• Zombie (Blue Underground) 3-Disc Limited Edition Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Blue Underground
    Released on: November 27th, 2018.
    Director: Lucio Fulci
    Cast: Ian McCulloch, Tisa Farrow, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver
    Year: 1979
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    Zombie – Movie Review:

    One of the most enduringly popular Italian horror films of all time, Lucio Fulci’s 1979 take on the living dead begins when a seemingly empty boat floats into a harbor near New York City. Some harbor patrol officers board the boat and find that it’s not empty at all when a zombie pops out of the bottom and rips one pour sod’s throat out. The other cop opens fire and the corpse falls into the bay. An incident as unusual as this is bound to attract some attention and so it does in the form of a reporter named Peter West (Ian McCulloch) who winds up meeting and then teaming up with Ann Bowles (Tisa Farrow of Anthropophagous), the daughter of the man who owned the boat in question. She hasn’t heard from her father in far too long and the last she heard he was living on a remote Caribbean island called Matoul.

    Figuring there may be more to this, Peter decides to accompany Ann on a trip to Matoul to find out what happened to her dad. The pair hires Brian (Al Cliver of Touch Of Death and Waves Of Lust) and his beautiful girlfriend Susan (Auretta Gay) to take them to the island on their boat. They stop for a swim along the way, at which point Susan decides to snorkel around the boat where she witnesses one of the film’s most ludicrously iconic moments – a zombie fighting a shark. Shaken but not to the point of quitting, the four soon make it to the island where they meet Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson of Screamers and The Monster Club) who lives amongst a group of natives who seem to be dropping like flies due to some unnamed illness. When zombies start turning up on the island, it seems like maybe the natives’ talk of voodoo might be more than just local superstition but, despite pleas from his wife, Paula (Olga Karlatos of Keoma and In Hell), Menard is intent on staying in the hospital he’s set up in the local church and treating whoever he can to try and find a scientific explanation for all of this.

    Zombie might not be much story-wise but Fulci is smart enough to use atmosphere and gore effects to cover that successfully. Shot by Sergio Salvati (a frequent Fulci collaborator who also shot The Beyond, City OF The Living Dead, The Black Cat, The Psychic, Four Of The Apocalypse and Contraband) this is a good-looking film on a technical level with the scope camerawork doing a fine job of capturing the locations both tropical and otherwise. The film also moves at a good pace, ramping up the tension right through to the end but stopping to give us plenty of bloody set pieces along the way. The film is chock full of great effects work from Gino De Rossi, Gianetto De Rossi and Maurizio Trani who do an amazing job of creating not only some great splatter effects but some impressive zombie make up as well. As the corpses rise and shamble about the island, Fulci’s typically downbeat world view starts to work its way into the picture and we wind up with a film that, despite some goofy elements here and there, is remarkably dark and dour. As far as the pacing goes, Zombie has a few dry spots here and there but never to the point where the movie feels slow.

    The performances are fun across the board, with McCulloch and Johnson standing head and shoulders above the rest. McCulloch is all charm and charisma, Johnson the opposite here playing a grizzled and frustrated man and doing a great job of portraying all of that with his body language and his eyes in particular. Tisa Farrow may not ever make anyone’s ‘best of’ lists for her performance here but she does fine with the material and is, if nothing else, completely likeable in the role if maybe a little bit vapid. Olga Karlatos, on the other hand, not only gets the most infamous death of the entire film but also manages to actually portray her frustrated wife with some genuinely respectable believability here. She shares a scene with Johnson wherein they discuss their situation that is genuinely dramatic and even a little bit heartfelt. Al Cliver is… Al Cliver. His performance is basically what you’d expect, he’s tough and macho and completely fine in the part but he does get a bit lost in the shuffle and you’re more likely to remember McCulloch and Johnson here than poor Al.

    All of this is wrapped up in a great score from Fabio Frizzi that, if very heavy on keyboards and disco style beats, suits the movie rather well particularly once it moves south to warmer climates. Fulci would make better movies before and after this one and it stands to reason that everyone is going to have their own favorite but Zombie is definitely up there with his best pictures. If it’s never actually very scary it is at least fairly tense and, as it will be remembered, plenty gross. There’s enough style and character here to compliment the gore, however, that in this day and age of fast-moving zombies and hyper edited horror films, Fulci’s picture holds up remarkably well.

