ZOMBIE (1979) 3-DISC LIMITED EDITION: Blink, Dammit!
Starring Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver, Auretta Gay, Olga Karlatos. Directed by Lucio Fulci. (1979/91 min).
I remember when Zombie oozed into our local suburban tri-plex for a few weeks back in 1979. Armed with an ingeniously simple tagline –– “We are going to eat you!” –– along with a "warning" about its extreme violence, the film's ad campaign felt more like a dare than an invitation. Since Dawn of the Dead thrilled and horrified us just a few months earlier, my friends and I were certainly up for another gory go 'round. Challenge accepted!
And indeed, Zombie's Italian brand of graphic gut-munching was, at times, even more extreme than anything George A. Romero threw at us, with gratuitous boobage and a killer shark thrown in for good measure. Zombie wasn't better or anything, but was certainly ballsy.
The film's most notorious scene, in which a large splinter punctures the eye of a female victim, has gone down in cult movie lore as one of the most spectacularly nauseating, butt-puckering scenes in horror history. Zombie is filled with such moments... skulls spilled open, tracheas ripped out, worms writhing in eye sockets, entrails devoured... all in loving, lingering close-up. And every time, the entire theater reacted just as expected: gasps, screams and assorted omigods. I was suitably impressed, too, until nagging logistical questions swam to the surface:
Hey, how come she never blinks?
In fact, why didn't she just bat the splinter out of her way with one of her two free hands?
Who the hell lets an eight inch stick puncture her eye and impale her brain?
And speaking of logic, why does another woman simply stare in dumbstruck fear while a zombie takes its sweet time rising from the grave before ripping her throat out?
In fact, why the hell doesn't everyone simply run away?
There's a goddamn boat on the island and these ghouls make Romero's zombies look like Jesse Owens!
But you know what? Logic may been lacking, the story forgettable, the performances uniformly bland and the pacing schizophrenic, but over the decades, I have never forgotten its dread-inducing atmosphere, hideously-impressive make-up effects and director Lucio Fulci gleeful willingness to go too far. When it comes to horror, isn't being memorable more important than challenging the intellect?
The greatest thing about this grotesquely gorgeous 3-disc set from Blue Underground is that it fully embraces Zombie for what it is... an narratively erratic movie full of unforgettable moments. In addition to a truly phenomenal 4K transfer –– the film looks and sounds brand new –– the plethora of bonus features definitely puts its legacy in honest perspective. No one involved make any claims of greatness or originality. Some even concede that Zombie is sometimes clunky and highly derivative. Fulci himself is also discussed by various cast and crew, and not always positively; it's clearly obvious actor Richard Johnson had no love for the director or the movie. The myriad tales of the film's production are collectively fascinating and well worth checking out.
Most of the extras are carried over from Blue Underground's previous 2011 release, but a new interview with Fulci biographer Stephen Thrower is a fantastic look back at the director's career and Zombie's influence on Italian horror. Thrower also contributes an entertaining essay that looks back at the film's initial release. In addition to vintage trailers and galleries, a CD of Fabio Frizzi's original soundtrack is included (heard out of context, it doesn't sound nearly as foreboding). In the end, I ended up with a much greater appreciation for the film than I had when picking it apart at the tri-plex all those years ago.
Director Lucio Fulci was never a great storyteller, maybe not even all that great of a director. But he was audacious as hell and had an indisputable knack for creating malevolently memorable moments horror lovers still talk about years after his death. As such, Zombie is Fulci at his most brash and brutal. Relatively speaking, it's also his most narrative coherent horror film. It's admittedly well-made and delivers exactly what it promises, gleefully pushing the audience tolerance envelope for on-screen violence. In the process, despite beginning life as a Dawn of the Dead knock-off, Zombie became a cult classic in its own right. Logic be damned.
It goes without saying that this new limited edition Blu-ray is a must-own for any fan of the film, even if they already own a previous release. With a great restoration, creative packaging and a slew of new & vintage extras, this is as definitive as they come.