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Zombie (AB vs. BU vs. SS)
01-10-2005, 04:23 AM
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Review Date: January 9, 2005
Released by: Anchor Bay, Blue Underground, Shriek Show
Release date: 2/19/2002, 7/27/2004, 7/27/2004
MSRP: $14.98, $19.95, $29.95
Region 0 (Anchor Bay, Blue Underground), Region 1 (Anchor Bay), NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: No (Anchor Bay) | 16x9: Yes (Blue Underground, Shriek Show)
It is a common misconception that George A. Romero gave birth to the zombie genre with Night of the Living Dead back in 1969. In actuality, the living dead genre had been around for several years, ever since movies like White Zombie in 1932 and I Walked with a Zombie in 1944. Romero is, however, responsible for the modern zombie film, and his epic Dawn of the Dead was responsible for making carnivorous zombies a worldwide sensation. Of the many films to follow in its wake was Zombie, Lucio Fulci’s notorious gore extravaganza. Long a cult classic, Fulci’s film has seen its share of home video releases. On DVD, it was originally released by Anchor Bay, and now both Blue Underground and Shriek Show have (on the same day, no less) unearthed their own versions of Zombie. Which version is the one to get, and is the film itself even worth getting at all? Let’s flesh this film and these three discs out.
After a short prologue, Zombie begins on a desolate boat as it rolls into the New York coastline. Almost colliding with several other ships, the boat seems to travel on a path of its own. The coast guard pages it, but nobody answers. The guard climbs aboard the ship only to find it empty. With garbage scattered all over, the ship seems to have been left in a fury. Then all of a sudden, out of the shadows a man rises. With blood on his mouth, and his flesh rotting off his face, he lunges for one of the investigators. He is a zombie, and he craves the taste of human flesh.
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It is discovered shortly after that the abandoned boat belonged to a Dr. Bowles. Bowles had been living on the island of Matoul, experimenting with voodoo before his inexplicable disappearance. Determined to track Bowles’ whereabouts, his young daughter, Anne (Tisa Farrow), and a nosey reporter, Peter West (Ian McCulloch), trek off on a boat to the sacred island. On their way they run into a vacationing couple who practically make an art form out of nude scuba diving. While she nakedly wades through the water, Susan (Auretta Gay) inexplicably runs into the walking dead on the depths of the ocean floor. The zombie bypasses her for a larger meal: a great white shark.
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After Anne and Peter finally arrive on the island, they run into Dr. David Mernard (Richard Johnson), a former colleague of Dr. Bowles’. It is then that Mernard reveals the dark secret behind Bowles’ disappearance, and the startling fact that the dead have risen from their graves. Controlled by the power of voodoo, the dead from the surrounding burial grounds rise for a night of feasting. Eyes are skewered, heads chopped in half, and limbs dismembered as the gang try to fight for their lives amidst a never-ending onslaught of the undead. Only time will tell who gets to walk out of Matoul…alive!
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Although no doubt inspired by the success of Dawn of the Dead (as its namesake implies), Zombie is very much a breaking away from the Romero mold. It features a plot more in tune with the zombie films of the past, yet it is stamped with Fulci’s trademark visceral intensity and assaulting gore. Fulci’s return to the older way of making pictures is reinforced by his opening act. As he juxtaposes shots of an ominous ship from extreme angles, Fulci reminds the viewer of one of the first horror films, Nosferatu. Instead of it being a vampire unleashing the plague upon a gothic city, it is instead a zombie infecting people in modern New York City. Also marking a return to the motivations of the earlier zombie films, like White Zombie and I Walked with a Zombie, Fulci’s zombies are a product of voodoo magic. Rather than being revived by modern western problems like in Romero’s holy trinity of zombie films, Fulci’s undead instead come from eastern occult practice. Fulci’s film is very much in opposition to Romero’s zombie pictures, choosing eastern influence over the west.
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The tension between those two worlds is emphasized by the naming of the main character. Coming from New York (with its symbol of the west, the Statue of Liberty) Peter West enters an eastern world led by older sensibilities and myth. Just as the zombies do battle with West (or the eastern Count Orlock does battle with the western city), Fulci does battle with Romero and his western way of making zombie pictures. Zombie is very much Fulci’s attempt to cultivate his own nook within the Romero-ized undead genre.
