Zombie (1979)
Blue Underground
Cast: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch
Extras: Trailers, TV Spots, Radio Spots, Photo Gallery, Biography

For a very long time fans of Lucio Fulci’s seminal zombie flick have been waiting for a new DVD release of this film, and to be very upfront with you, they won’t be disappointed. It has been 6 years since Anchor Bay released this film on DVD during a period when the studio was beginning its transition from poor DVD versions to the top of the crop. Sadly, "Zombie" was still affected by the former and the release, while overall acceptable, never lived up to the quality one would have hoped to see. Part of the problem came from the fact that the DVD version had to be transferred from a damaged theatrical print at the time, leaving visible artifacts and problems in the presentation. Well, all that is history, and now Bill Lustig’s Blue Underground is giving us a version of "Zombie" the like the world has never seen it before. I promise…

"Zombie" has been released under countless monikers throughout the world, including titles such as "Zombi 2" creating a big deal of confusion around which film is which. Media Blasters is also releasing a version of the film under the title "Zombi 2" including about 2 hours of extras to the release as well. The reason why both studios are handling the same film is that different rights holders of the film have licensed the US rights to two studios, giving both Blue Underground and Media Blasters the rights to release the film. For years, Bill Lustig wanted to release an improved version of the film but couldn’t because the licensors would not give him access to proper materials. At the same time, the good folks at Media Blasters managed to obtain the original camera negative of the movie to strike a transfer from. Quickly Blue Underground and Media Blasters made an arrangement under which both could access the transfer and under which Media Blasters would have the right to release a Special Edition while Blue Underground would release a bare single-disc version.

"Zombie", in case you’re unfamiliar with the actual movie, is a visceral horror film that was clearly a direct result of the worldwide success of Gorge A. Romero’s "Dawn Of The Dead". However, despite being a simple rip-off of Romero’s gripping saga, "Zombie" took a very different direction and certainly has qualities of its own, clearly setting it apart as one of the better zombie movies that made out the 80s zombie craze. On the remote island of Matool in the Antilles, professor Bowles has been working to uncover the secrets of a mysterious disease, known only on this specific island. This ominous disease quickly kills people and raises them from the dead shortly after their earthly lives have faded. Is it Voodoo, like the local islanders believe, or is there a medical explanation for the phenomenon? Time runs out for the professors and his staff as the undead creatures begin to rise in numbers and can be seen roaming the remote island in search for food, which turns out to be human flesh.

Far away in New York City, his daughter Ann (Tisa Farrow) is worried, because she hadn’t heard from her father in months and when his sailing boat is found drifting into New York’s harbor, complete with a zombie onboard that kills a police officer, she quickly decides to find Matool and learn the truth about her father’s whereabouts and his work. Joined by reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch) she’s soon on her way to the mysterious island only to find horrors greater than both had ever imagined.

"Dawn Of The Dead" had covered new ground a few years before the release of "Zombie", and had introduced a very graphic display of carnal horror. Fulci took this approach a few steps further with his films that were produced in Italy, completely detached from the American MPA rating system that made – and still makes – American horror filmmakers’ lives quite hard. The film contains a number of the most memorable and gut-wrenching scenes of its time, earning both, the film and the director, immediate cult status among horror aficionados. Most notable are certainly the underwater sequence in which a zombie fights a tiger shark, and the screen filling close-up scene when Olga Karlatos’ eye is pierced by a wooden splinter. Both scenes perfect examples of Fulci’s explicit visual style – especially if you further take into consideration how wonderfully Fulci sets up the scenes and foreshadows them by giving us numerous extreme close-ups of Karlatos’ mesmerizing green eyes. Combined with the dynamic and suggestive camera work, Fulci definitely knew how to sell a special effect.

Fulci’s zombies are different from the zombies that graced the silver screen before. Unlike the undead bodies of Romero’s films, which were effectively and frighteningly staged actors with blue face paint and some gushing wounds, Fulci’s zombies resemble walking corpses more than anything else. Usually heavily decayed, unrecognizable creatures, these zombies represent horrors that don’t only come from beyond death, but also from beyond their graves. Every time they enter the screen you can almost smell the scent of their decay and rotten flesh.

Sticking with the old saying that less is sometimes more, Fulci did a great job staging the zombies, and scripting them in the story, without revealing too much of them. Unlike Romero, who brought them in by the hundreds, Fulci utilized only a limited number of shambling undeads in "Zombie", but those to great effect. They are not all over the place, but wherever they are, there is no escape. To many people, "Zombie" is a mixed bag, I would think. It is not what you’d call an exceptionally good movie – but cult movies rarely are – but it is one that is clearly worth seeing. The story has some problems with logic, the acting is rather poor and the dialog dub is pretty shameful at times. The film has a distinct quality however that easily lets you forget about these technicalities. Fulci’s stylish direction and choice of images make the film a good visual experience. The pacing is good and constantly builds towards the inevitable climax. Personally, I found that I liked the film a little more, every time I watched it, and as with most of Fulci’s work, every time I see it I detect yet another subtle hint here and another interesting shot there.

The question on everyone’s mind at this point is, how does it look, and I am happy to report that blue Underground’s "Zombie" looks marvelous. It is a revelation, plain and simple. It will take you a second to believe you are really watching "Zombie," a movie that is known for its notoriously bad image quality, its underlit shots and its lack of contrast. It is all gone. Completely.
Blue Underground gives us a sparkling <$PS,widescreen> transfer of the movie here in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets. "Zombie" presents itself looking like a million bucks – without any grain, without any haze, without any blemish and razor-sharp. Scenes in which it was previously impossible to make out any details – like the zombie sitting in the hall having their feast – are suddenly coming to live in full detail with every bit of the image reading very clearly. The attack of the zombies on the hospital at night brings out more definition than ever, going as far as letting you see more actual zombies than ever before. The transfer renders colors very rich, perfectly contrasting the tropical paradise look of the sea and shoreline with the stark, gory horrors on the island. Skin tones are very naturally rendered and the blood has never been more intense. All without over-saturation or color bleeding Blacks are deep and solid and absolutely neutral, never tingeing the film like they did in previous versions. No notable edge-enhancement is evident and the compression is without a single artifact. It may sound like a cliché but it is absolutely true. This is "Zombie" like you have never seen it before!

The DVD also contains a vast selection of audio tracks, including newly remixed <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> tracks in English and Italian, complemented by <$DS,Dolby surround> versions and the original mono tracks. So, whichever way you wish to view the film, Blue Underground gives you the option, complete with subtitles in English, if you so desire.

The dynamic range of the track has been improved during the remix, making Fabio Frizzi’s haunting score even more effective and also adding spatial information to the sound effects. The result is a track that is breathing more than ever before, giving you a much better impression of a live sound stage. While the dubs are still awkward at times, the remix has definitely added to the overall presentation value of the release.

I had high expectations for "Zombie" and I am elated at the result. The film could not look better and it is almost frightening to realize now just how bad previous versions of the film looked. I am in awe at this presentation and I am once again in awe at Fulci’s deliberate work, which is becoming even more evident now that you can see so many more little details in the image.

"Zombie" is a film that belongs in every horror film collection, plain and simple, and Blue Undergrounds presentation on this release is nothing short of a revelation.