Judge Mike Rubino wrote this review without a permit.
Our review of Zombie, published August 12th, 2004, is also available.
"We are going to eat you!"
I love Italian filmmakers: they pour unbridled, anarchic artistry into even the schlockiest of cinema. The only thing that even comes close to rivaling their craftsmanship is their blatant disregard for permit laws and intellectual property. This European cocktail of overdubbed English, neon red blood, obtuse camera angles, and shady business practices has yielded classics like A Fistful of Dollars, Inglorious Bastards, and (of course) Zombie.
Facts of the Case
New York City is gripped by a zombie outbreak, after police discover what they think is an abandoned boat floating in the harbor. This is somehow tied in with Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow, sister of Mia), whose missing father/scientist was the owner of that very schooner.
Anne, along with reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch), travel back to her father's last known whereabouts: the cursed Caribbean island of Matul. Waiting for them is Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson), a scientist trying to thwart a disease that's turning everyone on the island, living and dead, into zombies.
It may have been released as an exploitative, unofficial sequel to Dawn of the Dead, but Zombie stands on its own as an influential, and awesome alternative to the Romero timeline. It has that same Italian energy and artistry that powered the films of Argento and Leone, and an air of recklessness unseen even in modern horror films. It also has a zombie fighting a shark, so…do I even need to write more?
I do. Because Zombie should be in every horror fan's collection, and this Blu-ray release is now the definitive edition.
Lucio Fulci, a well-regarded giallo (Italian thriller) director, took on this project with a limited budget, no filming permits, and a plot straight out of a 1950's B-movie, infusing it with craftsmanship and creativity. Because the film's dialogue is generally awful, Fulci and with cinematographer Sergio Salvati (The Beyond) use old-fashioned visual storytelling and montage to create suspense. The infamous scene where Olga Karlatos gets her eye gouged out by a splintered door frame is the most disturbing sequence in the film, but it's also one of the best examples of Fulci's knack for what could essentially be silent filmmaking.
Zombie would actually work better as a silent film, driven only by the excellent Goblin-esque soundtrack by Giorgio Tucci and Fabio Frizzi. The story doesn't make a lot of sense—a boat with a zombie arrives in NYC—but the film quickly shifts to a girl's quest to find out what happened to her father on an island in the Caribbean. Long stretches go by without any trace of zombies or rising action. We see Anne and Peter (her inexplicably British New York City reporter friend) catch a plane to Florida, meet up with a scientist and his girlfriend, and set sail for Matul Island. Somewhere in there, they witness a zombie fighting a shark. Then they get to the island and drive around in a Land Rover. It's the zombie attacks—which occur at perfectly timed intervals—that save the film, since there's no real social commentary or characters worth caring about. There's not even a very epic sense of scale (unless you count the weird ending shot of zombies marching across the Brooklyn Bridge during the city's morning commute). But, man, that zombie action sure is great.
Once Zombie's plot breaks open and said zombies start running amok, our ever-dwindling group of protagonists aren't given a chance to breathe let alone think. They don't bicker or mourn their fallen friends (I don't think the characters are deep enough for any of that); instead, they just start firing guns with infinite ammo and tossing an endless stream of Molotov cocktails. The action sequences are filmed with lightning-fast efficiency and work exceedingly well. However, the most disturbing stuff comes from the tense, plodding zombie attacks, which are as ghastly and disgusting as you would expect.
Zombie's zombies are slow, shambling ghouls of the Romero variety, but there's also a little bit of Caribbean voodoo influence as well. Their faces are caked with dirt and clay. The prosthetics are a mix of weird, clumpy skin and live insects. The blood looks like bright, red Tempera paint. Zombie is populated with gruesome, third-world walkers that are earthy and old—not fresh consumers like in Dawn of the Dead. There's a consistency in their appearance that gives the movie legitimacy. For a film made on the cheap, the make-up and effects are top-notch, and they hold up in high definition.
Blue Underground has done an excellent job of preserving and restoring the film so that fans can appreciate zombie-guts in HD. Considering how the film was made, the remastered 2.35:1/1080p print is outstanding. The studio went back to the original negative, cleaning it up with the help of the film's cinematographer. The colors are vibrant and the grain and contrast are fairly consistent throughout. A few scenes, like the aforementioned Brooklyn Bridge shot, are a little rough and hazy, but it's apparent that a lot of care was given to this transfer. The sound, in DTS-HD 7.1 and Dolby 5.1 EX, is equally impressive. Sure the English dubbing is distracting and hilarious at times, but the score and the sound effects are balanced effectively through all of the channels. Zombie (Blu-ray) Ultimate Edition is an example of how a good cult flick can be preserved and elevated with a little bit of TLC.
The first disc in this uncut special edition comes with an introduction by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) and a commentary by actor Ian McCulloch and Diabolik Magazine editor Jason J. Slater. The second disc is filled with hours of interviews featuring just about anyone they could find that was involved with the film. While some of them are in Italian with subtitles, all of the interviews share the same aesthetic and HD treatment.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
It's easy to explain how Zombie's visual aesthetic, special effects, score, and zombie-action make it a must see for horror fans. But I should reiterate that as an actual film with a story, it's not going to win any awards. The plot kind of drags until halfway thru the second act (really, that shark attack is clutch), and the acting is pure cheese. But really, is any of that going to stop you from enjoying this? Probably not.
George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead may still be the smartest, best zombie film ever made, but Zombie (or "Zombi 2," "Woodoo," "Zombie Flesh Eaters," whatever you want to call it) is getting this stellar Blu-ray release for a reason. It's an influential, anarchic addition to a genre that seems to be constantly on the verge of parodic self-implosion and pop culture stardom.
Any fan of horror or Shark Week should be all over this.
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