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As much as it is a reversal of Romero’s approach to the living dead, Zombie is also Fulci’s blueprint for the artistic flourishes he would use for the rest of his forthcoming zombie pictures. Zombie begins with a segment that is played over again in the middle, which hints at the non-linear storytelling model Fulci would employ in many of his later works. Just as the starting painting in The Beyond ends up also being the final painting, and just as City of the Living Dead is a collage of confusion between past and present, Zombie introduces the surrealist ambiguity that would preoccupy Fulci for much of the ‘80s.
The other Fulci trademark that would be laid out in Zombie would be Fulci’s gory excess. Although he employed gore for many of his gialli in the early-‘70s, never did he use gore as completely and constantly as he does in Zombie. Rather than serve as an aid to the story (as before), the gore in Zombie very much becomes the film’s focus. Fulci would first use the eye gouge here, which is a trademark he would carry into The Beyond and others. But the sheer magnitude of effects shots, with all the exploding heads, brain fragments and bleeding flesh, signaled a shift in focus of his films from plot-driven gialli to gore-driven zombie pictures. The realism of the gore in Zombie is again in contrast to Romero’s Dawn, with all its bright colored blood and shoddily painted zombies. As much as Fulci used Zombie to lay out his ideas for future exploration, he also ushered forth the gore film, where story quickly became secondary to gore, where the end transcended the means.
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While Zombie brought forth a new era in Fulci’s career, it represents only the tip of the undead iceberg he would later explore. Compared to The Beyond’s challenging metaphysics or City of the Living Dead’s surreal imagery, Zombie seems very pedestrian. Fulci’s later zombie pictures would be more stylized and more experimental, and would also reach new heights. But for all its straightforwardness, Zombie still manages to unsettle. Fabio Frizzi’s now legendary theme song is one of the most haunting of all horror films, with its nihilistic chant-like overture. When it plays as zombies rise from their graves, it couples with the image to create a feeling of unavoidable dread that drives the picture to an unforgettable climax.
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The zombies just keep coming in Zombie, and the way Fulci stages their takeover is just fascinating to watch. The most amazing moment in the entire picture is when an underwater zombie takes a bite out of a shark. Not only is it striking in its ability to shock, the scene is also notable for establishing the zombie as the new leader in the food chain. The Great White, long a symbol of strength and human fear, is chewed apart by a zombie, demonstrating how a link in the food chain has been displaced, with the zombies now coming out on top. It is only a matter of time before the zombies take over, with that haunting Frizzi score to lead their way.
For all its simplicity, Zombie nonetheless remains a largely effective undead piece, and certainly one of the genre’s most influential zombie films. It is interesting to note that although it probably never would have been made had it not been for Romero and Dawn of the Dead, Romero’s Day of the Dead probably would not have been made had it not been for Zombie. No doubt influenced by Zombie, Day of the Dead ditched the comic book gore of Dawn in favor of Zombie’s more realistically grotesque undead. It also ditched the Anytown, Pittsburg location in favor of Zombie’s more tropical island setting. The daddy of all gore pictures, Zombie’s graphic assault on the anatomy will forever remain a steeple of the post-mortem genre.
There are many people who say that the Anchor Bay special edition of Zombie has the worst transfer ever captured on DVD, and they would be wrong. There are several cheapo Madacy discs that look much, much worse, but still, those people wouldn’t be all that far from the truth. The Anchor Bay disc looks awful, basically just a no frills transfer of the ages old LD print. But it is in widescreen, 2.35:1, and despite not being anamorphic, still presents the film as it was meant to be seen. The entire film is full of dirt, scratches, and other defects, looks washed out, has overly blue tinting and very poor color saturation. Framing is also an issue, as can be seen in the zombie fire shot, which has far less information on the left side than the other releases. Basically, every fault you could wager at a DVD is present on this Anchor Bay disc, and it is without a doubt worse than the other DVDs, and in many ways even the Laser Disc.
