The World's Greatest Zombie Just Got Even Greater

We've already looked at Zombi 3, so it only makes sense to cover the good one as well. Lucio Fulci's Zombie has been released tons of time on home video, by tons of labels in tons of countries. But there's really only three, I'd say, that fans really might want to take a serious interest in today, and I've got 'em all sitting on my desk right here. I'll touch on a couple others as well, but the big three are from Shriek Show, Blue Underground and Arrow.

Update 1/14/16 - 5/29/20: First we added Blue Underground's blu-ray of their 2018 4k restoration, and now we're adding that restoration's debut on a genuine 4k disc.  Who would've thought we'd ever see Lucio Fulci on Ultra HD?  Well, this week, it's happened!
I can be a little guilty of overusing the word "classic" at times, but when it comes to Spaghetti horror, 1979's Zombie a.k.a. Zombi 2, Zombie Flesh Eaters or a whole host of alternate titles, absolutely qualifies. One of the original Living Dead knock-offs, Zombie does it with so much style, it out-classes all of its competition from before its time all the way to today, even riding dangerously close to Romero's originals. Just be prepared for some cheesy dubbing and Fulci's natural predilection towards visceral impact over logical storytelling.
Zombie has a fairly impressive cast for its status, including Richard Johnson and Tisa Farrow, cult star Olga Karlatos, and two who would go on to became fan favorites: Ian McCulloch and Al Cliver. But it's really Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti boldly out there story colorfully brought to life by Fulci and the inventive effects of Giannetto De Rossi. Even just the basic look of their zombies was like nothing that had come before. And scene after scene is so outrageous and goes so delightfully far, from the underwater zombie grappling with a shark where a real actor was clearly wrestling a real shark, to the infamous eyeball piercing scene which took the shock factor further than pretty much any gory horror film ever had before. Plus, it's beautifully shot by Sergio Salvati with a catchy score by Fabio Frizzi. Really, it might've started life as a tiny exploitation film, but every department is delivering exceptional results.
Arrow's 2012 Zombie blu-ray on top' 88 Films' 2015 Zombie Holocaust blu-ray below.
And fun fact: 1980's Zombie Holocaust didn't just borrow heavily from Zombie's plot and look, even casting the same leading man; they used many of the same props and locations. But there's something else that seems to have slipped past a lot of genre critics. Even more boldly, Zombie Holocaust also re-uses exact scenes from Zombie. As you can see above, I don't just mean they re-stage similar plot points, but whole shots of Zombie Holocaust are actually footage lifted directly from Fulci's film!
So Zombie debuted on laserdisc all the way back in 1989 from Image, but most of us probably started with Roan's 1998 special edition laser, simultaneously released on DVD by Anchor Bay, which they issued again in 2002. That's when we first got the film in widescreen, with the audio commentary by Ian McCulloch. Then things got a bit weird in 2004, when somehow both Shriek Show and Blue Underground wound up with seemingly legit claims to the US rights, and they agreed to both release it... BU barebones and Shriek Show via a loaded 2-disc special edition. They had the same remastered transfer, except for slight color timing differences. More recently, BU released it again, this time in HD, in 2011. They released a DVD version and a limited 2-disc Ultimate Edition, which was later replaced in 2012 by a standard single disc edition. But by that year, Arrow was also coming out with their own 2-disc blu-ray set with their own transfer. And I have to say their results were pretty surprising.

But in the final months of 2018, all that became history, because Blue Underground released it once again, with an all new 4k restoration of the OCN as a 3-disc limited edition. And then that version became history just week with Blue Underground releasing said restoration on a proper Ultra HD disc - a powerful quadruple-dip!
1) 2004 Blue Underground DVD 2) 2004 Shriek Show DVD
3) 2011 Blue Underground BD 4) 2012 Arrow BD.
5) 2018 Blue Underground BD; 6) 2020 Blue Underground UHD.
So, transfer-wise, the only real competition is between the two older blus. The Shriek Show DVD is really just noteworthy for the extras, which I'll get to later, and the new 4k blu trumps everything. But real quick, the two DVDs are virtually identical, except the Shriek Show DVD is interlaced, while the BU disc is not.  So that was an important distinction at the time; but being in standard definition naturally put them too far behind in the race in the 2010s.  But apart from being in HD, BU's old blu hadn't really advanced much beyond the 2004 days. The color timing is still different and probably preferable (those clouds are actually white), but we're not exactly getting loads of new detail. The grain is messier and the image is a little more generally blurred on the DVDs because they're in SD; but it's a fairly modest boost to BU's HD. You do see the difference when you get up close, though.  Lines are tighter and clearer.

