eye-gouging scene which was shot almost exactly as written.

The Meat Munching Movies of Gino De Rossi (26:34) features the special effects master speaking of his experiences on the films  ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980), THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981), CANNIBAL FEROX (1981), BURIAL GROUND and James Cameron's PIRANHA 2: THE SPAWNING (1981). The man has a storied career and it's a great interview that includes a tour of his warehouse where we see the actual drill press from THE CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and the infamous titty-hooks from CANNIBAL FEROX. Gino speaks at length about working with Lucio Fulci and detailing how many of his greatest effects shots were achieved onscreen, from the eye-gouging to the intestine-vomiting, particularly enjoyed his account of working with James Cameron (TERMINATOR) on the set of PIRANHA 2 which sounds like it would be a great SHADOW OF THE VAMPIRE-esque film within a film unto itself.

Music for a Flesh Feat (29:20) features composer Fabio Frizzi  during a live Q+A session from the Glasgow Film Theater moderated by High Rising Productions' Calum Waddell in August of 2012. The composer with the help of a translator answers questions from the audience about his work and influences, what he lacks in English speaking skills is more than made up for by his use of rampant hand-gesturing. 

Reversible sleeve featuring the Vipco
VHS artwork. 
On top of the fantastic Blu-ray features we have a sleeve of reversible artwork featuring the original Vipco VHS art plus newly commissioned artwork by graphic designer Graham Humphreys. We also have a theatrical artwork postcard of Fulci's THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981) and a massive 40 page Collector's Booklet with new writing by Fulci biographer Stephen Thrower with a cool time-line to help sort through the which-came-first DAWN OF THE DEAD/ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS debacle. There's a new interview with star Olga Karlatosl (CYCLONE) conducted by Callum Waddel, a history of ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS and the BBFC by Craig Lapper detailing the films history of being slashed at the hands of BBFC. We also have script excerpts of the original NIGHTMARE ISLAND script which includes unfilmed and alternate sequences of gore plus a happy ending. Lastly, we have a Lucio Fulci filmography compiled by Jay Slater and Notes on Arrow's restoration of the film. The one thing that annoys me about the Arrow releases of late is the Arrow slipcase-styled menus, which I think it's rather ugly, aesthetically it's quite displeasing to me.

Arrow's Slipcase-styled Menu... not a fan.
Small menu quibble aside Lucio Fulci's hauntingly brutal ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS (1970) gets the truly deluxe treatment from Arrow Video. It's definitely one of finest Arrow presentations to date, it's quality is a tribute to the legacy of Lucio Fulci's and his enduring place as the Italian Godfather of Gore. Comparing the Blue Underground and the Arrow Video Blu-rays I am hard pressed to say one is more the definitive edition, you sorta need 'em both. The BU version has the Ian McCulloch commentary plus interviews with co-star Al Cliver (THE HOUSE OF CLOCKS), Guillermo del Toro (CRONOS), producer Fabrizio De Angelo, make-up effects artists Gianetto De Rossie and Maurizo Trani and Fulci's daughter Antonella Fulci. Just get 'em both, you won't regret it.

Special Features:
- Audio commentary with screenwriter Elisa Briganti moderated by Calum Waddell
- Audio commentary with Fulci biographer Stephen Thrower and horror expert Alan Jones
- UK exclusive introduction to the film from Ian McCulloch (1:28)
- Aliens, Cannibals and Zombies:  A trilogy of Italian Terror (45:53)
- From Romero to Rome: The Rise an Fall of the Italian Zombie Films (59:38)
- The Meat Munching Movies of Gino De Rossi (26:34) 

- Music for a Flesh Feat (29:20)
-Zombie Flesh Eaters - From Script to Screen (3:18)
- US Trailer (1:23)

- Vipco Trailer (2:35)
- TV Spot 1 (:30)
- TV SPot 2 (:30)
- 6 Radio spots (2:31)
- 40 Page Collector’s Booklet

Verdict: Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE FLESH EATERS is still quite a powerful viewing experience and Arrow's 2-Disc Blu-ray edition is worth plopping down some more bucks for regardless of what previous edition you own, that includes Blue Underground's 2-Disc Ultimate Edition (2011), you will definitely want this on your shelf for it's superior picture quality and fantastic High Rising Productions produced special features, it's a must-own. So get yourself a region-FREE Blu-ray player and enjoy some gut-munching, eye-gouging 1080p undead perfection! 

4.5 Outta 5