Sunday, September 27, 2020

ZOMBIE (1979) (Blue Underground 4K Ultra HD Review)

ZOMBIE (1979) 

Label: Blue Underground
Region Code: Region-FREE
Rating: Unrated
Duration: 92 Minutes
Audio: Dolby Atmos; 7.1 DTS-HD; 5.1 DTS-HD; 1.0 DTS-HD; Dolby Digital 1.0 with Optional English Subtitles
Video: 2160p Ultra HD Widescreen (2.40:1)
Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, Olga Karlatos

My first viewing of this infamous Fulci Video Nasty did not disappoint, it was on a beat-up dubbed VHS tape hand-scrawled with the title 'Dawn of the Dead 2' that I bought for fifty cents at a garage sale. It wasn't what I was expecting but it 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, starting off with that intensely eerie scene of a seemingly abandoned yacht drifting into New York Harbor. It's intercepted and boarded by a pair of Harbor Patrolmen, one of whom is attacked by a grotesquely bloated fatso zombie who tears a chunk of his throat out before being shot by his partner and sent falling into the harbor. We're just a few short minutes in and already the blood was gushing and I was scared stiff, it's a classic opening.

It's later revealed that the derelict boat belongs to the father of a woman named Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow, Anthrophagous), her father having gone missing after travelling to the tropical island of Matool. When the NYPD offer little in the way of answers Anne teams-up with intrepid Kolchak-styled reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch, Contamination) who was sent to investigate the attack on the officer by his editor, another fun cameo from director Lucio Fulci. The pair end up flying to the tropics on the newspaper's dime where they charter a boat, captained by ginger-beardo Brian Hull (Al Cliver, The Beyond) and his wife Susan (Auretta Gay, Ombre) to the island of Matool. On the way there they don't seem to be in too much of a hurry, with Susan taking a moment to scuba dive topless, but with a shower cap, 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, this being one of two scenes that anyone who has seen this movie even once will never forget for the rest of their natural life.

Susan survives the doubly-strange attack and gets back on boat, where I'm sure no one REALLY believed her shocking story about the zombie/shark encounter, who would, right? Continuing onto the island of Matool they meet Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson, The Haunting) who has a rudimentary medical station set up at a 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 being a man of science believes there has to be 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, Purple Rain).

The doctor 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, I have yet to see one that even comes close to thing splinter-in-the-eye gore-fest. While she futilely attempts to force a door shut on an attacking zombie the wood of the door splinters, the zombie grabs a hold of her by the hair and oh-so slowly pulls her face-first into a sliver of wood. The scene seems to go on forever before it penetrates her eye, the scene is a masterstroke of suspense, gooey oozing-eye practical special effects and editing, it alone is worth the price of admission, this is the second scene that you will never forget after watching this film even once.

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, the one with loads of gory pay-off. Our foursome find themselves besieged by a mass uprising of the undead that includes 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 are simply executed but brilliant in their effectiveness, in my opinion besting any of the Romero/Savini archetypes from his trilogy. What's so disturbing about them for me would have to be how fetid and revolting they are, you can practically smell the undead stench coming off the 2160p UHD presentation. The scenes of the zombies unearthing themselves are fantastic, rising from the ground, dirt covered and creepy, these still get under my skin when I am on the right frame of mind. I also love that Fulci has gone pre-Romero and brought this undead uprising back to the original voodoo origins, at this point that was rare, Romero practically invented the gut-munching zombie, but the original idea of zombies are more in line with Fulci's vision here.

Our quartet eventually 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 atmosphere with an overwhelming dread, culminating in a haunting wrap-around finale that takes us back to NYC for a truly apocalyptic vision that remains one of horror-cinema's most enduring and dour endings, it's haunting stuff.

Zombie has pretty much everything you need, memorable tropic set pieces, an eerie, gut-churning electronic score from Fabio Frizzi (Manhattan Baby), 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 (Dune) spectacularly gruesome make-up and special effects work. Zombie might have been spawned as a knock-off of Romero's Dawn of the Dead but it stands beside it 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 and humor breaks. What say you to that? 

Audio/Video: Lucio Fulci's Zombie (1979) arrives two-disc 4K UHD/ Blu-ray from Blue Underground utilizing the same gorgeous 4K restoration sourced from the original uncut 35mm camera negative used for their 2018 three-disc limited edition Blu-ray release, framed in 2.40:1 widescreen in 2160p UHD. I absolutely loved the 2018 restoration and presentation but this new 4K UHD with the benefit of the increased resolution
and Dolby Vision HDR10 is another game changer. The source is in fantastic shape with only some minor blemishing appearing briefly, the thin layer of film grain is well-managed throughout with pleasing fine detail, depth and clarity. I've watched the previous Blu-ray about a half-dozen times so I wasn't expecting to be wowed as much as a I was by the UHD presentation, but I was knocked out, the scenes of the zombies rising from the ground and the scenes of the zombies pursuing the group thorough the island jungle and during the final siege on the island are so well lit and and composed by cinematographer Sergio Salvati (The Beyond) that the added benefit of the increased resolution and HDR color-grading make it shine like never before, it's just a wonderful presentation that adds to the beauty of certain shots while also capturing the grit and horror of others. At this point I cannot grab screenshots from 4K UHD but if you want to see images from the 2018 Blu-ray release with a comparison to the 2011 Blue Underground Blu-ray read the review HERE

When it comes to audio options Blue Underground go the extra mile for this Fulci flick with a Dolby Atmos remix that sounds fantastic, it has a ton of cool use of the surrounds that add to the viewing, and the Fabio Frizzi score of course sounds terrific, benefitting the most from the Atmos uplift. We also all the audio options that accompanied the three-disc limited edition by wat of 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 once again found myself preferring the more direct sounding English mono mix, with these Italian dubbed flicks that's just my preference, which is not to take away from the string Atmos and DTS-HD presentations. The disc has optional English subtitles as well as a plethora of other languages. 

