Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch
Blue Underground has been one of the longest running, and best boutique movie distributors bringing movies to home video. They don’t get the acclaim of something like am Arrow Video or a Shout! Factory but their presentations outshine anything from Shout! Factory and now they’ve taken a step ahead of Arrow Video too. Blue Underground has simultaneously released two of their most important catalog titles to 4k and they are not playing around. The two films, Maniac and Zombie, were both released on industry leading blu-rays just a few years ago and now we have them on 4k UHD. You can see our Maniac review here.
There are really three films that define the zombie subgenre of horror, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and Lucio Fulci’s Zombie. Zombie was made in an era, the late 70’s, where Italian filmmakers were taking films that made big bucks from the United States and riffing on them. Zombie was originally conceived as a sequel to Dawn of the Dead, which was called Zombie in Italy. So, Zombie, was originally titled Zombi 2. The reality is that the two films couldn’t be further disconnected from each other, well other than zombies. Romero’s films were social commentaries giving him an outlet to rage at society, capitalism, and politics through flesh eating zombies. Romero’s films also featured zombies that were pretty humanoid, with just some color and made blood on their face. When Fulci got ahold of the genre he decomposed the zombie, made it much more grotesque, and “gutted” (yea I did that) the commentary out of the story telling in favor of straight up horror goodness. Fulci’s film leans into the supernatural rather than going for something more man made too.
Zombie follows a group leaving NYC and heading to a mysterious island in search of a missing scientist. As they arrive on the island it quickly becomes overrun by flesh eaters. The film that follows offers two of the most iconic, and still to this day squirm inducing moments in zombie film history. If you haven’t yet seen this film from 1979, now is the time. These practical fx work in a way even the best cgi of today just can’t. I mean, this is absolutely disgusting, and wonderful.
The overdubbing and some of the acting make aspects of the film feel cheesy by today’s standards but more of the film still works than the parts that don’t. It’s scary in a way that most zombie films are not, the fx are effective and groundbreaking, and the bits of humor also still work. Over forty years later horror movies have still not caught up to Zombie, one of the best of the zombie genre.
When the blu-ray was originally released it came from a very beautiful new 4k transfer, which was downscaled to 1080p. Now, we finally get that transfer in full resolution with HDR applied. 4K is at its best when the focus is on trying to make the home video release look filmic, with all the color and resolution that physical film allows. The mistakes of 4k come when a film released is focused solely on making a film look modern. The Terminator 2 4k is a case study in this kind of failure. That movie was shot on film, but in an effort to remove the grain the digital noise reduction is so heavy that skin tones look like wax and colors look more like a videogame than a film. I only mention that to say that Blue Underground has so successfully brought this film back to the way it probably looked when it first hit theaters that on my projector it really feels like watching a film. Since the fx are practical the higher 4k resolution allows for every detail in the makeup and gore to be discernable, making it all the more disturbing. The new color grading offers ore layers of color than we’ve ever seen in this film while keeping the whole experience filmic and not feeling digital. Zombie looks fresher while still being filmic than I’ve ever seen it look, and I’ve seen actual film prints in theaters many times over the years. This 4k is demo worthy and one of the best out there.
The stereo and 5.1 mixes from previous releases are provided here but what was most exciting to review is the brand-new Dolby Atmos mix. This mix shows the limitations of the source, while also giving us the best mix of the film to date. The dialogue still feels separate from the film, and it always will because in this era Italian films were heavily dubbed and the ADR was a bit on the lower budget side. The dialogue is clean and easy to hear but I doubt there’s any way to get beyond the limitations of the source. Now, the score is what fills the speakers and it sounds great. The score here might not be as immediately recognizable to you as say, Halloween or Jaws, when you hear it you’ll understand just how perfect it is. The film overall is spread across the soundstage too, making it feel more immersive than in previous releases. This is the best the film has ever sounded, only held back by the source.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The black case and slipcover design is very similar to that of Maniac leading me to believe that Blue Underground will be doing all of their 4k’s in this black dominate modern design and I’m god with it. A whole bunch of these will look really cool on the shelf together. I do which the inside art offered something different.
There are a few new bonuses made just for this 4k release and all of the previous bonus material is brought along on a bonus 4k. Settle in, there’s a lot to dig through.
On the 4k there’s a new introduction from filmmaker Guillermo del Toro. There’s not much to it but his passion for the film is palpable. There’s a new feature commentary with Troy Hogarth, an author who has written extensively about the film and the director. This commentary offers quite a few really great behind the scenes stories. It’s really good, but I always find myself wanting to hear it from someone really involved with a film. That itch gets scratched by the second commentary with star of the film Ian McCulloch. His stories are funny and informative.
There’s a new interview with another author, Stephen Thrower, who shares a lot about Lucio Fulci’s career as well as the production of Zombie and its importance in the Italian film landscape.
Finally, there’s a lot of promotional material on this disc including a massive still gallery, trailers, TV spots, and even a radio interview.
The blu-ray disc offers more vintage bonus materials. There is not a copy of the movie on this disc. This release is a 4k only. If you need the film in blu-ray format Blue Underground has a fantastic collector’s edition for you. So, this blu-ray offers nearly two hours of interviews and featurettes with the writers, some cast members, one of the producers, the cinematographer, the composer and even Lucio Fulci’s daughter. All of these interviews are broken down into individual segments. Every featurette offers more fantastic information about the film specifically, what it was like to make it, and the director. Sadly, there are no archival interviews with Fulci himself.
Lucio Fulci was challenge to jump on the Romero bandwagon in Italy and he did, but he amped everything up a notch and brought us one of the top three zombie films ever made.