With the opening line, “The boat can leave now, tell the crew.” We are launched into Fulci’s Zombie. With the new release of Zombie imminent, it seemed like a good time to go back to the Anchor Bay release and to do a critical review. Unless I hear something is seriously wrong with the new two-disc release, I’m going to be getting it. I knew the AB release left a little to be desired, but I was not completely sure what – so today I loaded it up and spent 91 minutes on this classic film. As we know from the deterioration of Fulci’s films towards the end of his career, Zombie is not merely a Fulci film, but a happy coincidence of timing, fortuitous meetings, and a great team of writers (Elisa Briganti, Dardano Sacchetti), producers (Fabrizio De Angelis, Ugo Tucci, Gianfranco Couyoumdjian), cinematographer (Sergio Salvati), and editing (Vincenzo Tomassi). These people came together to film a rip-off of the theme of a successful US movie (as was typical at the time), but somehow managed to equal it. Zombie is, for many, the highlight of Fulci’s career. It forms the starting point for many of his classic titles. It is usually placed alongside House By the Cemetery, The Beyond and City of the Living Dead. Actually though, the film Fulci made right after this one was Contraband, then City of the Living Dead followed by Black Cat. The catalogue of Anchor Bay can sometimes trick us into thinking Fulci made a long list of classic gorehound flicks, one after the other. Story: The story ought to be well known, but just to recap in a few brief sentences, what we have here is a story of man-eating dead people. The story starts on the island of Matul, where we see what appears to be a dead person rising from the dead. A doctor, (who we don’t meet until later in the film) shoots this poor fellow in the head, uttering the opening line. The story then switches to New York, where a boat floats into the harbor. Investigating harbor patrol officers are attacked by a zombie (the only “living” thing on board). The zombie is then shot, and falls into the water. It turns out the boat is owned by a scientist. An investigative reporter and the daughter of the boat owner decide to track down her father, by going to visit the island of Matul (his last known location). What they find on the island is horrific. Walking dead, desperate doctors, and mysterious purveyors of voodoo (whom you never actually get to see.) As the Zombies take over, we see plenty of trademark Fulci gore, and some pretty tense moments. Will they survive? Can they rid the island of Zombies? And what of the zombie in New York? Opinion: Like all good films, Zombie benefits from multiple viewings. The first few times around it is hard not to be distracted by the scenes of gore. They’re very well done, and hell, that’s why we watch these films – right? If you watch the film “between the lines” as it were, then you can get a whole different enjoyment from it. Not to paint this one up to be some Hollywood perfected masterpiece, but there is some genuinely brilliant movie making at work here. Zombie can play tricks with your mind. Most people seem to remember the opening scenes on the boat, as though it were the start of the film. Of course, the opening scene actually takes place on Matul, not on the boat. In that opening scene, we have Fulci giving us hints as to what he really wants to do – give us gore! After the head shot we have a zoom into the wound, Fulci was marking his territory. Zombie is also aided by a quite bizarre soundtrack. The THUMP THUMP THUMP of the title tune (which comes back for the climatic scenes) are just classic. Along with this though, we are presented with a most annoying Caribbean tune that you just can’t stop humming and running through your head. It’s a pretty little number that sticks with you beyond the film itself. The boat sequence really does contain some classic moments. For once, Fulci takes his time to set the scene. He spends a lot of time showing the boat, with the sails flapping, cans rolling about the deck, the wheel spinning wildly. We are led to believe the boat is abandoned, empty (of course, we know better!) Once the coast guard is on board, Fulci still rushes nothing. Searching below decks we have worms on a piano, and a dismembered hand – before the climatic zombie attack and the ripping of the jugular. All this with the twin towers in the background, the statue of Liberty floating by. Fulci is going to devastate New York, even if he is not going to show it. The boat scene also has two bits of cinematography worth noting. The first is the great scene when the zombie comes up on deck. It is shot with the sun right behind the head, obscuring the features. Then, as he is pushed off the deck into the water, the camera pans to show the New York skyline for the last time. This plot device won’t be revealed until the very final frames (with rolling credits). What of other scenes in the film? There are actually many great moments that set this film aside from the rest of the imitators out there. Take the splinter in the eye segment. Earlier in the film we see the woman arguing with her husband. He slaps her and leaves the room, slamming the door with the wooden slats behind him (the very slats that will kill her later). As the door slams the camera pans around to show her on the bed, and then it zooms into her eyes, giving us a clue as to what will happen. Where else can we see a Zombie fight a Shark? When will we ever see something like it again? It is utterly ludicrous, but somehow when you watch it, it’s believable and exciting. Sure the shark looks to be drugged – but it’s a strange twist of fate to see a “human” attack a shark. A truly surreal moment. More great cinematography is on display during the