In our last installment of the Blu Review we covered a film directed by the great William Lustig: Maniac Cop. This time around we are delighted to tear into one of our all time favorite horror films released on Blu-ray by the company William Lustig founded to give horrorphiles like us the precise degree of frenzied glee that I am currently experiencing. Today, we look at Blue Underground’s release of Lucio Fulci’s immortal, no pun intended, Zombie. We’ll break everything down of course, but in case you happen to have a boat to catch or are otherwise pressed for time, we’ll summarize by asserting that you need to shamble your way to your local media store and buy a copy right this zombin’ second.
Nuts & Bolts
At the risk of sounding lavishly hyperbolic, this is one of the best Blu-ray transfers of any film of any genre that I have ever seen. The crispness of the images, the clarity of every detail, and the richness of the colors is absolutely jaw-dropping. I actually had the chance to speak with Blue Underground founder William Lustig at this year’s Fantastic Fest and he mentioned that they actually crafted the transfer from the original prints of the film and collaborated with Zombie‘s original cinematographer to make sure that everything was perfect. Their efforts most certainly paid off. There are shots in this film that are so pristine as to completely belie the film’s age. The ocean has never looked so blue, the maggots dropping from the creeping undead so alive, and the manufactured viscera so clearly stunning.
There are few barely-visible artifacts on the film during the landmark zombie v. shark battle, but only for the briefest of moments. For most of it, one could swear this seminal throwdown was filmed yesterday. It really does help to highlight the artistry and technical proficiency of that scene. The same can be said of the to-this-day unsettling shard of wood v. eyeball conflict. Seeing every tiny splinter protruding from that shard actually added to the slow suspense of watching her being dragged eyeball-first toward it. If there was ever a more optimal way to experience this film, it hasn’t been available in 32 years.
Perhaps equally impressive here is the sound quality of the Zombie Blu-ray. The whole thing has been, as you should expect by now, completely remastered in both 7.1 dts HD and 5.1 Dolby Surround. But that’s only on the English side! As this is an Italian film that was completely dubbed, Blue Underground has gone to the trouble of digitally remastering the Italian audio track as well! So even in the off chance that, like me, you sometimes like to put this movie on as ambiance for a party in its original Italian, you can now do that in Dolby Surround! The thing that elates me so much about the audio treatment here is that Fabio Frizzi’s haunting, synth-tastic score has never sounded so full and rich.
Bells & Whistles
There are more special features across the two discs of this release than you could destroy even if you landed a blow to the head every time. Let me break it down disc by disc
As soon as the Blue Underground logo floats away, just after you hit play on the fantastic interactive menu screen, you have the option of viewing an intro by none other than Guillermo del Toro. He doesn’t have anything particularly Earth-shattering or prophetic to say about the film, but it is nice that he took the time to dish out some love for this classic.
International and U.S. Trailers–The best part about having both of these trailers is that the international version is in standard definition while the American trailer is in HD. This allows for an easy side-by-side comparison of the image quality and further visual testament to the Blu-ray’s breathtaking transfer. I also love that the American trailer gives us a glimpse at the theatrical gimmick utilized at the time of its release. Theaters across the country actually gave out “barf bags” to patrons, anticipating that the cavalcade of gore would send their lunches rapidly returning to their mouths.
Radio Spots–The older a given film is, the more interesting these tend to be. Not an essential feature in my opinion, but fun nevertheless.
Poster and Still Gallery–Much like the gallery on the Maniac Cop Blu-ray, the slideshow of marketing material on Zombie is accompanied by eerie music selections from the film itself. But unlike Maniac Cop, the Zombie gallery offers subclassifications for posters, lobby cards, color/b&w stills, U.S/German press books, soundtrack, home video releases (woohoo VHS covers!), and behind the scenes photos with different songs playing throughout.
Commentary–There is one commentary on the main disc featuring Zombie star Ian MccCulloch and Diabolik Magazine editor Jason J. Slater. It’s a bit dry, sounding more like a film-length interview than a commentary, but there are some interesting tidbits to be mined from it.
SUPPLEMENTARY DISC (All these features are Presented in HD)
“Zombie Wasteland”–This feature offers interviews with cast members Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver and Ottaviano Dell’Acqua conducted during the Zombie 30th anniversary reunion at Cinema Wasteland in Ohio in April 2010. This features really does highlight the enduring quality of the film and the longevity of its fanbase.
“Flesh Eaters on Film”–An interview with co-producer Fabrizio De Angelis. Not a great deal of new information here, especially when stacked against the other features, but some great graphics and behind-the-scenes pics. I did learn that the film’s memorable final shot, on the Brooklyn Bridge was stolen; that is, filmed without any permits.
“Deadtime Stories”–Interviews with Zombie writers Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti. I was particularly excited for this feature as Sacchetti has written some of my absolute favorite Italian genre films; Demons, 1990: Bronx Warriors, and Fulci’s The Beyond just to name a few. I had no idea that at one time, Enzo Castellari, another man responsible for some of my favorite Italian flicks, was offered the job but wanted too much money. If you’ve seen his film After the Fall of New York, you know why that statement is fraught with hilarious irony.
“World of the Dead”–Interviews with cinematographer Sergio Salvati and production/costume designer Walter Patriarca. Not too much here, but there are some cool shots of sets being built and we learn that all the film’s opening shots (of the boat adrift in the harbor) were also stolen. I was hoping for Salvati to talk a bit about the Blu-ray transfer and that process.
“Zombi Italiano”–Interviews with makeup effects artists Gianetto De Rossi, Maurizio Trani, and special effects artist Gino De Rossi. Some fun graphics here again, and phenomenal insights into the film’s two most monumental scenes: the eye gouge and zombie/shark fight.
“Notes On a Headstone”–Interview with composer Fabio Frizzi. The music in this film is so crucial to its success. Frizzi is clearly enthusiastic about being involved in Zombie, but says surprisingly little about his score in this brief interview.
“All In The Family”–Interview with Antonella Fulci, daughter of the man himself. With almost every other interviewee in every other feature offering at least a fleeting insight into Fulci as an artist, and as a man, Antonella doesn’t provide much unique perspective.
“Zombie Lover”–Interview with Guillermo del Toro. This is where Guillermo gets deeper into the meat of why he loves Zombie so much. I think it’s very sweet of him to offer a Spoiler Alert warning that no one who hasn’t seen the film should be watching his featurette. He draws a parallel between the opening of Zombie and Nosferatu, which I’ve always appreciated as well. It is a truly beautiful tribute to the film and to the magic of cinema itself.
Odds & Ends
Makeup effects artist Gianetto De Rossi claims that Zombie was written as a sequel to Dawn of the Dead. I had always understood that the reason for Zombie‘s occasional release under the title Zombie 2 was that it was slapped with that label after-the-fact to be sold as a sequel to Dawn of the Dead (which was called Zombie in Italy). I had always heard it was a marketing ploy and not the filmmakers’ original objective. Interesting…if true.
The Long & The Short
The amazing thing about this release is that it polishes the film to the point that blurs the line between b-movie aesthetics and legitimate quality. This is going to allow new generations of horror fans, as they discover this film for the first time, to appreciate the stunning cinematography, the epic storytelling, and the haunting themes as well as the gore and the exploitation trappings. I cannot urge you more strongly to purchase Blue Underground’s Zombie Blu-ray.