Zombie Flesh Eaters (UK Blu-ray)
Directed by Lucio Fulci
Distributed by Arrow Video
A derelict boat floats ominously in the New York harbour, coming close to crashing into the Staten Island Ferry. Sent to check it out, a couple of city cops find the sole inhabitant to be a rotting, corpulent zombie that takes a bite out of the throat of one of them, before falling overboard when the other unloads a few rounds into its chest. And so begins Lucio Fulci's classic gut-muncher Zombie Flesh Eaters
Sent to investigate the incident, reporter Peter West (McCulloch) teams up with plucky Anne Bowles (Farrow), whose father owned the derelict vessel, as they set off to its point of origin -- the island of Matool. There they find a population increasingly ravaged by a blight of the living dead, while the despondent Dr. Menard (Johnson) works tirelessly to find a cure for the plague. Unfortunately for them all, the rise of the flesh eaters appears to be due to Voodoo magic and completely beyond the realms of science.
From here, there isn't really a whole lot going on in Fulci's film in terms of narrative. Our protagonists encounter a few of the walking dead when checking up on Dr. Menard's ill-fated wife, crash their vehicle and are eventually forced to make a stand at the good doctor's makeshift hospital when the zombies arrive en masse. Sometimes simplicity is the best approach -- and where Fulci's film knocks it out of the park is not in the storyline, but the presentation. The locations look fabulous, especially so in this particular high-def presentation, while the zombies look similarly excellent -- filthy, rotten things that growl and shamble at a snail's pace, predominantly closed-eyed and somnambulistic, and the results of their attacks are truly stomach-churning.
Way back in 1979, Fulci nearly blew the lid off of the expectations of cinematic gore with this film -- most famously with the notorious splinter eye impalement that to this day remains a tense, daring and flinch-inducing sequence. That's not to mention the kind of sequences that were simply unheard of in the genre: Where else are you going to see a zombie fighting a shark underwater?
The backbone of what makes Zombie Flesh Eaters an indisputable genre classic, however, is Fabio Frizzi's unforgettable, pulsing score -- its effectiveness brought to startling life during the climactic slow-burn sequence of zombies rising from the grave and shambling towards our heroes' makeshift fortress. No other film has, in one sequence, presented such a bone-chilling representation of the rise of the dead as this, and the symbiosis of music, imagery and pace is a treasure to behold every single time.
Sure, most of the characters act like total idiots - standing in place and screaming theatrically while the slowest zombies one could possibly imagine approach them rather than, say, running away or seeking a weapon, and the dialogue is functional at best, but this goofiness feels somewhat inherent in the Italian horror of the time, bleeding right into the hilariously overblown voiceover that tops off the sucker punch ending. Still, this is one of Fulci's most conventional, coherent narratives and thus a steady, focused tale for what it is. Zombie fans should hold it dear in their hearts -- Zombi 2, Zombie, Zombie Flesh Eaters, call it what you will, brings the walking dead to skin-crawling life in spectacular fashion and still sits in the revered position as one of the greatest zombie films ever made.
It's good to see that the folks at Arrow Video also recognised the classic status of Zombie Flesh Eaters and thus put in a staggering amount of effort with this new release. The specially remastered video presentation is, quite frankly, mind-blowing. Limitations of the older source are apparent through the occasional bit of softness, but for the most part the image is remarkably clear and regularly displays an excellent amount of texturing. The film has never looked this good and is unlikely to look any better in future. The soundtrack is similarly impressive -- free of hiss or any kind of interference, Frizzi's score is free to chill in all its unbridled glory.
On the special features front... well... where the hell do we start? Star Ian McCulloch drops in for a UK-exclusive introduction to the film, and viewers also have the choice of which original title and credit sequence they would like to see (Zombi 2, Zombie or Zombie Flesh Eaters). A beautiful bevy of lengthy featurettes by Arrow regulars High Rising Productions kicks off with Aliens, Cannibals and Zombies: A Trilogy of Italian Terror. This lengthy interview with star McCulloch sees him go through his memories of working on Italian horror and sci-fi in the form of Zombie Flesh Eaters, Contamination and Zombie Holocaust. While he never seems particularly enamoured with any of his Italian genre appearances, McCulloch comes across as a genuine, frank and honest gentleman, with many an interesting or fun story to tell.
Next up, From Romero to Rome: The Rise and Fall of the Italian Zombie Film is essential viewing for any zombie fan. Featuring interviews with the likes of Luigi Cozzi, Kim Newman, Dardano Sacchetti, Antonio Tentori and Ruggero Deodato, this is an in-depth exploration of the Italian zombie explosion in the wake of Romero's success that's packed near bursting. Excellent stuff. This leads us to The Meat Munching Movies of Gino de Rossi, which sees High Rising's Calum Waddell and Nick Frame head to the workshop of effects guru Gino de Rossi for a discussion of his work on many of the most infamous Italian nasties. This, again, is a very fun and interesting talk with a hugely talented but down to earth individual -- and watching him demonstrate the breast-hooks from Cannibal Ferox with a confused, non-Italian speaking Waddell is worth the time alone.
Zombie Flesh Eaters - From Script to Screen has writer Dardano Sacchetti display a few pages of an early version of the screenplay (entitled Island of the Living Dead) but feels rather aimless and superfluous. A digital copy of the screenplay itself would have been much more worthwhile for fans and collectors, but obviously that's a rather difficult request! On a similar note is Music for a Flesh Feast, which features a recording of composer Fabio Frizzi answering audience questions after a screening of the film at the Glasgow Film Theatre in August 2012. This is relatively lengthy and offers up a decent amount of insight, but the quality of the recording leaves much to be desired, resulting in a frustrating watch.
Original TV spots and trailers leave the final on-disc features being two full feature commentaries -- one with screenwriter Elisa Briganti moderated by Calum Waddell, which plays as an enthusiastic and highly enjoyable extended interview, and the other with Fulci biographer Stephen Thrower and horror expert/Frightfest co-founder Alan Jones. This is one for the Italian film buffs, absolutely, as Thrower demonstrates his excellent knowledge of the field throughout.
Physically, inside the box are a collector's booklet featuring new writing on the film by Stephen Thrower, a new interview with Olga Karlatos by Calum Waddell, a history of the BBFC's reaction to Zombie Flesh Eaters by Craig Lapper (one of the board's senior examiners), excerpts from the original 1978 screenpla, and a Lucio Fulci CV compiled by Jay Slater.
All considered, there are a few words that can be used to describe this release: Essential. Unmissable. Astounding. Superlative. Simply put, any fan of Zombie Flesh Eaters, or zombie films in general, needs this in their life. Thank you, Arrow Video. Thank you very much indeed.
• Audio commentary with screenwriter Elisa Briganti, moderated by Calum Waddell
• Audio commentary with Fulci biographer Stephen Thrower and horror expert Alan Jones
• UK exclusive introduction to the film from Ian McCulloch
• Aliens, Cannibals and Zombies: A Trilogy of Italian Terror
• From Romero to Rome: The Rise and Fall of the Italian Zombie Film
• The Meat Munching Movies of Gino de Rossi
• Zombie Flesh Eaters - From Script to Screen
• Music for a Flesh Feast
• Trailers and TV Spots
• Collector's Booklet
4 1/2 out of 5
5 out of 5