ZEDER (1983) Blu-ray
Director: Pupi Avati
Code Red Releasing

Code Red channels "voices from beyond" with their Blu-ray release of Pupi Avati's creepy masterpiece ZEDER.

When Alessandra (Anne Canovas, VINCENT & THEO) surprises her husband Stefano (Gabriele Lavia, DEEP RED) with a used electric typewriter for their anniversary, the young writer looks for inspiration on the torn ribbon of the cartridge. Transcribing the contents reveals a scientific report about K-Zones, which he learns from his old professor Chesi (John Stacy, WILD BEASTS) was a theory proposed years ago by an alchemist named Paolo Zeder about the chemical properties of areas used by oracles in antiquity to contact the dead – places that exist in a stasis of time, season, and change – and that the other portion of the ribbon is a letter in which the writer plans to donate his body in an experiment to overcome death. He leans on cop buddy Guido (Alex Partexano) to find out who pawned the typewriter which leads him to priest Don Luigi Costa who expresses outrage at the idea that he would write such blasphemous material. Stefano is discouraged until he tries to see Costa again and learns from Don Mario (Aldo Sassi) that Costa left the church ten years before. Traveling to the home of Costa's blind sister in Rimini, he learns that Costa died a month before and that his body is not in the local cemetery as she would believe but in Spina, a town with a sprawling Roman necropolis and a closed down summer camp where the locals believe a dog buried on the site was responsible for several mauling deaths. What Stefano and Alessandra do not know is that a French team lead by Professor Meyer (Cesare Barbetti, CINEMA PARADISO) and Gabriella Goodman (Paola Tanziani) – a woman who lost a leg as a child to an inhabitant of another K-zone in a 1956 prologue set in Chartres, France – are conducting an experiment in reanimating the dead on the site and their moneyed sponsors are determined to eliminate anyone who stumbles upon it.

Released theatrically in the United States by Motion Picture Marketing as REVENGE OF THE DEAD with a very misleading poster, ZEDER (or VOICES FROM BEYOND) is not a zombie gorefest but a slow-burn chiller as much in the style of director Pupi Avati's horror masterpiece THE HOUSE WITH THE WINDOWS THAT LAUGH as Nigel Kneale's methodical science fiction thrillers like the QUATERMASS telefilms and THE STONE TAPE. Some unsettling sound design and the bombastic strings and synth score of Riz Ortolani (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) contrast with the atmosphere of decay – personified by old houses, cemeteries, underground crypts, ancient ruins, and the striking Colonia Varese summer camp. However suspenseful and understated in its buildup, the film does have some clunkier aspects like some details blatantly emphasized to the point where you know that they will turn up later, extraneous characters like Chesi's nymphomaniac student mistress who exist to get killed after advancing the plot in an unlikely fashion, and some frights that seem out of place with the logic of the story. The non-actor who plays Costa makes for a genuinely frightening apparition but morose Lavia is hard to root for, and the shock ending may not have the same effect on viewers who have seen or read PET SEMATERY, although ZEDER was produced before the book was published. While some of Avati's earlier films have had fanciful aspects, he has rarely returned to the horror genre since ZEDER apart from the thriller CHILDHOOD FRIEND, the period American-lensed thriller THE ROOM NEXT DOOR (produced by Avati and directed by KILLING BIRDS' Fabrizio Laurenti), and most recently THE HIDEOUT, all of which are undistributed in the United States.

ZEDER came to VHS under its American title first from Lightning Video and then from sell-through label Creature Features in a shorter version. Image's 1999 Euroshock Collection DVD was officially licensed but utilized a poor-looking fullscreen transfer (and an unauthorized DVD from Cydonia replicated the Creature Features version). In 2002, Fox released restored versions of both ZEDER and LAUGHING WINDOWS (the former from a French Gaumont source) but this then-definitive transfer was only available as Italian or German imports (the former with the English dub and English subtitles for the Italian track). Code Red's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray opens up with the vintage Gaumont logo and is appreciably sharper than the DVD transfer but ever so slightly cropped from 1.85:1 to 1.78:1. Whites are bright and blacks are deeper while reds really pop when there is blood onscreen. English and Italian DTS-HD Maser Audio 2.0 mono tracks are appropriately forceful during the musical passages and dialogue cleanly rendered. The release is not without flaws, and they may be a bigger deal for some than others. The English subtitles are yellow and appear on black strips, and also have SDH designations for music and effects; therefore they may be better enjoyed as SDH subtitles accompanying the English track rather than a dubtitle translation of the Italian audio. On both tracks, whoever synchronized the audio elected to recycle the opening credits rendition of the Ortolani's theme for the closing credits but started all the way back at the Gaumont logo which is heard over the start of the final shot. It is annoying for those familiar with the film but may be actually have gone unnoticed by newbies had they not already heard the cue under the Gaumont logo at the start and could identify it as such rather than as the start of the title theme.

Code Red has produced anew interview with director Avati (31:28) in which he reveals that the film was inspired by his switch from a mechanical Olivetti typewriter to an electric typewriter given to him by composer Amedeo Tomassi (HOUSE WITH THE LAUGHIING WINDOWS). He turned over the idea of invading the privacy of a previous owner of a second hand item as the starting point for various genres but had decided to get back to his "dark side" after a string of comedies and dramas. He combined the idea with his fascination with alchemist Fulcanelli (whose book "Mystery of the Cathedrals" also inspired Michele Soavi in THE CHURCH) and his childhood trauma of "seeing Death" at the Colonia Varese, as well as contextualizing his two horror films in the genre of the "Padan Gothic" (referring to the Emilia-Romagna setting). He also discusses working with screenwriting collaborators (he mainly works by himself now) and the importance of locations as representative of the tone of the film, noting that the "illogical" expanse and construction of the Colonia Varese is representative of both the horror genre as well as his own filmography. A rather boastful Lavia appears in an interview (6:13) conducted by filmmaker Ovidio G. Assonitis (who directed Lavia in BEYOND THE DOOR) who has little memory of the film but notes that it was a turning point in Avati's career from more poetic films to more mainstream works. The theatrical trailer (0:35) is for the US release REVENGE OF THE DEAD and features no footage or audio from the film (the Italian DVD featured a more conventional trailer with the typical Italian solarizing optical effects). (Eric Cotenas)