    Zombie – Blu-ray Review:

    Blue Underground brings Zombie to Blu-ray for a second time, this latest 2018 release using a ‘brand-new 4K Restoration from the uncensored original camera negative.’ The 2011 two-disc release looked good, but this is a substantial improvement. The AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer, which is framed in the film’s original aspect ratio of 2.35.1 widescreen and presented on a 50GB disc (with the feature taking up over 27GBs of space), shows considerably stronger detail than we’ve seen before. There’s excellent depth and color reproduction here, not just in closeup shots but medium and long-distance shots as well. The color scheme looks more natural here than it did before, and skin tones look better as well. Black levels are perfect and the disc is nicely authored ensuring that there are no noticeable compression artifacts or crush in the darker scenes. While there’s no print damage to note, the film does retain its natural film grain, as it should and the end result is a beautifully film-like presentation.

    Some comparison shots between this new release and the 2011 disc can be seen below. The 2018 release is on top, the 2011 below.

    The disc also includes DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio and DTS-HD Mono mixes, in your choice of English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Dutch, Swedish, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, English for Italian Audio. A French language Dolby Digital Mono track is also found on the disc.

    The 7.1 tracks are very clean sounding, very clear and really fill the room nicely. Bass response is rock solid without overpowering the performers or burying the actors or the sound effects and it really gives the instantly recognizable score some extra punch. Surround channels are used well, adding some welcome ambient noise to a few scenes – just listen behind you during the opening in the harbor – with plenty of distinct channel separation evident throughout. You’ll likely be impressed from the start, with the opening scene in the boat really pulling you in with the music but there are really cool little touches evident throughout the movie to listen for, particularly once the action picks up and things move to the island. The Mono options are, of course, much closer to the original theatrical experience. They also sound clean and clear, with proper balance. There are no noticeable problems with any hiss or distortion worth noting and there’s decent depth to them.

    New to this reissue is a commentary track with Troy Howarth, author of Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci And His Films. It’s a semi scene specific talk from the start, where he talks up the impressive opening scene before then noting that the film is a ‘tent pole title of Italian title.’ He discusses the production values and how ‘good old fashioned ingenuity’ helped Fulci get the New York harbor scene done as well as it was done. He offers up plenty of info about the cast and crew as the film plays out, notes the comedic relief that does occur occasionally throughout the movie, notes Fulci’s cameo in the film and discusses both the score and the effects work that play such a big part in the movie’s effectiveness. Once the movie switches to the tropics, Howarth talks about how Fulci and his crew shot in the Dominican Republic, how they tried to avoid touristy areas, the dubbing employed in the film, the evolution of the zombie film up to this point and how they were far less common than, say, vampires as well as, of course, the infamous zombie vs. shark scene. Howarth also covers the film’s ‘connection’ to Dawn Of The Dead, the quality of Ms. Gay’s swimming abilities, and quite a bit more. It’s an informed track with a lot of information in it.

    Also included on the first disc is an audio commentary with the film’s leading man, Ian McCulloch (who notes here that he hasn’t seen the film before when this track was recorded), and Diabolik Magazine Editor Jason J. Slater that was originally included on the two-disc Shriek Show special edition release of this movie on DVD. McCulloch has got some great stories to share here, noting that Tisa Farrow never stopped talking during the entire shoot which was an odd contrast to his own rather more reserved and quiet nature. Of course, he talks about his relationship with Fulci, what it was like being on location with the direction but also how he felt about him as a person. Slater wisely lets McCulloch do most of the talking and despite some instances of dead air here and there (minor ones, mind you), this is a good talk. McCulloch notes that it never crossed his mind that a film like this could have become the huge worldwide success that it’s become, noting that he felt it would be regarded as a bit of a joke, but never comes across as ungrateful or above the material. The pair discusses the film’s extreme gore, how various people McCulloch know in real life felt about the content, and about the film’s reputation as a video nasty, even letting it slide that his uncle had to review video nasties for the British government and how he was disappointed in McCulloch for appearing in three of them. They also discuss the film’s effects, how they compare to Romero’s ‘blue zombies’ and even note which member of the crew was an accomplished tennis player! Apparently shooting the island scenes was tough as nobody used walkie-talkies until McCulloch, who happened to have some on him, offered the film crew the use of his so that they’d stop shouting to the cast as they were trying to direct them and he talks about having to rescue Auretta Gay, who wasn’t a very good swimmer.