Arrow also went back to the OCN for their transfer, but theirs is a newer scan. We still don't get heaps of new detail, but there is a little; and overall the image seems clearer and more natural. Plus the colors really start to pop with this one. You just want to pick the little people out of your screen and pop them in your mouth (hey, it is called Flesh Eaters, right?). And what really surprised me, despite both blus maintaining the same 2.35:1 aspect ratio (the DVDs are a little more like 2.32), Arrow has managed to uncover more picture on all four sides. It's just slivers along the top and bottom, but on the left and right it's reasonably substantial. One minor flaw: there's a teensy bit of yellow chemical stain in a couple of shots (look around the diver's hand in the shot above), but it's very minor and is only on screen for a matter of seconds. And, actually, you kinda see a hint of it on the earlier discs, too. It's just harder to make out.
1) 2004 Blue Underground DVD 2) 2004 Shriek Show DVD
3) 2011 Blue Underground blu-ray 4) 2012 Arrow blu-ray.
5) 2018 Blue Underground blu-ray; 6) 2020 Blue Underground UHD.
But if you want to talk about colors popping, BU's new color correction for their 2018 restoration takes the cake.  Now, that's a blue sky!  But it never crosses the line into looking over-saturated.  The underwater scene goes for a more muted look, which might be shooting for realism, or just covering up that chemical stain.  Whatever the thinking was behind the scenes, though, this is easily most impressive the film has ever looked.  They've also widened the framing to 2.40:1, which unveils even more previously unseen image along the sides.  And being a modern 4k scan, while we don't really discover additional detail, the film grain is by far the most cleanly captured and filmicly represented.

The UHD is predictably darker (they're almost universally darker because the HDR's greater range of colors can come more to life with a bright display, and their highlights are still brighter).  Besides that, don't expect a new level of detail.  Like in that set of close-ups above, we can't suddenly see the color of Tisa Farrow's eyes.  But where the benefits of the increased resolution become evident is in the grain and edges.  What's still blocky and pixelated on the BD is now smooth and round on the UHD.  That guy's finger ends in a natural curve as opposed to a square.  In total, it all feels more realistic and authentic, definitely less digital.  It's a definite upgrade if you've got the set-up to display it.

Oh, I should mention, though, that Arrow also gives you a unique multi-branching option, where you can choose to watch the film with the opening and closing credits for Zombie, Zombi 2 or Zombie Flesh Eaters. So that's one unique aspect that the Arrow has going for it.
Audio-wise, too, Blue Underground always plays to win. Their 2011 blu's got lossless English DTS-HD Master Audio mixes in 7.1, 5.1 EX and Dolby Digital 2.0 mono, and the same three options again for the Italian track. Plus, it's got subtitles in Chinese, English, English HoH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Thai. Arrow keeps things simpler but still thorough with both English and Italian LPCM 2.0 Mono tracks, plus English and English SDH subtitles. Meanwhile, the Shriek Show DVD has 5.1, 2.0 Stereo and mono versions of both the English and Italian tracks, plus English subs.

BU hasn't changed much in 2018.  They've still got the 7.1 and original mono tracks in DTS-HD, though they've ditched the superfluous 5.1s and they've added a French mono mix.  They've also their many subtitle language options and even added a few more: Cantonese, Mandarin, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Italian, Russian and Swedish.

Interestingly, in 2020, BU has brought the English 5.1 back.  So they've got that, both the 7.1s and the monos, that French mix, and a new English Dolby Atmos track... I guess they're determined to be definitive, an instinct I can only applaud.  They've also retained all 17(!) subtitle options from their previous release.
Now here's where your head's really going to pop, because, since this is such an important Spaghetti horror title, all three companies have really gone to town in the extras department. And apart from a few items, almost none of them overlap. So if you're prepared to multi-dip, there is a crazy amount of Zombie extras awaiting you. Before listing them all out, however, let me remind you that Blue Underground has two editions out, and almost all of the exciting new extras are on that second disc. So if you're going Blue, make sure you know which version you're getting.

