It's called a number of names across the world; some fun, some serious. It's main title ties in to a film from another country, so as to bank off its success. It's been banned outright and received heavy censorship, creating a number of alternate cuts. It spawned a number of sequels, and has inspired a number of pop culture references, including some credit as the inspiration for the new video game Dead Island. It's considered a pivotal work in director Lucio Fulci's filmography, and a staple in the zombie horror sub-genre.
It's hard to not consider a film like 'Zombie' (aka 'Zombi 2,' aka 'Zombie Flesh Eaters,' aka 'Woodoo,' aka a handful of other names) a classic. Sure, it capitalized on the success of George Romero's 'Dawn of the Dead' (aka 'Zombi'), with the opening and closing made to tie-in to the film. So what if it may be a slight knock-off? Considering how severely Romero would destroy his own series in later years, it's nice to have a film that can be considered a supplement to his original works, with fun practical makeup effects, lots of gushing blood, a sinister atmosphere, and a general sense of dread free from silly subplots and theories. Even funnier still, this is as "basic" as films in the genre come, with its scenario and number of familiar scenes, yet it's as out there as any Fulci film, including one of the most utterly insane zombie confrontations in film history.
Before Romero wanted to go to the secluded off shore in 'Day of the Dead' (a theme he wouldn't do until 'Survival of the Dead,' his latest), the undead populated a small land mass in the Virgin Islands, Matool. After an abandoned yacht is discovered in the New York Harbor, and a flesh eater attacks and kills a cop, Anne (Tisa Farrow), the daughter of the boat's owner decides to hunt her father down, especially after discovering a note from him stating he contracted a strange disease. Alongside a reporter (Ian McCulloch) and eventually a couple on vacation (Pier Luigi Conti and Auretta Gay), Anne investigates the strange island, believed to be cursed, where the dead don't stay dead. Along with the resident doctor (Richard Johnson), the strangers soon find themselves under attack by a horde of the living dead, including the reanimated corpses of conquistadors from hundreds of years before. Now, rather than seeking out the truth, Anne will fight to survive the deadly island and its nasty secret.
'Zombie' isn't the best zombie film out there. It has its issues, with pace early, with some silly acting and flaws in logic, but it makes up for its shortcomings with its mixture of familiarity and sheer unpredictability. The zombies in this film look absolutely great, especially compared to the blue tinted nasties in Romero's features, with caked on decay making for a real creepy vibe. Of course, the dirt, blood, and more than likely shit covered clothing most certainly helps, while the worms crawling out of their bodies makes for an instant win, in terms of shock value. Their bites are amazingly deep, which is a little offputting, but the gushes of blood and chunks of missing flesh really do work wonders, their effects work really selling each and every moment. There's no need for rules, no survivors calling out to "aim for the head," as the shock of trying to survive is all we see, their actions as primal as they come.
Unlike Romero's films, there really isn't a major undercurrent to this story, as one has to really read into things past the point of probability to get a second meaning out of the story. This isn't a statement on consumerism, or racism, or even inter-personal relationships. This is about blood, guts, and gore, and as such, we're treated to a number of memorable sequences, both of zombies killing humans and vice-versa. Being that this is a Fulci film, the trademark eyeball gag is there, and it's an uncomfortable masterpiece, a lingering slow descent into pain that we all can imagine, the effects work really selling the sheer horror of it. But there's more, as the chunks that fly out of body bags that are shot in the head to prevent resurrections are pretty damn icky, even for someone who revels in gore as much as I do.
There's also plenty of exploitation in the film, enough to keep viewers on the edge of their seat. First, nudity, and more than enough of it. Second, nude struggles against zombies, hard to miss with that. Third, zombies fighting sharks. I repeat, fucking zombies battling fucking sharks. It's...it's wonderful. With the undead not needing oxygen, seeing a random zombie that got in the water (or originally died there), decomposing, trying to kill anything in its path for lunch, it's really sinister. You believe it. You know it's unnatural, seeing a human wearing diving gear, battling some decaying lurch that isn't breathing, and it's genuinely scary. When said creature then turns its attention to an unlucky shark, what happens is among the most awesome pairings in film history.