    Also new to this release, and included on the first disc, is When The Earth Spits Out The Dead – Interview with Stephen Thrower (33:05), author of Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci. Thrower starts off by talking about Fulci’s early career doing rock n roll movies and comedies before then talking about how he got into making giallo and horror films, the pictures that he’s clearly better remembered for these days. He also talks about the director’s penchant for ‘blood and guts’ and strange atmosphere, how he really started dabbling in this with The Psychic, and then, of course, his involvement in Zombie which was, as we all know at this point, meant to cash in on the success of Dawn Of The Dead. Thrower also talks about the creativity involved in the film, the cast that were assembled for the film, how cyclists and joggers wreaked havoc with the final Brooklyn Bridge scene, how the zombies here differ visually from Romero’s, the nastiness of the gore effects in the picture, the shark scene and plenty more. Thrower, as always, is insightful and interesting to listen to here.

    Closing out the extras on disc one is an introduction from filmmaker and faun Guillermo del Toro (0:24) and some trailers. While del Toro obviously didn’t have anything to do with the making of the movie, his enthusiasm for the film is apparent and infectious. As to those trailers, we get a couple of theatrical trailers (the U.S. trailer and the international trailer under the Zombies 2 title– 3:45 and 1:33 respectively, both in HD), a few TV spots (0:32 and 0:31 each, SD), four different radio spots and a fairly massive poster and still gallery that plays as a slide show for 9:51 and is also in HD. Made up of poster art, home video art and stills from the shoot, it’s pretty impressive and definitely worth checking out if you’re into things like that.

    The extras on disc two (which seems to mirror the second disc included in the last release), all of which are presented in high definition and all of which are brand new and exclusive to this release, start off with Zombie Wasteland (22:24) which is an interview with cast members Ian McCulloch, Al Cliver and Richard Johnson who are joined by actor and stuntman Ottaviano Dell’Acqua. It’s interesting to learn that the cast members are better friends now than they were during the shoot. Shot around a cast reunion at a Cinema Wasteland convention, the participants are all interviewed separately throughout the piece but there are also clips here of them signing autographs for convention goers and clips from a question and answer session that they did at the convention. Topics range from the enduring popularity of the movie to misbehavior on set to the pros and cons of making movies during the heyday of Italian genre cinema. All the interviewees seem genuinely touched and appreciative of the fan scene that has developed around this film over the years though it should be noted how sad it is to see Cliver speaking in such hushed tones here, after his battle with throat cancer.

    Up next is Flesh Eaters on Film (9:38) which is an interview with Co-Producer Fabrizio De Angelis who gives us his thoughts on this movie and on horror films in general. He notes that the movie still makes him jump and he gives us his thoughts on Fulci. He notes that too many years have passed for him to remember how the film was ‘born’ but talks about having to travel to make the movie and how Fulci came on board to direct. He expresses his admiration for the efforts of the cast and crew, the effects team especially, and shares some interesting stories about difficulties encountered shooting a few key scenes and he also covers some of the marketing angles that they used to promote the film and how it was received theatrically.

    Deadtime Stories (14:33) is a collection of interviews with Co-Writers Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti, who was not credited in the film. Sacchetti describes the ‘birth of Zombie’ as a ‘strange one’ before talking about the involvement of different producers, the influence of comic books on the movie, adding different genre elements to the picture and how he tried to take the roots of an adventure movie and put it in a horror setting. Briganti discusses how she worked by Sacchetti’s side, noting that he didn’t have the freedom to write the way she felt he should have been able to, and talks about her contributions to the story.

