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Zombie ranks up there with other seminal horror movies, in that it earns a new DVD release every few years. Is this one truly the ultimate? We'll have to check back in 2014. For now let's kick back with a new, startlingly fresh and beautiful transfer of the original Italian Gut-Muncher featuring numerous exploding craniums, feasts of intestinal fortitude, (literally) plodding putrescence, ocular endangerment and that scene - an almost backhanded gesture that's actually the greatest few minutes ever committed to celluloid.
Shark versus Zombie; it's director Lucio Fulci's eternal calling card, and a sequence mentioned so often most will read it as a boilerplate description before forgetting it and moving on. To move back a tad, Zombie finds Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson) on the tropical island of Matool, enmeshed in a figurative bridge between the origins of zombies and Romero's flesh-famished metaphors. The good doctor hopes to figure out why voodoo zombies crave human meat, unleashing a torrent of bloody violence and an inferno of death that might ultimately spread across the globe. Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow) and Peter West (Ian McCulloch) journey from New York to Matool to figure out why a gross, fat dead guy ate some of Brooklyn's finest. On the way to the island, they pass near a Shark fighting a Zombie.
Yes, a Shark fighting a Zombie: a scene so enmeshed with popular culture it has even appeared in television commercials, but few probably consider the sheer chutzpa Fulci demonstrated in staging this scene, actually filmed underwater, with an actor in full makeup, engaging in a choreographed fight with an actual shark - not an animal noted for its willingness to be directed either on stage or camera. What's more, this scene runs counter to Fulci's entire horror output, in that it's staged dynamically, with expert pacing and excitement. The zombie's a real grappler, too! Going rotten mano-a-fin with the king of the sea, it appears the zombie might prevail, until Fulci decides to go that extra mile by staging a complicated arm-ripping effects shot involving both players! Lazy modern day directors won't even bother with practical effects anymore - if the shot goes wrong they'd have to reset everything, and they might not even have replacement props to make it work. Instead, they go the CG route. Of course Fulci had no CG to rely on, but even if he did, he wouldn't do it. He'd roll cameras on that fight, he'd rig the effect, and he'd do it underwater, with a man in a zombie costume, and a live shark.
You'll go out now and buy this 2-disc set - even though you already own Zombie on DVD - but you'll just watch the shark fight over and over again, Uncle Kurt demands it. If you do watch the rest, expect lots of screaming, sweating and horror-bloviating from Farrow and McCulloch. Expect Johnson to constantly bemoan his fate. And, expect actress Olga Karlatos to get a 13-inch chunk of wood shoved into her eyeball.
Or enjoy those stiffly plodding zombies, shuffling through eerie, deserted shantytown streets. Their strange beauty will soon give way to throat-ripping rage and gouts of blood. Their remorseless progress will eventually tear through petty, bickering human relationships with all the sentimentality of maggots feasting on a bloated carcass. Fulci has been noted as being extremely passionate while directing his movies, one wonders if his passion wasn't for death.
This newly minted 2K high definition transfer from the uncut 2.35:1 camera negative is a remarkable improvement over previous versions. In addition to a much more crisp and detailed image, you get reinvigorated color timing, adding snap, and squelchier, disgusting vibrancy to all your favorite scenes of carnage. The picture is so cleaned up it's almost too revealing in terms of zombie makeup, but still, this is the best the movie has looked, in probably forever. I noticed no distracting film damage, nor any serious compression or transfer problems to mar your enjoyment.
You can enjoy a 6.1 DTS-ES Audio Track in either English or Italian, or a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX Audio Track, or even a Mono Audio Track. Whichever you choose, expect dubbed dialog (regardless of language) to rob a bit of soul from performances. The audio tracks are free of defect, however, and Fabio Frizzi's disorienting, disturbing score sounds great.
You can't be throwing around the term 'ultimate edition' unless you pack that thing with extras, which Blue Underground indeed does. Disc One ports most of its extras over from the 2002 Anchor Bay DVD release. First up is a Commentary Track with star Ian McCulloch as moderated by Diabolik Magazine Editor Jason J. Slater. The track is a mixed bag, containing plenty of interesting BTS tid-bits, spaces during which the two simply sit back and watch with us, and, and spots where McCulloch's British reserve make for slightly awkward listening. You also get Theatrical Trailers, TV Spots, Radio Spots, (I remember these fondly from when the movie screened here in Portland) a Poster and Still Gallery, and lastly a Guillermo del Toro Introduction to the movie (I guess in case you still need convincing that it's OK to watch - and like - the movie).
Disc Two includes a boatload of extras in the form of numerous interviews with all the major players. Zombie Wasteland: Interviews with Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, and actor/stuntman Ottaviano del Acqua is a 22-minute sequence of interviews and footage from the 2010 Cinema Wasteland convention. I'll be succinct and say this is funny, touching, informative and interesting. Next is ten minutes of Flesh Eaters on Film: Interview with Co-producer Fabrizio De Angelis, and then Deadtime Stories: Interviews with Co-writers Elisa Briganti and (uncredited) Dardano Sacchetti (14 minutes). World of the Dead: Interviews with cinematographer Sergio Salvati and production/costume designer Walter Patriarca runs 16 minutes, while Zombi Italiano: Interviews with special makeup effects artists Gianetto De Rossi and Maurizio Trani, and special effects artist Gino De Rossi gobbles up 17 minutes. Notes on a Headstone: Interview with composer Fabio Frizzi runs seven minutes, All in the Family: Interview with Antonella Fulci runs six minutes, and Zombie Lover: Guillermo del Toro talks about one of his favorite films burns up the last ten minutes. All of these interviews are professionally filmed with stylish, understated staging, most are subtitled, and all are quite interesting for fans of the films: they are full of frank observations as well as fun behind the scenes stuff, and are - to the last minute - worthwhile and compelling.
Zombie is a towering achievement in spaghetti splatter - one of the all-time great living dead movies. The plot, which attempts to marry Romero's flesh-eaters to their voodoo roots, isn't much, but it sets in motion set-piece after set-piece of iconic mayhem, all of which manage to be creepy, audacious, and stomach-churning at the same time. Blue Underground's 2-Disc Ultimate Edition takes a pretty fantastic-looking transfer and tosses on a heap of great interviews with all the major players, for a digital lasagna of delight. (Sorry, it's late, and I'm getting tired.) If you consider yourself a gorehound or serious horror fan, this should be in your collection, so I'm going to go ahead and fling the old DVD Talk Collector Series its way.