Wednesday, November 16, 2011

ZOMBIE (Blu-ray)

George Romero's 1978 undead epic, DAWN OF THE DEAD, was a huge hit in Italy, where it was presented by co-producer Dario Argento under the title ZOMBI. It was so successful, in fact, that a group of enterprising filmmakers immediately produced their own, unofficial "sequel," directed by Lucio Fulci, and released under the title ZOMBI 2. This same movie was then exported to America, where it was known - and still is - by the title ZOMBIE. Now, the exploitation experts at Blue Underground have brought the film to high definition home video with a stunning new Blu-ray release.

A small schooner sails into New York harbor, seemingly abandoned. When the Harbor patrol investigates, one of the officers is attacked by a blood-drenched, cannibalistic corpse - a flesh-eating zombie. The corpulent creature is shot by the officer's terrified partner and falls into the bay. The police determine that the boat is owned by a scientist named Bowles, and contact his daughter Anne (Mia Farrow's sister, Tisa, of ANTHROPHAGUS). All she knows his that her father was on holiday in the Caribbean, and she hasn't heard from him in some time. Accompanied by a tabloid reporter named Peter West (British actor Ian McCulloch, CONTAMINATION), she heads for the islands to find out what happened to her father. Hitching a ride with a couple of American vacationers with a boat, they follow the trail to Matoul Island, where they discover a haggard Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson, DEADLIER THAN THE MALE, THE HAUNTING), who is attempting to deal with a plague of reanimated, flesh-hungry corpses....

Famous for its shocking gore, apocalyptic tone, and its legendary underwater "zombie vs. shark" scene, Fulci's ZOMBIE has acquired a certain cult status among horror film fans. Although a bit slow-moving in the beginning and middle, it is an effectively unnerving film, with a lot of creepy atmosphere and some genuinely audacious zombie violence in the final act. The acting is mostly good, although some performances are undercut by some dodgy dubbing. Richard Johnson stands out, though, as the doctor trying to find a "cure" for the bizarre phenomenon as everyone around him succumbs.

The make-up and gore effects are primitive, but surprisingly effective, with a couple of definite show-stoppers - moments that were so shocking to the sensibilities of the late 70s, that ZOMBIE was labeled a "video nasty" by UK censors in the 1980s, and for many years was only available there in drastically edited versions.

ZOMBIE has had a long history on home video, usually in poor-quality, edited forms. Blue Underground's new uncut Blu-ray version is, by far, the best I've ever seen it look, with a bright, 2K HD transfer in 1080p 2.35:1 widescreen ratio, sourced from the original camera negative. Colors are stable and bright - but not over saturated, there are no obtrusive scratches, specks or other damage, and every gory second of Fulci's flick is intact. The transfer is so good, in fact, that if it wasn't for the 70s haircuts and clothing (and lack of annoying CGI), you'd think it was shot within the last couple years.

Disc one of the two-disc Blu-ray special edition includes the feature film, with a commentary track by actor Ian McCullough and Diabolik magazine editor Jason Slater, a video introduction by filmmaker - and ZOMBIE fan - Guillermo Del Toro, a couple of trailers, TV spots, and an exhaustive still gallery. Disc 2 - also a HD Blu-ray - contains eight featurettes, spotlighting various contributors to the film. One covers a reunion of the primary cast at a U.S. horror convention, while the rest consist of interviews with the film's writers, producer, cinematographer, production designer, make-up artists, etc. Finally, there's a 10-minute celebration of ZOMBIE by Del Toro.

Blue Underground's two-disc edition should satisfy fans of the movie and fans of Euro-horror in general. Media Blasters has their own edition of the film available, under the ZOMBI 2 title. I haven't seen that version, and I know it has different supplemental material, but I can't imagine it looks any better than BU's Blu-ray. Highly recommended.

BUYZombie (2-Disc Ultimate Edition) [Blu-ray]