'Zombie' is a proper mix of sex appeal, violence, and dread. It's a slow burning, sinister little film that pulls you in to the story, making you forget the prologue, as the events on the island are beyond tense. The mythology, the culture, it's nice, considering how stupid some of the explanations for the rise of the dead have been in other films. The finale is one of the best "last stands," aside from the cop out molotov cocktails that intentionally are far away due to the lack of viable stunt work, as there's a gathering army of the dead outside, plenty of windows to cover, a door that's doomed to give, and some recently deceased inside that haven't been properly disposed of to prevent reanimation. It's a real nail biter if ever there were one. Zombie films don't have to be art, but they have to be interesting, and there's not much not to like about 'Zombie.' Complain about the opening act, but it does set the entire film in motion, slow as it may be. Another fine piece of violent cinema from Fulci, that definitely has to be seen to be believed.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Arrow Video brings 'Zombie Flesh Eaters' to Blu-ray in three buying options, one of which includes a steelbook case. For this review, we look at the two-disc limited edition slipbox set with a poster inside. The first disc is a Region B locked, BD50 on a flipper while the second is a Region Free, BD50 with special features sitting comfortably on the opposing panel. At startup, the main disc goes straight to the main menu with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
The package includes a 40-page booklet with color photos, posters, a Fulci filmography and a few pages from the original 'Nightmare Island' screenplay. There is also a new interview with star Olga Karlatos talking extensively about her experience on the production and working with the director. Best of all is a brief, controversial history of the movie and the BBFC by Senior Examiner Craig Lapper and an insightful essay by Stephen Thrower titled "The Joys of Repulsion, or Anthropophagy in the UK."
Lucio Fulci's zombie classic saunters to Blu-ray with a fantastic 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, showing a slight improvement over Blue Underground's 2011 release. According to the accompanying booklet, this high-def transfer was exclusively restored by Arrow Video using the original 2-perf Techniscope 35mm negative and scanned at 2K resolution.
The results are actually a revelation considering the film's age, showing very few scratches or areas of significant damage. The 2.35:1 image still possesses some instances of dirt, negligible noise and a bit of softness, but it's all mostly related to the original photography and the condition of the source. The infamous zombie versus shark sequence looks terrific and has never looked better. Wrinkles and pores are plainly visible on the living, and we can unmistakably see the tiniest detail in the make-up of the walking dead. Fine lines in the surrounding foliage and the architecture of the rundown village are distinct while dirt, grime and individual hairs are crystal-clear.
The video comes with excellent contrast levels and brilliant whites, providing outstanding visibility and clarity into the far distance of the island. Primaries are richly saturated with blood reds that leap off the screen, and secondary hues are warm and full-bodied. Blacks are accurate with several good moments of sumptuousness, and shadow details are plainly discernible throughout. Film grain is very thin but always present, giving the presentation a nice cinematic appeal and making this a fabulous Blu-ray release of a beloved genre favorite.
Arrow also provides two listening options for fans to enjoy and delight in the zombie mayhem. Both the Italian and English PCM mono soundtracks were remastered from the original elements according to the booklet, and whichever if you prefer, they sound equally wonderful.
Ignoring the obvious ADR issues, which frankly are unavoidable with such productions, dialogue is well-prioritized and coherent in the center of the screen. The rest of the soundstage actually comes with a surprisingly wide imaging with lots of good activity. Off-screen effects, like birds chirping in the distance or wind blowing through the trees, are discrete and amusingly convincing. Dynamics and acoustics are detailed with plenty of audible range while low bass is appropriate and hearty for a film of this vintage. The delightfully unique and memorable synthesizer music is grand and exhibits an excellent sense of presence.
A few years after Romero's seminal 'Night of the Living Dead,' Lucio Fulci plunged the world into another zombie apocalypse in the horror cult classic 'Zombie Flesh Eaters' (aka 'Zombie,' aka 'Zombi 2,' aka 'Zombie Island.') It's a delightfully entertaining gore-fest of mayhem on an island where an unidentified disease brings people back from the dead. The two-disc Blu-ray from Arrow Video features fantastic video and excellent audio. Best of all is a bevy of insightful bonus material that will keep fans occupied for hours, making the overall package highly recommended.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.