Zeder's Revenge! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Image originally released Zeder, a.k.a. Revenge Of the Dead, on DVD in fullscreen as part of their Euroshock Collection way back in 1999.  But in 2002, when 20th Century Fox(!) reissued it in Italy in widescreen with the superior Italian audio track and removable English subs, I was very happy to upgrade.  More recently, when Code Red announced this title, I was excited at the prospect of this film making its HD debut, but only if it was the uncut version (there have been a couple budget releases - this one and this one - from a label called Cydonia missing a decent chunk of footage) with the Italian audio and English subtitles.  Thankfully, they came through.
The first thing you should know about Zeder is that the Revenge Of the Dead box art is very misleading.  If you're expecting anything Hell Of the Living Dead or Nightmare City, forget about it; zombies never crawl out of manhole covers or anything like that.  I mean, there are a couple cool scenes towards the end that you could maybe connect to the cover image at a stretch, but this is really more of a giallo with a supernatural twist than a traditional zombie film.  Gabriele Lavia is a young writer who buys a used typewriter and realizes the old ink ribbon reveals the last things the previous owner wrote with it.  This leads him into a strange conspiracy involving mysterious references to something called a "K Zone" and life after death.  Zeder is a smart, brooding film about secret messages, following clues, hidden passageways and a pool scene surely influenced by Val Lewton's Cat People, all written and directed by Pupi Avati (Story of Boys & Girls, The House With Laughing Windows).
And this is why fans cared so much about getting the original Italian audio with this film.  Yes, like almost all Italian films, it's all dubbed either way; but in Zeder's case, the Italian's a much better performed, naturalistic track.  And that wouldn't be so important for your typical Italian zombie film that's just out to dazzle you with eye candy and gut munching gore.  Heck, sometimes the bad dubbing can even add to the experience of the wilder cases; but here I think it really spoils it.  Here you've got great locations with atmospheric lighting and people that need to involve you in their struggles, not sound like cartoon characters.
All that said, I really appreciate Code Red releasing it with the Revenge Of the Dead artwork.  It's an iconic VHS cover from its day, and I have... fond? memories of renting it and falling asleep to it several times when I was too young to appreciate its craft.  And I like that Code Red's motif is to hold to those old American video days with their covers.  I mean, come on, if they're already released L'ossessa as The Eerie Midnight Horror Show, they've gotta go with "Revenge Of the Dead!"
2002 Italian Fox DVD on top; 2017 American Code Red blu on bottom.
The two discs look pretty similar, apart from the added clarity of Code Red's HD.  It still looks a little soft, which I imagine goes back to the film itself, but it definitely sharpens up the DVD and nicely clarifies all the edges.  The framing tightens in just a smidgen from about 1.82:1 to 1.78.  Despite being anamorphic, Fox's disc has a bit of window-boxing around all four sides that I'm glad the blu dispenses with.  Guys, let's never bring back TV overscan, okay?  Anyway, Code Red's packaging also specifically points out its new, exclusive color correction, and it looks quite good.  But again, it's pretty similar to Fox's DVD, just a bit more subdued, which is appropriate.  Compare the skin-tones in the comparison below to better see where they've improved things.  The "exclusive" presumably refers to a French blu-ray of this title which also just came out, but that one has no English language options, so unless you understand Italian or French, it's pretty academic.

Now, to be clear, Code Red (and the Italian DVD) does offer that inferior English dub in addition to the Italian track, if you want it.  It's nice to have as a curiosity piece if nothing else.  And yes, both releases have English subtitles.  But not everybody's entirely happy with Code Red's subtitles, so let's get into that.
2002 Italian Fox DVD on top; 2017 American Code Red blu on bottom.
There's a couple issues going on with the subtitles.  One is just the look.  Slightly outlined white vs. yellow with black bars behind them.  The first are less distracting, but the second are easier to read, which as a glasses wearer, I appreciate.  Second there are some translation differences, but I don't understand Italian well enough (or at all) to argue which are more accurate.  Code Red's subs match the English dub more closely and are likely what we foreign film fans like to call "dubtitles;" though neither version is too radically different.  And third, I think the most controversially, is the fact that the Code Red subs are captions for the hearing impaired, which means besides transcribing the dialogue, they also include sound effects like "[door opens]."  It isn't too distracting once you get used to it, though.  There isn't a "[tap] [tap] [tap]" for every footstep or anything; it's just the key sounds.  So I get why some people are a little underwhelmed, and I agree the Fox subtitles are preferable.  Like, if Code Red emailed me caps of both and asked which I thought they should go with, I wouldn't have picked the ones they went with.  But it also doesn't bother me, and I certainly wouldn't let it push me into watching the film with the English soundtrack or anything crazy like that.
If all this still has you on the fence about Code Red's blu, here's where they really pull ahead.  The Fox DVD did actually have special features.  Not a lot, but some pretty cool stuff.  Unfortunately, though, none of it had English language options.  So there's a well-edited 15 minute featurette including interviews with Avati, Lavia, producer Antonio Avati and composer Riz Ortolani, plus trailers for Zeder and House With Laughing Windows.  It's always killed me that that featurette doesn't have subtitles.

Code Red doesn't have any of that stuff, but instead come with their own special features package.  First and foremost is a terrific, half-hour interview with Pupi Avati, which you can watch either subtitled or dubbed (the latter created presumably because the subtitles on this extra, for some reason, are super tiny).  There's also a brief, but all new interview with Gabriel Lavia, and a fun Revenge Of the Dead teaser trailer which tries so hard to mislead you into thinking it's a different type of flick that it doesn't even show you any footage from the film.  The blu also includes reversible artwork, which is fitting, as you can go with a Revenge Of the Dead cover or a Zeder cover, though I'm not a big fan of their newly commissioned Zeder art (I never like these comic book-style covers the cult labels insist on going with these days), as well as a slipcover with the new Zeder art.
So look, I've read all the nitpicks, and I even agree with them; but as far as I'm concerned Code Red hit this one out of the park.  It looks great, is uncut with all the important language options and some some great extras... which for the first time ever, we can understand.  And Zeder is a really cool movie, so long as you're prepared for something subtle and calmly paced without a lot of gore or zombie action.

2 comments:

  1. I can remember the letdown after I rented the Revenge Of The Dead N.American VHS cassette back in the early 90s. The cover art promised flesh tearing zombie carnage which is miles away from the content of the film.
    Fast Forward a decade later and I sought out the Image DVD for a second chance with Zeder. My tastes had broadened into more intelligent cinema landscapes and I came to respect Zeder as a very interesting mashup of Giallo and Zombie subgenre.
    I look forward to comparing this Code Red Blu with my CMV Laservision DVD which was also uncut widescreen and looks cleaner than that murky Image release.
    Definitely a cool movie that creeps under your skin and rewards the patient viewer with a very dark and macabre finale.
    Hello Stephen King , I can sense the elusive Zeder influenced your famous novel Pet Sematery. No? Yeah ok pal.

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  2. The English dialog is nowhere nearly as good as the Italian. That the subs are English dubtitles is the real problem here, that and some DNR. Code Red will no doubt do better next time they deal with Italian language tracks.

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