splinter scene. Early in that scene the woman is struggling to close the door as the zombie pushes from the other side. This struggle is shown by way of a shadow on the wall – with the screen split between dark and light – with the light gradually taking over as the door opens. It’s a fine touch. There are other set pieces that get little credit. For instance, scenes of the doctor on matul, standing in the middle of a ward, surrounded by bodies wrapped in white sheets with bullet holes in their heads. The doctor is holding a gun at his side, as the camera pans upward. In any other film, he’d be a mass murderer, here, he’s a kind of hero. Coupled with scenes of lone zombies walking down deserted streets, or hordes of them slumping through palm tree’s, and you have a unique visual splendor we never got in a Romero film. The Anchor Bay Disc I have tried to be as fair as I could in this section. I have never been disappointed watching the AB disc before. So I will start by saying that for $10, I’m not sure how you can wrong with this release. When the new release hits, no-one is going to give a damn about this AB title – the new will win out. However, for the budget conscious, and very likely for the collector, this version will have earned its place in their collection. Overall, this disc is definitely adequate. However, I do have to admit, the picture is far from perfect. I sometimes think we expect too much from this cheapo films that have not been preserved correctly, but when it comes to AB’s Zombie, I think they could have done better. It might help to give an example. At the 39 minute mark (or thereabouts, I’m watching this in Europe right now) we get a great long range shot of a zombie sauntering down the middle of an abandoned village – wild dogs beside him. It really is a great moment. However, cast your eyes upward and you’ll be greeted with a purple/blue/green/red sky! Obviously something is seriously wrong with the colors. At other times in the film (notably in one of the early scenes when Tisa Farrow and Ian McCulloch and searching the boat that is harbored in New York) we see evidence of contrast problems – with Tisa’s face getting almost totally washed out. The contrast problem shows itself throughout the film. Take a look at the climatic scenes in the hospital, when it catches fire. There is almost no definition in the flames, they come out as big white blobs. Clearly things have gone amiss – even if it does not take away too much from the overall effect. Add a bit of grain, and you have a so-so transfer. Perhaps to this point it is the best the film has looked, and who knows what the new version will look like, but it is clear that improvements could be made, if only the right elements can be located, and the correct amount of money and tender loving care is spent. Image Quality Well, I pretty much just covered this. The quality varies wildly throughout the film, with some scenes looking great, and others looking quite bad. Overall, a C+. Sound This release has a 5.1 soundtrack. However, it leaves a little to be desired too. You get fooled, because the opening scenes on the boat have the wonderful sound of water lapping in every speaker. This sound is repeated during other boat sequences later, and it’s really nice. But most of the film does not use the full surround (the rear being missing). We get some use during the climatic scenes in the hospital, but that’s about it. Average then. Nothing like as good as what AB did for The Beyond. Supplemental Material Well, we get trailers, TV and radio spots. Quite nice. Of course the cherry on top of the cake is the Ian McCulloch commentary. Now, to be honest, there are some long periods of silence, and then he will go off on tangents that make you wonder why he’s bothering. But, on the other hand, it’s just great to hear him talk about his original meeting for Fulci, the script, and how they did the sound effects. A disc without this is a disc with something missing. I don’t know if it will be in the new release, but if not, the AB disc must remain in our collections. Zombie is not complete without it. Image Quality - C+ Sound - C Supplements - b+ DVD Anchor Bay Running Time – 91 minutes Color Region 1, NTSC Not Rated Widescreen 2:35.1 Dolby 5.1 I will finish by mentioning a couple of other things. I can’t be the only one who misses not seeing what the hell happened in New York. There is a great story there – a story that should have formed the script to the follow-up to this (or was that deemed too close to Romero’s film?) If there is a connection between the two sets of films, this is it – they dovetail very nicely. Secondly, what about the voodoo angle? We hear the drums played on the island, drums that appear to bring the dead back to life – but we never know who is playing them. What is that all about? One final scene I will comment on is a classic bait and switch. There are four people in a jeep – that is run off the road by a zombie. Ian McCulloch breaks his ankle. As they struggle through the jungle trying to get to the hospital, McCulloch says he has to rest. He and Tisa Farrow sit down together, while the other two characters go a little way ahead before resting. Now, we all know they’re about to be attacked by zombie digging themselves out of the graves. First Farrow is attacked, then McCulloch. Their screams attract Al Cliver, who leaves his wife on her own. Now – you might expect that we’d see Cliver run onto the scene and save McCulloch et al. But no, we actually see no more of that – instead being treated to the classic zombie with worms in his eye sequence and associated throat ripping. An interesting choice. If you don’t have Zombie – get it. Wait if you want, but whatever happens, add it to your collection.