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As far as the Blue Underground and Shriek Show discs are concerned, let it be clarified that it is the exact same source and transfer. Online sites like DVD Beaver have put up images chronicalling a significant difference between the color toning of the two discs, but truth be told, they are the exact same image in every respect. The only difference comes in the way it was encoded, which gives Blue Underground the slightest of edge. While both are 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the Blue Underground disc is encoded in progressive scan, while the Shriek Show disc is not. This is something that is noticeable only on new, higher end televisions and computers, and is not something that would be distinguishable on a standard CRT screen. Still, in that regard, and that regard alone, the Blue Underground disc is the best in terms of video quality, but both the BU and SS discs look fantastic.
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Analyzing the video for both the BU and SS discs, it is clear at how much cleaner, clearer and colorful the print is compared to the Anchor Bay one. Flesh tones look very nice, browned but not too pink, and all those Caribbean greens just jump out of the frame. However, the skies look a little too murky, and the water scenes a little too green. Perhaps a middle point between the overtinting of the AB disc and the undertinting of this new disc could have been struck to better bring out the blues. Contrast is good though, considering the Anchor Bay disc had much too many peaks in the black and white levels. The lessened contrast leads to an eye opening revelation of image detail, especially noticed in the dark interiors throughout the film, like the eye gauging sequence. These new transfers really show just how intricate this film was shot, and it is a wholly new experience for all those used to seeing this film in all its previous release atrocities. Until HD-DVD, there will not be a better looking version of this film.
All three DVD releases of the film feature 5.1 remixes of the film, and it is quite surprising which one comes out on top. Despite all the praise DVD gets, Laser Disc aficionados will assure that LD soundtracks sound fuller and are created generally with more bitrate and care than DVD transfers, and in the case of Zombie, they would be correct. The Anchor Bay DVD, which is just a port from the LD, actually sounds much fuller and far more enveloping than the other mixes. Presented in English Dolby Digital 5.1 (as well as 2.0), the track is surprisingly very aggressive with sounds. Almost every scene makes great use of the rears, with waves crashing, flames burning and cars whizzing by. In the final climactic scene, the directional separation is wholly evident, as Molotov cocktails explode through each discrete speaker. In terms of pure ambience and envelopment, there is no doubt that the AB disc far surpasses the 5.1 mixes on the BU and SS discs, which sadly remain mostly up front and mono.
Dialogue is where these releases get interesting. The Anchor Bay disc is only in English, while the Blue Underground and Shriek Show discs offer both English and the native Italian track. Comparing just the English, the AB dialogue sounds louder and clearer than the muffled BU and SS discs. Since the BU and SS discs are newer and have had more time to be cleaned up, they do sound a bit clearer and less tingy than the AB disc, but overall, the sound of the AB disc still surpasses the BU and SS discs.
The BU and SS discs contain three extra audio tracks however. Like the AB disc, they offer English 5.1 and 2.0, but they also have Italian 5.1, 2.0 and mono, as well as an English mono to boot. Like the video transfers, the audio on both the BU and SS discs are identical. Purists may argue that Italian is the way to see the picture, since that is the original lanauge of all the filmmakers. But in actuality, the film was international in scope, and the two main actors are English speaking. So it ultimately boils down to preference, and thankfully the BU and SS discs offer both options.
When comparing the Italian and English mixes on the BU and SS discs, it is clear that the Italian disc sounds a notch louder and the dialogue sounds much fuller and clearer. The aforementioned English sounds rather muffled, but the Italian registers clearly, although still not as loud as the English on the AB disc. Regardless of the language though, the SS and BU discs keep almost all the information in the front speakers, leaving the backs sadly underused. Channel separation is also virtually non-existent as well. While the sound is undoubtedly clear, it certainly isn’t as satisfying as the AB disc. Although I’d love to say the BU and SS discs sound the best, I am afraid I will have to give the slight edge to Anchor Bay.
