Starring: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson
Though Lucio Fulci’s Italian horror classic Zombie Flesh Eaters, aka Zombie (1979), has received several special edition releases over the years, beginning with the Anchor Bay 2-disc DVD Anniversary edition and, more recently, Blue Underground’s superb Blu-ray edition, it seems the film has received its best release to date with U.K. label Arrow Video’s special edition Blu-ray version. Fulci’s gory video nasty looks absolutely beautiful, allowing all its eye-ball ripping, flesh tearing, maggot squirming glory to shine through with all its dripping, uncut detail intact.
An abandoned boat drifts into the New York harbor and is investigated by a pair of cops, who are attacked by a zombie on board. Anne (Tisa Farrow), whose father owned the boat, travels to an island called Matoul to follow her father’s final footsteps and try learn what happened to him. A reporter, Peter (Ian McCulloch), has been assigned the story and journeys to the island with Anne, hoping to learn the truth. They team up with a vacationing couple (Al Cliver and Auretta Gay) on a boat and meet the mysterious Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson). Soon after, an undead plague is set loose upon the island.
Known affectionately as the Godfather of Gore, Zombie is probably Fulci’s most famous and accessible film. Its fame is due in part to Italian producers jumping on the band wagon of George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, released in Italy as Zombi. The script, initially penned by prolific horror screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti (Bay of Blood, The Beyond, Demons), was re-written by his wife, Elisa Briganti, and the title was changed to Zombi 2 to cash in on Romero’s success. Zombie is Fulci’s most accessible film because although it tells a straightforward story and includes his trademark gore and suspense, it lacks the stubborn surrealism of his later works like City of the Living Dead, The Black Cat and The Beyond.
Zombie is also one of Fulci’s goriest films, and what it may lack in character development or a complex plot is made up for with scene after scene of iconic violence. The oozing zombies are horrifying due to their obvious level of decomposition, making Romero’s undead shufflers seem cartoonish by comparison. Moments like the telltale sequence of ocular trauma and the zombie vs. shark fight scene are some of the most beloved in Fulci’s career as a director. Zombie was shot at the height of his career and includes participation from some of his most effective collaborators, such as cinematography from Sergio Salvati and one of composer Fabio Frizzi’s most memorable scores.
As with every Fulci film, there are some flaws, but these are easily forgettable. Despite Zombie’s tension and sense of mounting nihilism, some of the pacing is off, leaving dissatisfying sections in the second act. There are not a lot of terribly strong performances here, but McCulloch and Johnson ably carry the film. The lovely Tisa Farrow – obviously less comfortable in front of the camera than her more famous sister Mia – looks convincingly bewildered and uncomfortable for nearly all her screen time. The beautiful Olga Karlatos is particularly memorable for her part in the signature scene of the film, which demonstrates Fulci’s skillful use of environment, as well as his talent for manipulating the audience’s sense of dread.
Both Arrow and its most direct competition -- Blue Underground’s Blu-ray release -- provide different, new 2K scans of the film from the original negative and both are very impressive. Arrow’s version was overseen by James White, and looks like a completely different film than the VHS version I saw growing up. A lot of the dirt and scratches have been cleaned up, damaged frames were repaired and colors pop. This is surely the finest looking print of Zombie currently available, even blowing the Blue Underground release out of the water. Despite the fact that I have seen this film roughly 30 times over the years – as many Italian horror fans probably also have – an amazing amount of background detail is clear for the first time on this new 1080p transfer with a 2.35:1 presentation and MPEG-4 AVC encoding. Arrow also kindly provides the option to choose between U.S., U.K., or Italian opening and closing sequences.
The Dolby Digital English and Italian 2.0 audio tracks have been almost equally restored, providing clear, distortion free dialogue and sound effects. There are a few slight sync issues due to the overdubbing common for films of this period, but that’s unlikely to distract any seasoned Italian horror fans. There are optional English subtitles for both the English and Italian versions of the film, and the Italian subtitles are newly translated. The iconic score from Fabio Frizzi sounds absolutely fantastic, probably better than I have ever heard it.
Another thing that sets the Arrow Blu-ray apart are the sheer amount of new special features. There are two great commentary tracks, the first from screenwriter Elisa Briganti and the second from Fulci biographer and film writer Stephen Thrower and horror expert Alan Jones. This second commentary alone makes this release worthwhile, in my opinion. For those unfamiliar with Thrower, he wrote the best book on Fulci available in English (or probably any language), Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci, which comes highly recommended.
There are a large number of featurettes, beginning with star Ian McCulloch’s exclusive introduction to the film. In Aliens, Cannibals and Zombies: A Trilogy of Italian Terror, McCulloch reflects on Zombie Flesh Eaters, as well as Contamination and Zombi Holocaust. A number of horror notables are interviewed about Fulci and Italian horror in From Romero to Rome: The Rise and Fall of the Italian Film, such as Dardano Sacchetti, one of the most important screenwriters in Italian horror cinema, writer and critic Kim Newman, directors Luigi Cozzi and Ruggero Deodato, and many more.
The Meat Munching Movies of Gino de Rossi examines the work of special effects artist de Rossi, and Music for a Flesh-Feast presents an interview with composer and regular Fulci collaborator Fabio Frizzi. Dardano Sacchetti discusses his original script for Zombie in Zombie Flesh Eaters – From Script to Screen. Also included are trailers and TV spots. There is a lovely collector’s booklet with artwork from Graham Humphreys, essays from Stephen Thrower and Craig Lapper, an interview with Olga Karlatos, a Fulci CV from Jay Slater, and excerpts from Sacchetti’s original script.
The Arrow Blu-ray really is the best available release of Zombie Flesh Eaters to date. This iconic horror film, probably the most important zombie movie after Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, looks as perfect as it is likely to get. For those who already own one (or more) editions of the film on DVD, this Arrow disc is still worth it, for its impressive transfer and a litany of special features. For U.S. viewers, keep in mind that this is a region B Blu-ray, so you will need a multi-region or region B player to watch this edition. Also keep your eyes peeled for the alternate versions of this release, available in either a steel-book case with exclusive artwork and a limited edition poster, or a regular Blu-ray without the poster.