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Like the shadow of a decaying hand reaching out for me that
I cannot run away from, Lucio Fulci’s most infamous and undying classic about
the hungry dead, ZOMBIE, is once more before me on the autopsy table for a
thorough dissection. I suppose it is
appropriate that once every couple of years, this particular film seemingly
rises from the dead and forces me to take another in-depth look at it – yet
somehow I’m always left with the feeling that what I think has been my ultimate
review for the title in the latest technology du jour (from laserdisc to DVD
and now Blu-Ray) turns out to be, in fact, my penultimate review.
I suppose it’s a good thing I love the film as much as I do, or I’d be getting sick of it by now.
Sporting the immortal ad campaign “We Are Going To Eat You!”
combined with the poster image of the ultimate nightmarishly rotten corpse head
looking about ready to take a bite out of you, made for a pretty indelible
branding experience that would be impossible to replicate in today’s far more
conservative movie poster environment.
Everything about ZOMBIE is just so blessedly wrong in our modern world
that I like to think that it will always have a special place in the hearts of
fandom, as it seems just as vital now as when it first came out. It will never be mistaken for anything other
than what it is: a gut punch to good taste and proper movie manners made by
talented people who knew exactly what they were doing.
The previous DVD releases came in 2005 – to coincide with
the 25th anniversary of the films initial unleashing upon an unsuspecting U.S.
audience – by two competing DVD companies.
How much has the world changed since the Blue Underground vs. Shriek
Show dual-release of ZOMBIE controversy a few years back? Well for one thing, the film has become more
deeply entrenched in the public consciousness since the airing of a Windows 7
ad back in mid-2010 that featured an excerpt from the zombie attacking the
shark scene in a humorous context. It makes me look forward to seeing how the
mainstream media finds a way to recontextualize classic moments from other
movies that we love to sell us things.
Perhaps Marilyn Burns screaming her head off at the family table towards
the end of TEXAX CHAIN SAW MASSACRE can be similarly reconfigured into an
Arby’s advertisement sometime soon?
It still amazes me what a difference 20 years can make
towards mainstream acceptance of the transgressive films so many of us grew up
with. I’ll never forget the first time I saw a ridiculously large and sharpened
wooden splinter puncture a screaming woman’s eyeball in stark close-up for the
first time. At the tender age of 14, it was like seeing Peter O’Toole blow out
the match that shock-cuts to the desert landscape in LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or the
primitive ape descendant of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY tossing that bone into the
air that transforms into a space station. I literally felt the shape of what
cinema meant to me curve around my head and spin me in place. It was nauseating
and exhilarating and completely energizing. It made me want to watch movies that showed me things I’d never actually
want to experience in real life. It made me realize that the dream machine was
also capable of, and could be equally sublime at opening a window into
humanities shared nightmares that needed to be explored in art. I’m always
happy to take another look at it and write about the experience.
So let me start with my complaints about the video transfer,
which I’m once again going to take to task since it has all the same problems,
to my eye, that the previous releases had – some scenes have been color timed
too damn bright. Should I be comparing a
brand new state-of-the-art Hi-Def transfer to my 20+ years old standard-definition
Japanese laserdisc? Well, to be fair, I’m ecstatic to see the restoration work
that’s been done to remove the scratches, dirt and even some bad frame damage
that had been on most releases since the 2005 DVD restorations came along and
removed a thick layer of grunge from the image. But the main problem that I
have is that some of the overly brightened scenes reduce the scare-power of
Sergio Salvati’s expert cinematography by removing the dark shadows and
presenting a much flatter looking image.
Not to jump ahead to the supplements just quite yet, but in
his interview on the second disc Salvati himself talks about the intentionally
“ugly” lighting and deep shadows he used in the zombie scenes to create
suspense and discomfort. Based on those
comments, it seems obvious to me that he was not consulted about any of the
recent transfers we’ve been handed down because I think he would vehemently
disapprove of what’s been wrought upon his images here. Most especially in the
scene just before Olga Karlatos has her eye pierced with a splinter, the shots
fluctuate between lighting that could almost be flat daylight and then suddenly
we have dark shadows – and the brightness does the wonderful make-up effect no
Likewise, the scene where our intrepid adventurers go back
to Dr. Menard’s house to find a group of zombies chowing-down on the remains of
Ms. Karlatos is severely cheapened by the flatness of the lighting that whoever
supervised this transfer decided to dial-up.
Some technicians simply do not understand that just because something is
visible on the camera negative does not mean that it’s meant to be brightened
up and pulled from the darkness to be made into a vulgar display where darkened
mystery was the original intention. I’m sad to say that in many ways, despite
the far crappier quality of the image, I much prefer watching my old laserdisc
– not because I am a grindhouse purist who demands to see print damage to feel
like I’m getting the most out of my genre movie-watching, but because the film
source from which that older transfer was taken was a theatrical release print
and I believe it is much closer to the filmmakers original visual intentions.
So there you have it. My perhaps Quixotic take on the
subject. I suspect most consumers will not care or even take notice of this
issue, but I’d say it’s almost about as criminal an act of digital neglect as
the re-color timing of HALLOWEEN that caused some controversy a few years back
amongst the hardcore fans of that classic film (not to place that blame here,
as that was Anchor Bay and not a Blue Underground release). And if I’m totally
wrong about my feelings here, I’d be more than happy to receive an e-mail from
Sergio Salvati telling me he’s seen and approves of this transfer, as it says
that he personally supervised it on the Blue Underground website.