http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/zombie/zombieab_menus.jpg (http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/zombie/zombieab_menul.jpg)Here is where the three releases differ most. The Anchor Bay DVD, like the previous Roan Group LD, features a commentary, theatrical trailer and TV and radio spots. The commentary is with Ian McCulloch and Diabolik Magazine editor, Jason J. Slater. McCulloch, given his British background, is understandably dry, but he still remembers a great deal about the film, perhaps even more than anyone else interviewed on these DVDs. He has plenty of anecdotes, such as how he had passport issues because of the illegal filming in New York, how he bargained with Fulci in changing his character from American to British, and how he thought the film would actually be a comedy(!) when he signed up. Slater probes him with some prying questions, and while he doesn’t always get the intended answers, McCulloch is never short on words. It is a great listen, and probably the best supplement across the board on these releases. The disc is rounded off with four amusing radio spots (“ZOMBIE…ZOMBIE…ZOMBIE!”), a great trailer that popularized the infamous “We are going to eat you!” tagline and the complementary barf bag, and two watered down TV spots that cover the same ground as the trailer. Say what you will about the transfer, but the Anchor Bay DVD and Roan Laserdisc feature a nice bit of supplemental content.
http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/zombie/zombiebu_menus.jpg (http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/zombie/zombiebu_menul.jpg)The Blue Underground disc recycles all of the TV and radio spots, as well as the theatrical trailer, which has been anamorphically enhanced. It also includes a new anamorphic international trailer, which should definitely be saved until after a viewing of the film, since it basically gives away the entire story. While the Blue Underground disc did not port over the commentary, it did add a few little features, namely a nice Lucio Fulci bio and a huge still and poster gallery. This movie has had so many campaigns and releases on video and DVD, and it is actually quite fascinating to see all the different angles used in marketing this gore classic.
http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/zombie/zombiebu_menu2s.jpg (http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/zombie/zombiebu_menu2l.jpg)If there is one thing that must be said about the Blue Underground disc, it is that it has one of the best menus in the history of horror on DVD. Choice cuts of the film are displayed on the right, but on the left is the classic US poster image of the rotting zombie, but added are worms which continually fall out of his right eye. It is wonderfully distasteful, just like the film, and really sets the tone for the picture. Those who look hard will also be able to find a hidden trailer menu, with trailers to nine of Fulci’s movies, including Blue Underground’s Contraband and Conquest. It is a nice little egg that wraps up a slim, but satisfying disc.
http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/zombie/zombiess_menus.jpg (http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/zombie/zombiess_menul.jpg)The Shriek Show disc also has a custom trailer menu, but this menu is for various zombie films. The list includes nine trailer, such as the Zombi sequels, Burial Ground and the laugher, Bio-Zombie. Unlike the Blue Underground disc though, the trailers aren’t the draw. A two-disc set, this release has hours of supplements to get through. The first disc has ported the Ian McCulloch commentary from the LD and Anchor Bay discs, and also includes the international trailer from the Blue Underground disc, although it is not in anamorphic like Underground’s. An 11 minute musical montage of posters, stills and images from the film is also included, although it is not quite as comprehensive as the Blue Underground gallery. The last supplement, and a real prize at that, is a short little interview with Captain Haggerty, the boat zombie from the start of the film. He is very well spoken, and remembers some classic anecdotes from the set, like his ribbing of Fulci and going out in public with his makeup on. He remembers the film fondly, exuding a Bill Lustig-like glee towards the film. It runs a welcome 12 minutes.
http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/zombie/zombiess_menu2s.jpg (http://www.horrordvds.com/reviews/n-z/zombie/zombiess_menu2l.jpg)Disc two is where the real meat of the supplements is, with the entourage of zombie trailers, as well as a 98 minute featurette on the history of Fulci’s classic film. Interviews are culled from most of the people who were big behind the scenes – the writers, producer, make-up artist, cinematographer, musician, camera operator, special effects technicians and even the hairstylist. Spaghetti Western veteran director Enzo G. Castellari, actor Al Cliver and most interesting of all, the guy who played the infamous worm-eye zombie also show up, but the majority of this documentary is seen by those who were behind the camera. “Building a Better Zombie” is organized into 10 different chapters, and covers the film from its humble beginnings as a sales pitch to becoming a international phenomenon. There is plenty of time devoted to the effects work, and rightfully so, with specific chapters dedicated to the eye gauging, neck ripping, and shark sequences, as well as one devoted specifically to the zombies. Time is also spent comparing the film to Romero’s Zombi, the perils of filming in New York City, remembering the cast, composing the soundtrack, and of course remembering the legend of Lucio Fulci.