Blue Underground DVD:
  • Several theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots
  • Poster & stills gallery
  • bonus trailers for other Fulci films
That's right; this disc is essentially barebones.

Shriek Show DVD:
  • Audio commentary with actor Ian McCulloch, moderated by Jay Slater, this is the same commentary that dates all the way back to the laserdisc. It's kind of dry, but not bad.
  • On-camera interview with Captain Haggerty, who played the opening zombie on the boat. He's actually a pretty interesting character, so this is a fun one; and Shriek Show are the only people who've talked to him.
  • Building a Better Zombie, a very substantial, 98 minute documentary, featuring interviews with Dardano Sacchetti and Elsa Briganti, Gino and Giannetto de Rossi, and Gianetto's wife, Mirella Sforza, who did more traditional hair and make-up, plus additional FX artists Maurizio Trani and Rosario Prestopino, producer Fabrizio de Angelis, Enzo Castellari, the director originally approached to direct Zombie, Sergio Salvati, cameraman Franco Bruni, Fabio Frizzi, and actors Ottaviano Dell'acqua and Al Cliver
  • An Evening with Dakar, a short performance by actor Dakar who plays us some of his music
  • On-camera interview with costume designer Walter Patriarca
  • Photo gallery
  • Trailer
  • a fun collection of bonus trailers for other zombie films
  • easter egg: Alternate Zombi 2 opening and closing credits
Shriek Show's 25th Anniversary Special Edition 2-disc set also came with a signed, fold-out poster, plus an insert, mini-comic book (not related to Zombie, but a movie Shriek Show produced called Flesh for the Beast) and a cool outer case.

Blue Underground blu:
  • Audio commentary with actor Ian McCulloch, again, this is the same one from all the other editions, including Shriek Show's. 
  • Introduction by Guillermo del Toro
  • On-camera interviews with stars Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver and Ottaviano Dell’Acqua. BU are the only ones to talk to Richard Johnson, who's a great get.
  • On-camera interviews with Gianetto and Gino De Rossi and Maurizio Trani - edited together into a nice featurette.
  • On-camera interview with co-producer Fabrizio De Angelis
  • On-camera interview with Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti
  • On-camera interviews with Sergio Salvati and Walter Patriarca
  • On-camera interview with Fabio Frizzi
  • On-camera interview with Lucio's daughter, Antonella Fulci
  • On-camera interview with Guillermo del Toro
  • Several theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots
  • Poster & stills gallery
  • easter egg: a bonus clip from the interview with Maurizio Trani, where he talks about the shark scene
Blue Underground doesn't go for any inserts, reversible art or anything. But that's fine, because it's all on the disc(s). All their interviews are especially professional and they've got just about everybody on there.

