Zombie (1979)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch
Extras: Theatrical Trailers

Italian director Lucio Fulci passed away only a few years ago, but his legacy is fortunately still there for us to behold. Anchor Bay Entertainment have now released one of Fulci’s best known works on DVD. Reason enough for us to take a look at this release of "Zombie", a visceral horror film that was clearly a direct result of the worldwide success of Gorge A. Romero’s "Dawn Of The Dead". Despite being a simple rip-off of Romero’s gripping saga, "Zombie" has qualities of its own, clearly setting it apart as one of the better zombie movies. On the remote island of Matull 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. These undead creatures can then 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. One day his ship is found drifting into New York’s harbor. Seemingly without a man, coast guard officers board the vessel, only to find it hosts a zombie, who immediately attacks and kills one of the officers. In desperate worry about her father, Ann, decides to go to Matull and find out 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 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 afficionados. 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, that makes good use of extreme close-ups and very dynamic camera work. The scene is also an example for the top notch special effects displayed in the movie.

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 the 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. I found that I liked the film a little more, every time I watched it.

Anchor Bay has transferred the film’s original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> version on this disc. The original film material had to be digitally restored due to a large number of scratches throughout the film and actual missing picture elements on one of the film’s reels. The result leaves me somewhat mixed. While removing the most visible deficiencies, it unfortunately introduces some other unwanted effects. Sometimes parts of the image seem to be locked in place for a few frames and then jump to a new position. This occurs because the computer tries to fill in the missing image elements by looking at the previous frames to determine what the missing part needs to be filled with. If the image is moving heavily, he might get inaccurate information and fill the part in question with inappropriate information. The only way to avoid this problem is to manually track each and every damaged frame and manually fill in the missing information, which of course, is a very tedious, time consuming, and most of all expensive procedure. The transfer to the DVD is very good however. There are only the slightest compression artifacts noticeable in the image, which are once again caused by the original print’s inferior quality. Nevertheless, the film looks gorgeous and detailed, rich in color like it had never been before, without <$chroma,chroma noise> or color smearing. The improved resolution of the DVD really helps to bring out the best of the film’s Mediterranean background and Sergio Salvati’s skillful cinematography.

"Zombie" has a highly effective soundtrack. The musical theme that re-appears throughout the film is highly reminiscent to John Carpenter’s use of concise short motifs that are repeated with frightening regularity. It contains the same unsettling qualities and soon becomes a symbol of threat and doom, although the motif itself is not implicitly sinister. It creates a perfect symbiosis with the images on screen and is an intense example for effective film scoring. Anchor Bay have created a new <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack for this release and also supply a very good <$DS,Dolby Surround> audio track. The disc also contains a <$commentary,commentary track> with the film’s main actor Ian McCulloch and magazine editor, Jason J. Slater. Unfortunately the <$commentary,commentary track> is lacking a little. It was obviously the first time ever that McCulloch had the chance to see the final film and he is clearly more interested in watching it closely than commenting on it. Still it contains some insightful information that fans of the film will be interested to hear. The disc also contains a number of theatrical, television and radio trailers for the film, which are quite interesting and a small reprint of the rare, original German film poster.

"Zombie" is a cult film and was as such just as influential as George A. Romero’s "Dawn Of The Dead". Completely different in tone and style, it spawned an incredibly prolific industry of Italian zombie and cannibal films, that also heavily influenced many Spanish filmmakers, such as Armando Ossori. It is a horrific testament of well made Eurohorror and as such is a film that clearly belongs into every horror film collection. Anchor Bay’s DVD release presents us this film in all its glorious gut-wrenching beauty and makes it look better than ever. Go, get it!