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Originally, Zombi 2 was produced in response to the European box office earnings of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, which was re-edited for the region by producer Dario Argento and released under the title of Zombi. The two movies ended up being entirely different, despite the implied sequel in the title of the latter, which was made within a year of the formers’ release. Known simply as Zombie in the US, Lucio Fulci’s film is a much moodier affair then Romero’s masterpiece, with less emphasis on social commentary and black humour, and more emphasis on classic zombie themes and straight out gore.

Zombi 2: 25th Anniversary Special Edition
A derelict boat enters New York Harbor. When the Coast Guard boards the ship, they find no crew aboard, just a mess of half-eaten food, body parts, and lots of creepy looking bugs. Just when they think they stand to make a big bonus for bringing the ship into port, a mysterious, blood soaked man appears out of a locked cabin door and attacks and kills one of the officers. The other officer has no choice but to shoot the man, who falls off the boat and into the harbour. These events bring up a lot of questions for local police and newspapers. One periodical sends out their resident British reporter to cover the story. Soon circumstances lead the reporter and the daughter of the man who owned the derelict boat on a search in the Caribbean Islands. They meet up with another couple on vacation who agree to help them search for an elusive island, where the boat’s owner was practising medicine. When they finally find the island, they also find out that the dead are coming back to life on this island, as flesh eating zombies. Now they have to fight their way back to their boat, and off the cursed island.

Zombi 2 is not exactly what an average moviegoer would call a ‘good movie’. There are stark inaccuracies: reanimated corpses of Spanish Conquistadores still have lots of rotting flesh, despite being dead for hundreds of years. Silly situations are sold as exciting ones (a lethargic shark and zombie fight), and the dialog can be very bad (‘…The skipper of that ship must be a real turkey.’), but despite of all these inherit flaws it remains a loveable movie. Like most Lucio Fulci films, and in turn most Italian horror films, it has beautiful cinematography and craftsmanship. Every shot and camera move is lovingly composed, no matter how fantastic or ridiculous the events unfolding. Every moment is played dead serious, without the wink-wink sensibilities of most modern American horror films. There is a very distinct overall feel of dread in this world where even the zombies walk with their heads down, like depressed, dirt-caked mental patients. Though it may be hard to take seriously, Zombie 2 can engross the viewer, if the viewer is willing. This is lowbrow entertainment for sure, but it’s a damn sight better than most movies being made today, zombie related or not.

Zombi 2: 25th Anniversary Special Edition
The appeal (or lack of appeal) of Zombi 2 can be best nut shelled by its most ‘celebrated’ sequence (spoiler warning). In one scene, zombies attack a woman while she is alone. She starts the scene showering (with a mirror behind her so both her nude front and back can appear simultaneously) while a dead, blue hand gropes at the window in front of her. Having not noticed the window groping, she dries off, gets dressed and takes a pill to calm her nerves (there are zombies about after all). A sudden sound alerts her to the impending danger and she attempts to barricade her self in her bedroom. Just when everything seems safe again, a rotting hand bursts through the door and grabs her by the hair. She is then slowly pulled into a large splinter of door eyeball first. The effect is very convincing, especially considering the budget constraints of the picture. While this is an exciting, even enticing sequence, one can’t help but admit that it’s more than just a little gratuitous. To move the plot along all the movie needed was for the zombies to kill and eat the wife. Killing and eating is a violent act, but it doesn’t usually need to involve an erotic bathing sequence or massive ocular damage. It could be argued that the showering could be perceived as a reflection of the actresses vulnerability, but the ocular attack (common in Fulci films) really doesn’t deem itself necessary. In spite of action that any first year screenwriting student would tell you were unnecessary, this is the most memorable sequence in the movie. This is the conundrum of reviewing Zombi 2 to the same standards as a more mainstream movie.

Director Lucio Fulci had been making films for decades before the release of Zombi 2, but this was the one that finally got some notice, especially outside of his native Italy. Legions of American horror fans have sense labelled him the ‘Godfather of Gore’, and his films have been rabidly followed for years, passed around and traded through foggy, dim VHS tapes made from out of print Japanese Laser Discs. It wasn’t until the DVD revolution that fans could finally start enjoying his films the way they were meant to be seen. Fulci’s signature style really came into its own in the late 70’s and early 80’s, with movies like Don’t Torture a Duckling and Four of the Apocalypse (his western). But it wasn’t until after Zombi 2 that he perfected it with a string of zombie related horror films, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond and House by the Cemetery. Widescreen views of gloomy landscapes and, of course, outrageous gore quickly became his trademarks. Later on, like most successful directors, he started to just go through the motions, but his classic material remains atop the apex of horror entertainment.