    Up next is World Of The Dead (16:34), a collection of interviews with cinematographer Sergio Salvati and production designer/costume designer Walter Patriarca. As you’d probably guess, this discussion is a bit more technical than the others, as Salvati discusses certain compositions and shots while Patriarca covers his involvement in the film in regards to her work. Salvati reminds us that everything we see in Zombie was done in camera, which makes much of what we see all the more impressive, while Patriarca describes Fulci as demanding but notes that he was open to ideas and suggestions before discussing how you go about getting zombies into the right sort of costumes for a movie like this. Salvati discusses how he lit the zombies to make them look as ugly as possible in the film, the use of shadows in the movie, the importance of focus and out of focus characters in certain shots and more.

    Zombi Italiano (16:37) features yet more interviews, this time with special make-up effects gurus Gianetto De Rossi and Maurizio Trani and special effects artist Gino De Rossi. De Rossi talks about how the film WAS written as a sequel to Dawn of The Dead, Train talks about the difficulties of certain make- up effects and the importance of shooting screen tests and how it can be difficult to make zombies when the people around you are laughing! There’s a lot of great detail here on what went into making the zombies look the way they do in the film and of course, they cover what went into creating some of the film’s more iconic gore scenes, including the Zombie Vs. Shark sequence and the wooden spike through the eyeball scene.For those who want to know more about the film’s iconic score, there’s Notes On A Headstone (7:25), an all-new interview with the film’s composer Fabio Frizzi. Here the composer expresses his admiration for the cast and crew he worked with on this project and what it was like working with Fulci who he describes as ‘unique’ before noting that the director always chose his collaborators with a lot of care. From here he talks about the importance of the music in the film, its role in bringing the movie to its climax, and how it had to compliment what Frizzi describes as the ‘extraordinary locations’ used in the movie. He also notes how the film lets the effects and camera work build suspense and how he feels the score works alongside those aspects of the movie unlike a lot of films that would use stingers and loud musical cues to provide some of the scares.

    Also included on the second disc is All In The Family (6:08), an interview with the late director’s daughter, Antonella Fulci. She talks about how her father loved to shoot in the south and in warm locations and how he’d like to go out and take in local music, but also discusses how he flat out would not accept working with people he considered unprofessional. Some video clips and stills of the director in a more relaxed environment are cut into this segment, which helps paint a picture of Lucio Fulci as a person, rather than simply an iconic director of splatter films.

    Last but not least is Zombie Lover, a segment with filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (9:36) who discusses how he came to love this film and why it holds such a special place in his heart. He notes first and foremost that this discussion includes spoilers and then talks about what a privilege it is for him to be on this release discussing one of his favorite movies of all time. From there he talks about seeing the film at a movie palace in Mexico, and how most of the audience was made up of people drunk or sleeping and how he basically watched it alone, which made the experience all the more deranged and ‘out of the blue.’

    There’s also an amusing bit (4:39) that you’ll find if you dig around where Trani talks about Gay not being able to swim and how Fulci overcame that obstacle during the shoot. Animated menus are included on both discs and of course there is chapter selection included for the feature.

    The limited edition three-disc version also includes Fabio Frizzi’s original motion picture soundtrack on CD as well as a full color insert booklet containing an interesting essay from Thrower that addresses how the movie was received by various film critics of prominence when it debuted theatrically. It’s an interesting and sometimes rather amusing read and a nice addition to the set. The booklet also includes cast and crew credits for the feature as well as info and a track listing for the aforementioned CD soundtrack.

    On top of that, we also get a lenticular slipcover (Blue Underground has given fans a choice of three options featuring iconic scenes from the film – the splinter to the eye scene, the worm face zombie and the Brooklyn Bridge finale) and some great reversible cover sleeve art.

    Zombie – The Final Word:

    Blue Underground’s previous Blu-ray release of Zombie was a good one but this new reissue is the one to beat. It carries over all of the truly awesome and really, really well-made extras features from the last release and throws in a few choice new ones too. The transfer is also vastly improved over what we’ve seen before, presenting the film in immaculate shape. The movie itself remains a milestone in Italian horror cinema, a fiercely entertaining and gore-soaked classic that refuses to stay dead.

    Click on the images below for full sized Zombie screen caps!