The best parts of the documentary are those that talk about Fulci himself, how he threw tantrums, accidentally crashed a boat, and still emerges as one of the finest of all Italian genre filmmakers. It is also good to hear from Fabio Frizzi, considering his soundtrack is one of the most renowned in the entire genre. Frizzi doesn’t quite get into specifics about his score, and that is generally the fault of the entire documentary in general. The film is 25 years old, and most of the people involved just don’t remember all that much. Writer Dardano Sacchetti, although always interesting, contradicts his historical claims with nearly every sentence, and the cinematographer and camera op have a real tough time piecing together memories. Most of the people just revert to the standard “we had a blast making the film” cliché, which is nice to hear but unfortunately doesn’t quite make for great drama. Still, although not wholly captivating, the documentary is always interesting and something fans will no doubt appreciate.
A short interview with costume designer Walter Patriarca is also included, and is quite embarrassing. Not only does Patriarca sort of ramble in a meld between Italian and English, but he mumbles to a point where it is almost indistinguishable what he is saying. Worse is that he doesn’t really have anything interesting to say, instead trying to laughably tackle the metaphysics of zombie beliefs. Worse yet, the clicking of his pipe and the poor placement of the microphone make for a lot of amateurish noise that really is kind of embarrassing. Thankfully the documentary has slightly better production values, although it too is amateur in a way that documentaries from larger companies like Anchor Bay and Blue Underground are not. Captions in the documentary clumsily alternate between calling the film it’s proper title, Zombi 2 and one by which it has never been known, Zombie 2. The constantly repeating and obtrusive name tags are also a hindrance.
The final supplement on disc two is a real head scratcher. Titled “An Evening With Dakar”, it is a short little clip of the aged black actor from the film performing an acoustic number. He does not speak about the film at all, and there is really no context to him playing. He sings in a foreign language, and no subtitles are provided, unlike the documentary. The lack of subtitles sort of has a mocking aura to it, as if Shriek Show is just sort of mocking what Dakar has become. It is a puzzling inclusion, and I wish Shriek Show would have at least went to the work of translating it, or otherwise just not included it at all.
When one considers the supplements between all the Zombie releases, it is clear that the Shriek Show disc has the most breadth. While not as professionally produced as the Blue Underground disc, the inclusion of the solid commentary from the Anchor Bay disc, as well as the lengthy interviews also makes for fine retrospective viewing. If it is Zombie information you seek, Shriek Show has done the best job of all releases of the film. It still is not perfect however, as many cast members were not included, and many facts were still only faintly remembered. At the very least though, all three DVDs of this film have an adequate array of supplements that pay respect to this great film.
Well, Zombie has had quite the checkered history on DVD, and sad to say, no release comes out as definitive. In terms of presentation Blue Underground emerges slightly ahead of Shriek Show, with progressive scan support and some stellar menus. Sound is interesting, in that the Anchor Bay disc has a much fuller and engulfing surround sound than all the other discs. Blue Underground and Shriek Show offer the original Italian audio however, which may entice some. As far as extras go, the Shriek Show disc clearly wins out, although it isn’t a total bull’s-eye. Still, all three releases present a satisfying bunch of extras.
Zombie is a classic, and one of the major precursors for the direction both zombie films and the career of the great Lucio Fulci would go. While on the whole the Shriek Show disc is probably the best, fans wanting the best may just have to spring for all three discs. For a film this iconic though, the gory bite out of your wallet may not sting all that much.
