Lucio Fulci's "Zombie" is considered one of the most seminal zombie flicks by many genre fans. Though the film has been released on various occasions on home video, the film has always been prone to problems for a wide variety of reasons.
Bill Lustig's Blue Underground, however, has always done right to the film and once again the small studio has the opportunity to show the world that they are the number one when it comes to European cult films. Presenting "Zombie" in high definition like you never dreamed of seeing it, I was very eager to check out this 2-disc Blu-Ray release.
"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 George 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 hasn'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 are 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 very 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 rotted 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 awful 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 color and contrast. It is all gone. Completely.
Blue Underground presents the film here n a 1080p high definition transfer that makes the movie look like a million bucks! Not only is the print virtually free of defects - I noticed a few scratches running through a shot or two, but that is about it - and will make you wonder, why the film has had such a checkered history on home video. All that is forgotten, however, the moment you lay your eyes on this marvelous transfer. The film may have been shot on a budget and with technical limitations, but the high definition transfer will never show it. While there is a bit of grain in the picture at times, a welcome reminder that movies used to be shot on film, actually, I was extremely surprised about the level of detail in the image, especially because "Zombie" was shot on 2-perf film stock, giving the exposed image essentially half the resolution of a full 35mm print. Nonetheless, the film's definition holds up marvelously well and with a nicely color-corrected transfer that creates bold and deep blacks as well as incredibly vibrant colors, you have a visual feast before you. If you don't believe me, skip to the shark-zombie underwater scene and see for yourself. You will not believe your eyes.
Scenes in which it was previously impossible to make out a whole lot of 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 and boasting with bloody reds. 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. It may sound like a cliché but it is absolutely true. This is "Zombie" like you have never seen it before!
The Blu-Ray Disc also contains a vast selection of audio tracks, including a newly remixed DTS 7.1 HD Master Audio track, along with Dolby Digital tracks in English and Italian, including the original mono versions. So, whichever way you wish to view the film, Blue Underground has you covered.
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.
Blue Underground has added a nice assortment of bonus materials on this release, including an introduction by Guillermo Del Toro. But that's not all by a long shot. You will also find a commentary track on the disc, featuring actor Ian McCullouch and Diabolik Magazine Editor Jason J. Slater, along with TV and Radio Spots and a poster and still gallery.
On the second disc you will find a host of featurettes, including the interview featurette "Zombie Wasteland" with conversation featuring Ian McCulloch, Richard johnson, Al Cliver and zombie actor/stuntman Ottaviano Dell'Acqua.
Many other featurettes are included on his disc, covering not only a wide variety of aspects regarding the making of the movie but also making sure to allow many voices to be heard. Countless interviews with stars, crew, effects people, composer Fabio Frizzi and others can be found here, including one featurette in which award-winning filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro talks about his love for this movie. I think I should point out also, that all of these featurettes are presented in wonderful high definition.
I wasn't sure what to expect for "Zombie" in high definition. I was hopeful, of course, but I never expected the film to look as tremendously impressive as it does. 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.