No complaints from me on the audio side of things, with the
usual assortment of sonic overkill allowing you to choose between 6.1 DTS-ES,
5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX or the original English or Italian mono tracks. Dialogue
and sound effects are loud and clear in all the mixes and Fabio Frizzi’s score
always sounds great. Subtitle options include English, English SDH, French,
Spanish, Portuguese, Deutsch, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai for those keeping
count (what, no Hopi?). Listening to the Italian track with English subs here
is not the revelation that HOUSE BY THE CEMETARY was, although there are a few
surprising differences (most especially the radio broadcast at the climax).
It is unbelievable to imagine, but this Blue Underground
Blu-Ray is packed with supplements, yet manages to duplicate only one thing
that was previously released – the informative commentary of lead actor Ian
McCulloch and moderator Jason Slater. Otherwise, we have an entire second disc of interview featurettes–shot
in hi-def–that runs longer than the main feature (around an hour and 43
minutes of new material, to be exact), all of which was specially conducted for
this two-disc Ultimate Edition release.
Going through this treasure trove of interviews, I’ll talk
about them in their order of appearance on disc two of the set. First up is “Zombie Wasteland”, a 22 minute
featurette that has interviews with stars Richard Johnson, Ian McCulloch and Al
Cliver, as well as the stuntman/performer who portrayed the iconic
throat-biting zombie featured prominently on the disc cover (as well as the
famous U.S. poster), Ottaviano Dell’Acqua.
All of these gentlemen have interesting stories to tell, as well as the standard
different points of view on their working relationships and experiences of
dealing with Lucio Fulci (one begins to suspect that there had to be more than
one of him), as no two people seem to have the same story of what he was like
on-set. The most interesting revelation comes from Al Cliver–which seems
backed-up by the stories of the other participants–that all of the actors get
along better now than they did during the actual shooting of the movie.
Obviously a labor of love put together by Michael Felsher of
Red Shirt Pictures, the interviews were shot during a convention (this
gathering of the actors once again made possible by Mike Baronas of Paura
Productions), and Mr. Felsher finds a way to re-stage a famous moment from
ZOMBIE using the means at his disposal that would have given Maestro Fulci an
amused and approving chuckle.
“Flesh Eaters on Film” (10 minutes) is an interview with
prolific producer Fabrizio De Angelis who has a lot of interesting things to
say about the economics of making low-budget genre films back in the early
1980’s, and the importance to the money people of a reliable producer in
attracting funding during that period (above even who the director or the stars
of film were).
The situation that lead to Elisa Briganti being credited
with the ZOMBIE screenplay instead of Fulci’s writing cohort of this period,
Dardano Sacchetti, is one of the more fascinating (and surprisingly personal
stories) relayed in “Deadtime Stories”, a 14 segment that also has some
revealing words about how the production came about in the first place, since
Sacchetti’s involvement with the project began before Fulci was even brought
The interviews with the people behind the production begin
with “World of the Dead” (16 minutes), sporting interviews with Lucio’s great
cinematographer of this period, Sergio Salvati, and production and costume designer
Walter Patriarca. Both men shed some light onto how the overall look of the
film was achieved, with Patriarca in particular coming across as a very
articulate and imaginative person with a very deep sense of artistic
expression. As I mentioned earlier, many of Salvati’s comments about the deep
darkness of the shadows in his lighting choices back-up my thoughts on this
video transfer being a bit too bright for my tastes in certain scenes, but I’ll
leave it at that for now.
The fantastic make-up effects crew who provided the groundbreaking
grotesque ghouls for the film are given ample time to tell their tales in “Zombi
Italiano”, a 17 minute discussion of the pre-digital make-up creations that
have fueled the nightmares of many a viewer for over 30 years now. Giannetto De
Rossi, Maurizio Trani and Gino De Rossi go back-and-forth, often in overlapping
style, discussing how the famous eyeball scene began almost as a compromise and
how, in the process of creating something from a half-completed effect, became
what it has become today. It’s also fascinating to hear about the sculpting
techniques involving clay and latex to create the unique, one-of-a-kind zombie
make-ups – each one an individually crafted work of art.
Amusingly, music maestro Fabio Frizzi talks more about the
use of silence and sound effects to create tension and surprise in ZOMBIE; practically
discounting his own famous theme music until the very end in the brief “Notes
on a Headstone” (7 minutes). While I certainly agree that there is some
imaginative sound design in the movie, Frizzi’s music is the engine that keeps
the titular zombies chugging along with style, and I wish he’d talked a bit
more about his creative process and compositional techniques.
It’s great to hear Lucio’s daughter Antonella reminisce
about her father’s work in general in “All in the Family” (6 minutes). Placing
this featurette towards the end of the cycle was a good choice, as it’s
refreshing to hear her take on everything, as what she says often incorporates
a little piece of what someone said here with what someone else said there and
gives a more rounded portrait of the man based on the opinions presented by
Finally, one of genre cinema’s current favorite
practitioners Guillermo del Toro, effuses about ZOMBIE for nearly 10 minutes in
“Zombie Lover”, and it’s sure to put a grin a mile wide on every fanboy’s face.
His knowledge and enthusiasm are absolutely infectious to behold – even when
describing someone else’s movie and the tropes of the horror film, his
knowledge and his interpretation of the history behind it are a joy to behold
and a mini-education in how to be a great fan and a talented practitioner of
the art. Del Toro also provides a brief
but spirited intro to the film itself (which one has the option of watching or
not watching before the movie begins).
Whew! Okay, you’re tired of reading and my fingers are
bleeding from typing. To be clear, despite my bitching and moaning about the
“modernization” of the transfer, this is still an excellent package put
together with lots of love for one of the movies that had a profound effect
upon my life, so to say that I highly recommend it is obviously an
understatement. I’m looking forward to reviewing ZOMBIE again in five years (with
the correct color timing….) when the holographic release hits the streets, even
if I have to do it with undead fingers from beyond the grave.
DVD/ Blu-ray Reviews
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