The Earth Spit Out the Dead

Falling into the “island terror” genre dating back to early Universal (like Horror Island) Lucio Fulci’s exploitative pulp Zombie escalated voodoo and native tropes. At least King Kong ’33 animated its racially dismal islanders – in Zombie, the pitiful villagers exist only to serve the western doctors occupying their land.

In a sense, Fulci was ahead of trends. Although Zombie tries to capitalize on Jaws a touch with an infamous zombie versus shark rumble, the vibe is similar to what came from Indiana Jones, Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend or Jewel of the Nile: movies where Americans, maybe Brits, travel to unknown islands to steal, research, or discover lost paradises. Of course, Zombie isn’t privy to the often colorful camp or comic relief.

Zombie’s Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson) must know how the dead return to life. Sheltered by science and civilization’s belief systems, voodoo, to him, is an impossibility. Even on the island Matool, isolated in totality, facts must still exist. An unwillingness to accept some things defy understanding instills Zombie with an arrogance, causing Menard’s eventual downfall.

Zombie shows how and why looming dread can never lose its effectiveness

While Fulci’s unwavering violence draws attention, it’s not entirely without purpose. Reporter Peter West (Ian McCulloch) grabs a Christian cross, splitting an undead’s face in two. Science can’t fix this, but religious symbolism still has a chance. Those rising from their graves represent a failed invasion by Spanish Conquistadors. Undoubtedly, they too were driven by self-professed superiority, until unexplained magic brought their end.

Shock value drives the memorable scenes. If Zombie were condensed to a few minutes, expect the title creatures rising from the dirt, an eye being driven into wood, and the final shots with creatures marching on the Brooklyn Bridge. Yet, that’s too shallow for what Zombie does right, especially the leering camera. It’s uncomfortably mobile, at times suggestive and perverse, if forcing viewers into a killer’s perspective. Slow-walking zombies fell out of favor in contemporary genre filmmaking; Zombie shows how and why looming dread can never lose its effectiveness.

Paired with a synth score and throbbing heartbeat, Zombie isn’t in a rush. It’s slow – too slow, really – but like its killers who take time to reach their meals, Zombie’s relentless crescendo wastes nothing. Those final stirring shots leave on the idea that interfering and invading comes with a cost. In an era of terrorism and viruses, that lesson wasn’t headed. No one noticed the message under the blood. So, so much blood.

Video

This isn’t just sensational imagery – it’s asinine that a low-budget Italian offering from the ‘70s can look this stunning. Even understanding 35mm, scanning, and potential resolution in the film stock, Zombie still looks like a modern marvel.

Opening shots in New York show the city as it was better than just about anything else from this point in time. Total perfection is achieved in sharpness behind an incredibly precise grain structure. Facial definition conquers most current Hollywood outputs. Textural quality leaps out in droves, unimpeded by encoding. Blue Underground’s work manages utter transparency.

Dazzling color renews island waters through intense blues. Greenery is splendid. Flesh tones hit their precise mark. Over-the-top blood reaches a ridiculous yet pure red. The only hint of discoloring happens during the underwater footage, where a yellowing streak impacts the screen’s center.

Print quality suffers no faults otherwise, a stray hair notwithstanding. Blue Underground goes with Dolby Vision. Initially, the output registered as HDR before quickly turning over to DV; that lasted all of a few seconds. Overall improved contrast emboldens this vintage imagery. Sun-rich scenery helps. Black levels reach a specific density, if not all the way to pure black. ‘Tis the nature of cheaper stock.

Audio

Atmos is undeniably overkill for Zombie. Other than overhead footsteps heard on a boat, Atmos adds nothing to the previously available DTS-HD 7.1 mix, which was also overkill. Thankfully, original uncompressed mono is yet another selection. Surround mixes deliver mild separation, yet this is audibly limited, to no surprise.

Stressing treble, age filters through the dubbed dialog. Gunshots wane in clarity, helped a touch by small low-end kick. Drums also find the sub some work, if menial in depth.

Extras

Blue Underground includes the UHD and bonus features Blu-ray. The UHD itself hosts a short intro by Guillermo Del Toro and two commentaries – one with Fulci expert Troy Howarth, the other with star Ian McCulloch and Diabolik editor Jason Slater. Author Steven Thrower gives his thoughts in an interview, that followed by promo materials en masse.

On the additional Blu-ray, it’s an interview blitz. Producers, make-up artists, co-writers, actors, costume/production designers, stuntmen, and more from Del Toro. Everything is ported from Blue Underground’s previous Zombie Blu-ray intact.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Zombie (1979)
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
4

Movie

While notable and even celebrated for its gore, Zombie isn’t without its masterstrokes in camera work, trend setting, and fearfulness.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 58 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: