Italian splatter maestro Lucio Fulci began his worldwide reputation as the Spaghetti-land version of Herschell Gordon Lewis with ZOMBIE, released in its Italian homeland as ZOMBI 2 (an unofficial sequel to George Romero's quintessential zombie masterpiece DAWN OF THE DEAD, whose Italian title was ZOMBI). By 1979, the temperamental Fulci had dabbled in every genre imaginable: comedy, western, giallo, adventure, historical drama. Many of his admirers believe his best films were produced before his zombie fetish flicks, with the thrillers DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING, A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN, and ONE ON TOP OF THE OTHER justifiably championed as his shining moments in the horror genre. But like it or not, it was ZOMBIE which put his name on the map and opened the floodgates for countless zombie rip-offs, cash-ins, and sequels, many of which Fulci himself conceived!
New York, the Big Apple: an abandoned schooner drifts into the Hudson Bay and is boarded by two concerned Coast Guard officers. To their surprise, there is one occupant of the vessel: a bald rotund rotting corpse, who rips out the throat of one of the men and is sent pummeling into the river by the other's pistol blasts. The boat is registered to the father of plucky heroine Tisa Farrow, who hasn't heard from him in three months. Together with ballsy reporter Ian McCulloch, the investigative pair hires odd couple Al Cliver and Auretta Gay to take them to the island of Matoul, where her father worked with grizzled doctor Richard Johnson. It seems that Johnson's scientific experiments combined with native voodoo have resulted in the dead rising from their graves and walking the island, seeking to devour any human flesh which crosses their path!
I've never been a particularly big supporter of ZOMBIE simply because in my eyes, it has never lived up to its horrific reputation. It is burdened by a slow pace, unlikable characters, bland performances (save Olga Karlatos, who really pulls out all the stops here), and a by-the-books screenplay which holds no surprises, but yet somehow the film has received heaps of praise by critics and audiences over the years, some of whom shout that it's Fulci's only watchable film (any follower of his will beg to differ)! Miraculously, those who witnessed this film through various horrendous home video versions (from Wizard Video's disgusting fullscreen abomination to Anchor Bay's murky letterboxed DVD) will be blown away and most probably won over by Shriek Show's disc. Fulci's films are quite gorgeous visual experiences, especially when working with two of his favorite crew members: cinematographer Sergio Salvati and editor Vincenzo Tomassi, both of whom worked on ZOMBIE. Setpieces such as the stalking of Olga Karlatos through her jungle bungalow, the shark-vs-zombie underwater battle, a crazy native woman seeing a vision of her son's bloody corpse walking the abandoned streets of the island, the tension-filled rising of the Conquistadors, and the showstopping fiery finale need to be seen in crystal clarity and superb audio and visual quality to be appreciated. SS's correctly letterboxed transfer (which offers more information on the sides than any other video version, and is practically identical to that of Blue Underground's disc) is culled from the original camera negative and will leave newcomers and veteran ZOMBIE lovers alike with their jaws on the floor. The levels of detail, sharpness, and color are astounding, making this the end-all, meet-all of Fulci DVD transfers (move over, HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, you've got company)! To compliment the scrumptious transfer, SS has also included 5 (!) audio options: English 5.1, English 2.0, English Mono, Italian 5.1, Italian 2.0, and Italian Mono. YOWSA! All the Italian options have English subtitles as well, making this the first U.S. home video version with the original Italian track!
The real reason to pick up Shriek Show's package over Blue Underground's is the incredible wealth of extras. Disc 1 kicks off with the Ian McCulloch commentary transported from the Anchor Bay disc. Moderated by Jay Slater, whose reputation as a journalist has taken a nosedive since the commentary was recorded, McCulloch gives a few cool anecdotes about shooting on-location in New York City, working with Fulci, Tisa Farrow, and other cast members, and also discusses his other Italian horrors (ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST, CONTAMINATION), so I'm glad the commentary has been included so the AB disc can be ditched from every collector's shelf, but it won't invite a revisit anytime soon. Still, a nice addition. Continuing on disc 1, an interview with the boat zombie, the massive Captain Haggerty, is surprising! It lasts longer than his screentime in the film (!), and he reveals information about a scene he shot which has since disappeared (the zombie emerges from the river on the shores of New York, which has shown up in promotional still form), tells how he got started as a dog trainer, tales of his make-up and walking the streets of the city in full zombie regalia, and the fast work ethic of the Italian crews. A jam-packed gallery includes most of the familiar images (including almost everything from the Blue Underground gallery), with on-set photos, promotional stills, glamour shots of Auretta Gay (!), lobby cards, and international posters. Capping off the first disc is the international trailer for ZOMBI 2, in such a fuzzy condition it's a great comparison to the feature film's quality presentation.
Disc 2 is where all the real meat lies. First up is a lengthy interview with Walter Patriarca, the costume designer, which is unfortunately hard to understand for two reasons: 1) Patriarca has a pipe in his mouth most of the time and 2) his Italian accent is quite thick. From what I can understand, he recalls how Fulci kept insisting he make the zombies look dirty and covered with filth, but the rest isn't quite clear. It would have been helpful to include English subtitles for this interview, but it still has some interesting anecdotes. Making up most of the second disc is a feature-length documentary entitled BUILDING A BETTER ZOMBIE, split into chapters discussing all aspects of production. Interviewed are writer Dardano Sacchetti and his wife, co-writer Elsa Briganti (very quiet), producer Fabrizio de Angelis, director Enzo Castellari (who turned the project down, but suggested Lucio Fulci), cinematographer Sergio Salvati (this man is a genius!), camera operator Franco Bruni, special effects supervisor Giannetto de Rossi, hairstylist Mirella Sforza (de Rossi's wife), make-up artists Maurizio Trani and Rosario Prestopino, composer Fabio Frizzi, special effects artist Gino de Rossi (often confused with Giannetto, but who did the fire and stuntwork for this film), jovial actor Ottaviano Dell'acqua (familiar from ZOMBIE 3, but who played the infamous worm-faced zombie for Fulci first!), and briefly, co-star Al Cliver, whose input is the most amusing in the entire piece! Sacchetti is the best storyteller, explaining how writing exploitation worked in Italian cinema in the 1970s, with posters and concepts being sold to distributors and moneymen before a script was even written, which would explain the unevenness in some of his films, revealing the genesis of the film stemmed from an Old West comic book story (!), and giving background on Fulci's split-personality and working with the infamous madman. Also enjoyable are the anecdotes and stories told by Salvati and Bruno, interviewed together and wittily playing off each other; de Rossi and Sforza, also interviewed together, revealing for the first time what they used to create the look of the zombies and laughing at how Olga Karlatos went hysterical after shooting the "eye" scene; Prestopino, who puts into perspective just what a hellish experience the film could be on the actors; Dell'acqua, who has a real bouncy personality, tells that all four of the Dell'Acqua brothers worked on ZOMBI 2, and caps off the documentary beautifully; and Maurizio Trani, who was so terse and rude in his interview on the BURIAL GROUND disc, is very happy to discuss this film, relating hilarious stories of the hurried "eye" scene, Fulci's on-set shenanigans (including a crazed scene with a drowning Auretta Gay, unconscious Al Cliver, and rescuer Ian McCulloch), and Richard Johnson's first scene on the set. Clips are also shown from DEMONIA and A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN (both also Media Blasters acquisitions). Interviewers Kit Gavin and Mike Baronas did a superb job tracking all these people down, and Shriek Show should be commended for creating a documentary which covers every aspect of the film you could ever wish to know! The only caveat is near the end, the doc goes off-track and throws in random interview clips which seem to have been forgotten to be included in their respective sections (casting, make-up, etc.). And unfortunately, Shriek Show did not jump at the chance to have Gavin and Baronas interview Tisa Farrow, Richard Johnson, Olga Karlatos, and (at length) Al Cliver, as all four were more than willing to participate; perhaps they will be included with the subsequent Blue Underground special edition, rumored to be released after SS' license for ZOMBI 2 runs out.
As if the full-length documentary wasn't enough, you get "An Evening with Dakar", starring the large black actor who played 'Lucas' in ZOMBI 2 and also returned with co-star Ian McCulloch in ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST. Unfortunately, when interviewed, he remembered nothing about Fulci or the films, but took time to perform a number of songs on acoustic guitar. He still has that distinctive look about him, even with a wool cap and white beard, and it's still cool to see him included on the disc. Finishing off this mammoth collector's set is a trailer reel of the collection of zombie films released on DVD from Media Blasters. The Asian zombie flick BIO ZOMBIE, Joe D'Amato's porno-horror EROTIC NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD, the ill-conceived but funny as hell ZOMBIE 3, the goofy Mom-and-Pop video favorite BURIAL GROUND, the Pittsburgh-lensed FLESH EATER (directed by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD zombie Bill Hinzman, who also stars), the moist oh-so-80s ZOMBIE 4: AFTER DEATH, Shriek Show's in-house film FLESH FOR THE BEAST, the stupendously entertaining ZOMBIE HOLOCAUST (mixing zombies and cannibals with outrageous results!), and the Joe D'Amato timewaster ZOMBIE 5: KILLING BIRDS are all represented here.
Shriek Show, while you've delivered a slew of discs with flaws aplenty, this time you've done something right. Continue this trend and your reputation will continue to get better! Now I can hardly wait for the deluxe special edition of A LIZARD IN A WOMAN'S SKIN! (Casey Scott)
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