Zombi 2 (under the title Zombie) had already been released twice by Anchor Bay studios, both times with the same decent looking (but rather artefact-filled) non-anamorphic transfer. For Shriek Show’s release the film has been cleaned to a point of impeccable clarity, and therein lies the problem: the film looks too good. Sure there’s a glimpse of dirt and grain here and there, but for the most part, Zombi 2 looks like a new movie. I’ve read DVD reviews before that complained of an image that was too perfect and scoffed at them. How could a film look too good? Well, here it is—a film that has been cleaned to death. The fine detail and lightened images really show certain appliances (specifically the gushing neck wounds) for what they are, just special effects. Several gore effects lose their mystique, and that really works against the appeal of the movie. The greater crime though, is that Fulci’s trademark dusty, gloomy landscapes have become sort of unclean midday beachscapes.  Several night scenes are so much lighter that they now appear as day scenes. I’m sure Fulci didn’t intend his film to look quite this happy and bright. Having watched Zombi 2 on a pan and scan, dirty VHS tape, I appreciate what Shriek Show was trying to do here, but for me, the movie works better when it’s dirty and dark. Personally, I’m going to hang onto my Anchor Bay DVD, but I’m pretty sure a lot of fans will be thrilled with the new transfer.

Zombi 2: 25th Anniversary Special Edition
The old Anchor Bay DVDs had kind of ropey 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes that were basically mono mixes with occasional water effects in the rear speakers. This new DVD has a much better 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. The dialog is centred better and is a bit clearer. The surround effects are few and far between (for a great 5.1 mix on a Fulci film, check out Anchor Bay’s City of the Living Dead release), but the music sounds great. The moody synth score sounds extremely crisp and deep. I really enjoyed this track, knowing that this is the best Zombi 2 is ever going to sound. Also included for all the REAL fans out there, is the original Italian track. I didn’t listen to the whole thing, but it does make for a different, if not better viewing experience. Almost all Italian movies of the era were filmed without sound, so technically even the ‘original Italian’ track is a dub track. Again, this was included for the purists out there I’m sure, but I’ve become so used to the English track that I didn’t really dig it so much.

Shriek Show gained the rights to release a special edition of Zombi 2 a few years back. Later Blue Underground got their hands on a nice print of the film, so the two companies struck a deal to release separate DVDs, on the same day, one a special edition, and one a decidedly less special edition. Shriek Show saved their right to release the special edition, and that is the version I have reviewed here. The features are spread over two disks (which they really didn’t need to be) and start with an audio commentary track featuring actor Ian McCullough and moderator Jay Slater. This is, in fact, the same track from the older Anchor Bay DVD, and sadly, it hasn’t become any more interesting. McCullough has a few things to say, but none of it is very intriguing, and I found myself wanting to turn the 5.1 audio back on instead. Also on the first disc is a gallery of posters and production images, and little chat with the fat boat zombie entitled ‘Food for the Worms’. It’s short at twelve minutes, but is a fun bit of nostalgia that contains a few bits of trivia that will surely be new to most fans.

Zombi 2: 25th Anniversary Special Edition
Now then, the second disc is the real reason most of us will chose this edition over Blue Underground’s, so what does it house? First is a quick interview with the costume designer, which is not subtitled, even though his English isn’t exactly superb. I tried very hard to understand what he was saying, but I didn’t get most of it. Entitled ‘Raising the Dead’ (for some reason), there isn’t any good reason as to why this wasn’t inserted into the main documentary. My guess is that Shriek Show got their hands on this interview after a final edit and didn’t feel it was necessary to take the time to change anything. Anyway, said main documentary is called ‘Building A Better Zombie’, and runs longer than the film itself. Full of interviews with mostly crewmembers (none of the non-zombie cast members seem to have had anything to say), it contains plenty of stories about production, gore effects, the cast and director. It’s not as polished or professional as a major studio or Anchor Bay documentary (several of the interviews seem to have been filmed in the participant’s back yards), but it has a certain appeal to it, like it was made by loving fans, not a corporation. It’s very interesting to compare the Italian special makeup effects to those of the American counterpart, Dawn of the Dead. Both productions found different ways to deal with budget constraints in very creative ways. This is a good documentary all around and really the only reason for forking over extra money for this version of the DVD.

Also on the second disc is the short ‘An Evening with Dakard’, where we are treated to two songs performed by the actor who played the doctor’s assistant in the film. It’s cute, and I’m sure the die-hard fans will love it. The disc is rounded out with assorted zombie movie trailers. Ironically enough, there is no trailer for Zombi 2 under any of its pseudonyms (apparently those all went to Blue Underground), but I’m still a big trailer fan, so for me this was great stuff. I am particularly fond of the Zombi 3 and four trailers, which prove in seconds that none of these sequels have anything in common beyond the presence of zombies.

Zombi 2: 25th Anniversary Special Edition
Zombi 2 is an entirely critic-proof movie. That phrase is thrown around a lot, but here is a film that comes with a core audience already intact. Besides, how can a critic really complain about bad dialog in a film that’s most famous for a scene where a woman has her eyeball impaled on a huge splinter? Despite the over cleansed transfer, this is the best version of this film you’re likely to find. I haven’t seen the Blue Underground version, but word has it that they used the exact same transfer, so which version you buy will depend entirely on your level of loyalty to the film. I prefer to have the extra disc of features. Some people couldn’t care less about special features, while others will probably buy both new releases; just to be sure they aren’t missing something. When it all comes down to it, that fan loyalty is what a movie like this is all about, and if we want them to keep coming, what better way to speak up than with our wallets? It should also be noted that this is a complete and uncut version of the film. As I understand it, in parts of Europe an uncut version is not allowed, so it will be interesting to see what happens when and if this version of the DVD makes it across the Atlantic.