Arrow blu:
  • Audio commentary with screenwriter Elisa Briganti, moderated by Calum Waddell, this is fun, because we rarely see or hear from Elisa without her husband, mostly just supporting whatever he says. Now we get to hear from Elisa herself, and she's pretty interesting.
  • Audio commentary with Fulci biographer Stephen Thrower, moderated Alan Jones, this is pretty solid. Thrower is very well informed and they never run out of things to say, though fans may find themselves already knowing a lot of what's being said, if only because other extras in this same set told them.
  • Introduction by Ian McCulloch
  • From Romero To Rome: The Rise and Fall Of The Italian Zombie Film, an hour-long documentary that covers zombie films from Night Of the Living Dead to Zombie. It shows a little bit of films after and before these, but it mainly focuses on the Romero and Italian films, including interviews with Russell Streiner from Night, Dardano Sacchetti, Luigi Cozzi, Ruggero Deodato, Antonio Tentori (who wrote several later Fulci films) and a collection of British critics. It feels a little thrown together, like they selected who to include based on whoever they could easily get as opposed to who would be the best interview subject, but it's still very engaging.
  • On-camera interview with Ian McCulloch, this one's pretty long and goes fairly in-depth. They seemed to have some trouble lighting him, but otherwise it's quite a good interview.
  • On-camera interview with Gino De Rossi, where he talks you through how he made many of his effects, in Zombie and other films. He walks you through his workshop and shows you a bunch of original props. Definitely don't skip this one.
  • A bit of a silly, short segment where Dardano Sacchetti shows his original script. They literally just point the hand-held camera at his printed pages and expect you to read it that way, which you probably won't bother to do unless you're watching on your computer and can take screenshots.
  • A Fabio Frizzi Q&A, which is pretty fun, but one of those where they shot a live event with a fixed camera and don't get very good audio. They don't seem to have mic'd his translator, in particular, so it's actually harder to understand him than Frizzi.
  • Theatrical trailers and TV spots
  • easter egg: the deleted scene from Zombie Holocaust. I really don't understand what this is doing here, since it doesn't feature any of the footage lifted from Zombie. So, uh, okay...?
  • easter egg: a short video clip looking at Gino De Rossi's "wall of fame" in his home.
  • easter egg: a fun bonus clip from the Ian McCulloch interview.
Arrow's set comes with a thick, 40-page booklet, with lots of notes by Waddell, Thrower, Slater and Craig Lapper. It also has reversible cover art and Arrow's usual card for another one of their releases (I got Dr. Jeckyll and Miss Osbourne). And if you order it directly from Arrow's site, it comes in an outer slip box.
For their latest limited edition, Blue Underground wasn't left with much room to grow.  Who else could they interview that wasn't already covered above?  Those special editions were already getting a bit repetitive with their anecdotes.  So their new 2018 features might be a little disappointing, but what else could we ask for?  Everything from their 2011 Ultimate Edition has been carried over (so there's no reason to hang onto it once you've upgraded), and we get a new audio commentary by Troy Howarth, and a half hour on-camera interview with Stephen Thrower.  Thrower gives us a nice academic summary, but there's very little in the audio commentary fans wouldn't already be able to voice themselves if roles were reversed.

So BU focused more of their energies in 2018 around on the packaging.  We're given the choice of 3 holographic slip covers (mine is #2), and every edition also includes a 24-page full color booklet, with an essay by Thrower, a complete soundtrack CD (the third of the 3-disc set), an insert promoting the latest Zombie comic book, and reversible artwork with the classic "We are going to eat you!" cover inside.

And in 2020?  No new extras or anything.  Everything's on two discs: the UHD with the feature, commentaries, and a few short extras.  And then all the rest of the extras are on a separate blu-ray.  Packaging-wise, things are slimmer and slicker, sans all the gimmicks and goodies.  No soundtrack CD, booklet, holograms, inserts or reversible artwork.  We do get a cool, traditional slipcover though, which I actually prefer to every cover that's ever come before it.  But open it up, and it's just the two discs.  Suits me.
There aren't too many other editions to concern yourself with, since these guys have made them redundant. Umbrella released a blu-ray with just the old commentary on it, Happinet's blu in Japan seems to be a mirror of Blue Underground's 2011 set, and the German blu just has a short piece on Fulci. The only other disc that might blip your radar is Another World's DVD (the same guys who did that New York Ripper Special Restored Edition). That features a 40+ minute doc on Fulci's films (the first part, in fact, of the doc that's on the New York Ripper DVD), and a 30+ minute feature on Rosario Prestopino. I haven't seen that one, but it sounds pretty interesting, if you really want to go all in.
Now, I'm not necessarily recommending all these special editions unless you're a hardcore fan. There's a lot of redundancy in the interviews by your third Zombie set. I mean, most of the extras are unique, but they're asking the same people the same questions. If you've got Arrow's Contamination blu and 88's Zombie Holocaust, too; you're really going to hear a lot of McCulloch's anecdotes in particular over and over. But the big three - Shriek Show, Arrow and BU - are quite substantial and with some noteworthy treats you won't find in the others. So, you'll definitely want to get BU's 4k restoration for the best transfer - UHD if you've got the player - and for most of you, that will probably already be enough; because it's fairly packed. Then if you're still hungry for more features, since you've already got the ideal presentation of the film, you can just buy cheaper DVD editions of the Shriek Show and Arrow sets, which I'd recommend in that order: Shriek Show > Arrow.  I mean come on, you know you want to see that Captain Haggerty interview.

1 comment:

  1. I still love my Arrow Blu-Ray. UHD too dark.