Onto the extras, disc one is the UHD disc and contains the main feature as well as a selection of extras. We get the archival video intro by director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy), plus a pair of audio commentaries. The first is a vintage commentary with star Ian McCulloch moderated by Diabolik Magazine Editor Jason J. Slater. McCulloch tells some great stories about the making of the film and his relationship with Fulci, commenting on what it was like working with the rest of the cast. He also gets into the the reception of the film, it's cult status, the extreme gore of the film and so much more. The second commentary is with 
Troy Howarth, Author of 'Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films', who does his usual bang-up job giving an overview of the film with some scene specific commentary as well as info and anecdotes about the cast and crew, the filming locations, the score and effects a bunch more. 

Fulci authority Stephen Thrower shows up for a 33-minute appreciation of the film, getting into the director's entire career, and how he ended up on the project as a director for hire, he not being the producer's initial choice ti direct it. The UHD disc is buttoned with an array of trailers, TV  and radio spots, plus an extensive image gallery covering home video and  soundtracks releases and loads of promotional materials from various territories.

The the second disc is the same exact Blu-ray disc of extras that accompanied the three-disc limited edition release with identical artwork and serial number. It begins with the 22-minute 'Zombie Wasteland' which was shot during the 2010 Cinema Wasteland Zombie 30th Anniversary Reunion featuring interviews with cast and crew who offer their Fulci recollections; such as Ian McCulloch recalling him as a quite a bully while  Richard Johnson remembers Fulci becoming so angry on the set that he actually ate dirt, now that's pissed off! Al Cliver further fuels the foul-Fulci feelings by offering that Fulci might have hated women because of a poor personal history with the fairer sex, and stuntman Occtavio Dell'Acqua (the iconic worm eyed zombie) recalls Fulci being incredibly difficult to work with. It's all pretty one-sided and not really all that surprising, the director is usually remembered as being difficult to say the least, but in more recent interviews I have seen on the recent Severin releases of Fulci's Aneigma, and Demonia the director is made out to be not quite so tyrannical, but no less difficult.

Up next is the 14-minute '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 subtitles.

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

'World of the Dead' is 16-minute of interviews with cinematographer Sergio Salvati and production and costume designer Walter Patriarca  who both discuss the look of the film and set design, making the zombies harsh and ugly looking, and editing the infamous eye-scene, an infamous scene indeed, 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 subtitles

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 use of gore in his films. In Italian with English subtitles

'Notes on a Headstone' is a 7-minute interview with frequent Fulci 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 subtitles.

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

And lastly 'Zombie Lover' is a 10-minute appreciation from director Guillermo del Toro (The Devil's Backbone), the Oscar-winning director being a great admirer of the film and of Fulci's body of wrok in general. He recounts seeing the film for the first time as a kid, 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.

The two-disc UHD/Blu-ray release arrives in a black keepcase with a single-sided sleeve of artwork featuring the iconic "We are going to eat you!" original movie poster. We also get an embossed slipcover with the same artwork with raised lettering on the front, back and both sides of the spine, plus each of the discs inside have artwork printed on them. If you already own the three-disc limited edition I would encourage you to hang onto it as it does have packaging extras you will not get with the UHD. Not reproduced for this release is the reversible sleeve of artwork or the lenticular slipcase, but as I wasn't that big of a fan of that particular series of lenticular artworks that no biggie, but also do not get the 20-page collector's booklet with writing on the film by Stephen Thrower, or the 18-song CD soundtrack containing the Fabio Frizzi score. I still highly recommend upgrading to the 4K UHD if you want the absolute best looking and sounding version of the film you can find, but if you're a packaging and extras whore like myself you're still gonna want to hang onto that sexy three-disc limited edition release.

Special Features:
Disc 1 (4K UHD Blu-ray) Feature Film + Extras:
- 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
- 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) 
- 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) 
- Notes on a Headstone - Interview with Composer Fabio Frizzi (8 min) HD 
- All in the Family - Interview with Antonella Fulci (9 min) 
- Zombie Lover - Award-Winning Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro talks about one of his favorite films (10 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 the definitive statement on home video with this eye-popping 4K Ultra HD release, their loving restoration is chock full of gory razzle-dazzle and the extras are absolutely exhaustive, this is another must-own for fans of Fulci, Euro-cult and/or zombie flicks.
 I have seen a lot of major studio 4K UHD releases that don't even come close to approaching the level of A/V perfection offered by Blue Underground on their initial batch of 4K UHD releases, my mouth and eyes are watering in hungry anticipation of their next batch of UHD releases!