Release Date(s)1979 (November 27, 2018)
Studio(s)Variety Film/The Jerry Gross Organization (Blue Underground)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A-
Zombie (aka Zombi 2 and Zombie Flesh Eaters in Italy and the U.K., respectively), blew the lid off of zombie films when it was released in 1979 (later in 1980 in the U.S.). It was a hit on the exploitation circuit and later cleaned up in video rentals, announcing Lucio Fulci as a force to be reckoned with as a horror filmmaker. In a mere 91 minutes, he not only upped the ante of the violence and gore seen in Dawn of the Dead one year prior, but devoured the competition entirely. In a straightforward plot about a group of people traveling to a tropical island and being besieged by the living dead, the film manages to shock and disgust in a way that’s still quite powerful, even by today’s standards.
Zombie, to this day, is still one of the most visceral horror films ever made. And I don’t mean visceral because of all of the gore, but more because it’s the kind of movie that’s so disgusting and disconcerting at times that you can almost smell it. Revisiting it only reminds me further of just how good horror fans had it in the 1980s. Before the genre went mainstream and was still considered taboo, these kinds of films were only able to be seen through video rentals. Many of them were also cut for theatrical distribution, particularly in the U.K. by the BBFC, and the only way to see any of the throat-ripping, gut-munching mayhem was home video, where many of these films weren’t quite as monitored initially.
Well-filmed with real talent behind the camera that shaped it into its final form, Zombie is a down and dirty experience, the kind that either fuels a horror fan’s desires or turns them off completely. The eye-gouging sequence, to this day, still makes me wince, even though I know it’s only a special effect. Of course, it’s not just the effect itself, but the suspense that leads up to it. I’ve seen other films that feature scenes of people’s eyes being punctured or torn out, but the way it’s presented in Zombie is almost Buñuel like in its execution and effectiveness.
The zombie make-ups and performances are also some of the best, and creepiest, ever filmed. They look more disheveled and haunted with less obvious purpose, which makes them more mysterious. They also appear completely rotten, covered in worms, or cross-eyed – almost as if they came straight out of a nightmare. Yet on the other hand, the least interesting aspect of the film is its cast. They lack any real impact, perhaps by all of the chaos surrounding them, but outside of Dr. Menard’s and Susan Barett’s characters, the latter of whose bare-breasted scuba diving activities were more than memorable to the young men in the audience, there isn’t much to everyone else.
Needless to say, Zombie is iconic in many ways, including its stark opening with a darkened figure firing a gun at a bagged, rising corpse; a fat, bloody zombie on a boat in New York harbor; a zombie fighting a shark underwater; the aforementioned eye-gouging scene; the subsequent zombie feast of that character; the Conquistador corpses rising to life and attempting to devour those nearby; the Molotov cocktail-throwing defense of the survivors; and the Brooklyn Bridge full of approaching zombies – all of it has been imitated, parodied, or written about over the years, making the film a true classic of the genre.
Blue Underground’s second Blu-ray offering a Zombie comes armed with a 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative. To say the least, it’s a gorgeous presentation. This film has never looked this good on home video, ever. Grain levels are a little uneven, but they’re well-rendered, revealing an enormous amount of previous hidden detail, particularly in shadows. Fine detail is astonishing, whether it’s the opening showing off gorgeous shots of New York harbor or the disgusting beds of ill patients in the tropics later on. Even the zombie make-up holds up remarkably well. The color palette is nicely varied with bold hues, including blues, reds, and greens. Flesh tones look good and black levels are inky deep without a drop of crush. Everything appears bright and stable, with only mild instances of damage leftover, including a few instances of staining. Otherwise, it’s a perfectly natural and film-like presentation.
The audio is presented in several options: English 7.1 and 1.0 DTS-HD, Italian 7.1 and 1.0 DTS-HD, and French 1.0 Dolby Digital. And since this is a Region Free release, there are also a multitude of subtitle options: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Swedish, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and English for Italian audio. The 7.1 tracks definitely open the sound up a bit with added ambient and panning activity, especially in the opening. They also give more life to the film’s score, as well additional LFE to punctuate gunfire and the rhythmic thumping of the main theme. However, most of the other elements from the original soundtrack are relegated to the front. The mono track is also no slouch. Because I’ve seen it this way many times over the years, I prefer the simplicity of its one-channel nature, without the need of resorting to the sweetening of sound effects or score elements. However, both tracks offer plenty of clarity, especially for dialogue, and neither contain any major instances of leftover damage, although the mono track has mild instances of hiss.
The extras for this release are mostly all of the materials present on Blue Underground’s previous Blu-ray release, but they do add a couple of more to the mix. On Disc One, which contains the film itself, there’s an introduction by Guillermo Del Toro; an excellent new audio commentary with author Troy Howarth, who delves plenty into Fulci’s directorial style, even dishing on some of the on-set problems with cast and crew (although there were few); an audio commentary with actor Ian McCulloch and Diabolik Magazine editor Jason J. Slater; When the Earth Spits Out the Dead..., a 33-minute interview with author Stephen Thrower (always a welcome addition), offering his views on the theatrical and VHS releases of the film in the U.K.; the international and U.S. trailers for the film; 2 TV spots; 4 radio spots; and an animated poster and still gallery containing 150 images.
On Disc Two, there are interview pieces with many of members of the cast and crew. There’s Zombie Wasteland, a 22-minute featurette containing interviews with actors Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, and Al Cliver, and actor/stuntman Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, which also includes footage shot at Cinema Wasteland; Flesh Eaters on Film, a 10-minute interview with co-producer Fabrio de Angelis; Deadtime Stories, a 14-minute featurette containing interview with co-writers Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti; World of the Dead, a 16-minute featurette containing interviews with cinematographer Sergio Salvati and production & costume designer Walter Patriarca; Zombi Italiano, a 17-minute featurette containing interviews with special make-up effects artists Gianetto de Rossi and Maurizio Trani, and special effects artist Gino de Rossi; Notes on a Headstone, a 7-minute interview with composer Fabio Frizzi; All in the Family, a 6-minute interview with Antonella Fulci (daughter of the director); Zombie Lover, a 10-minute interview with Guillermo Del Toro; an Easter egg, which can be accessed by highlighting the All in the Family interview and pressing left to reveal a hidden picture of Auretta Gay, and upon selecting, features a 5-minute interview outtake with Maurizio Trani speaking about an amusing incident involving Gay’s memorable scuba dive; a two-sided paper insert advertising comic book adaptations of both Zombie and Maniac; a 24-page insert booklet containing the essay We Are Going to Eat You! Zombies Vs. The Critics by Stephen Thrower; and a CD containing the film’s soundtrack, including the film’s score by Fabio Frizzi and the song There’s No Matter by Linda Lee.
Blue Underground’s work on this title blew all of my expectations out of the water – the transfer truly is a revelation. After years of seeing this film in substandard quality, it’s a shock to see it in such pristine quality – almost as if it was shot yesterday. Add to that a large extras selection and you have one of the finest Blu-ray horror releases of the year. Beyond recommended!
– Tim Salmons