Movie - A-
Image Quality - D
Sound - A-
Supplements - B
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B
Supplements - B-
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B
Supplements - A-
Running time - 1 hour 32 minutes
1 Disc (Anchor Bay, Blue Underground), 2 Discs (Shriek Show)
English Dolby Digital 5.1 (Anchor Bay, Blue Underground, Shriek Show)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (Blue Underground, Shriek Show)
English Dolby Surround 2.0 (Anchor Bay, Blue Underground, Shriek Show)
Italian Dolby Surround 2.0 (Blue Underground, Shriek Show)
English Mono (Blue Underground, Shriek Show)
Italian Mono (Blue Underground, Shriek Show)
English subtitles (Blue Underground, Shriek Show)
Audio Commentary with Ian McCulloch and Diabolik Magazine editor Jason J. Slater
Lucio Fulci trailers
Lucio Fulci bio
Still and poster gallery
Audio Commentary with Ian McCulloch and Diabolik Magazine editor Jason J. Slater
"Building a Better Zombie" documentary
"An Evening With Dakar" featurette
Interview with costume designer Walter Patriarca
Interview with actor Captain Haggerty
Zombie movie trailers
Still and poster montage
Fold out mini-poster
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01-10-2005, 09:39 PM
I didn't understand it well about the original language thing.
Was this movie recorded ORIGINALLY in italian or english ?
When someone says "original italian" track/audio/etc. it could mean for some people that the disc includes the original italian dub and not exactly that is was recorded in italian.
:confused: :confused: :confused: :confused: :confused:
01-10-2005, 11:21 PM
As far as I understand it, most European films are done without sound, and it is just dubbed in later in order to save money and appeal to an international base. Considering most of the cast and crew are Italian, I would just assume that it was conceived in the Italian language. But at the same time, I highly doubt Tisa Farrow or Ian McCulloch can speak any Italian at all. I write "original Italian" because I just assume that it was the main language used throughout the production.
01-11-2005, 06:48 AM
I would spring the $$ for the Shriek Show version in this case.
01-11-2005, 06:23 PM
Thanks for the comparison & review. I think I will stick w/ my Anchor bay version. :)
01-12-2005, 08:08 AM
Thanks for clarifying the difference in the BU and the SS transfers. I have the SS DVD and I'm more than satisfied with it. Plus, I like the fact that it uses the original title, Zombi 2. ;)
01-12-2005, 08:35 PM
Great review, rhett, but how in the hell the extras from the BU release (a few trailers + a stills gallery) manages to get B- ? :D
Usually, trailers are the bare minimum of a release, so I would probably award more like a C+ or so, but then again I'm not the one making the review... ;)
Anyway, this only shows how great the dvd format is to the horror genre, when films we grew up watching on bad bootleg tapes, most of the times cut or p&s, now have this kind of treatment.
Another great release by SS (so far the releases I have from them are all great; but then again, I avoided the ones that I knew that had problems... :p).
01-13-2005, 06:46 PM
Funk, I felt the BU release deserved a B- because of how comprehensive the still galleries and trailer assortments were, but also for the inclusion of the lengthy Fulci bio. Too often companies skim on text-only supplements, but in many ways they can be the most rewarding. The essay on the Criterion ROBOCOP disc is still one of the longest and most informative supplements I've ever viewed. As far as learning about Fulci himself, the BU bio does a better job than even the SS documentary. Hope that clears it up.
01-15-2005, 01:43 AM
I recall Kit Gavin (I think) on another messageboard saying that Dakar didn't remember anything about the movie. He truly had nothing to say about Zombie and decided to sing a song instead. So he's on the dvd singing; at least it gives folks a chance to see what he looks like and how he's doing these days.
03-20-2005, 07:36 AM
Dakar actually died not too long ago. But it was a weird supplement. Overall, I think the SS release rips the Anchor Bay to shreds on transfer alone. I thought the documentary was quite comprehensive on SS, but does anyone else feel like it was kind disjointed in a way? I don't plan on buying the BU. It seems like they put it out "just because they could," i.e. they had the rights.
12-20-2005, 12:56 AM
As far as BU and SS/MB claims that the new versions of Zombi 2 are fully uncut goes, this is somewhat untrue. Both versions are missing a bit of footage in one scene. It is the scene where the land rover arrives at the hospital after Dr. Menard has picked up the passengers from the boat. Lucas comes out and says Doctor something happened to Mr. Fritz. There is actually a bit of footage missing which results in Dr. Menard saying Lucas' line of dialogue.
11-25-2008, 02:11 AM
I agree with rhett, sometimes text stuff can be better than the doucmentaries or featurettes. As for me i love the history of the Saltair and the text interviews that were included on the CRITERION Carnival of Souls DVD.
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