Sunday, December 30, 2018


As streaming sites continue to evolve (many times notfor the better, sad to say), it becomes increasingly difficult to predict what movies will suddenly disappear from their ever-changing sites / playlists and, even though they do still offer plenty to enjoy in terms of original programming, film preservation is certainly far from their first prerogative. Thankfully, independent Blu-ray companies (and the odd big studio label, such as The Warner Archive Collection) continue to ‘fill the gap’ by offering superb restorations of either important classics such as Christian Nyby’s / Howard Hawks’ THE THING (1951) or previously-forgotten / barely-released films such as J. Lee Thompson’s THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD (1975). It’s definitely a great time to be a film fan, and without such companies as AGFA, Arrow Video, Blue Underground, Code Red, The Criterion Collection, Indicator, Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Massacre Video, Mondo Macabro, Olive Films, Scorpion Releasing, Scream Factory, Severin, Twilight Time, Vinegar Syndrome, The Warner Archive Collection and Wild East Productions, it’s doubtful many of these films would ever get released at all; for that, we should be forever grateful. The titles on disc listed below are a mere fractionof this year’s highlights, all of which come highly recommended, of course.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD [1968] (The Criterion Collection) – An undisputed classic, which, during the infancy of the home video boom at least, suffered from a number of poor transfers in indifferent releases by numerous cheapo fly-by-night companies who were merely capitalizing on the film’s public domain status. In 1994, Elite Entertainment provided the film with its first real restoration on laserdisc, and since then, NOTLD has appeared on numerous DVD labels, including Elite, Anchor Bay and even Miramax’s subsidiary, Dimension Extreme. And while most of these editions were fine, nothing can compare to Criterion’s 2-disc Blu-ray set, which not only features a stellar (quote) “4K digital restoration”, but also includes a workprint version entitled NIGHT OF ANUBIS, never-before-seen 16mm dailies, a number of interviews with the cast and crew, commentary tracks, a 2012 TIFF event hosted by former Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes, and so much more. A truly stupendous set, which is also beautifully packaged in one of Criterion’s fold-out digipacks. Needless to say, an absolute must-have!

THREADS [1984] (Severin) – Only shown sparingly on U.S. television, this haunting U.K.-based ‘nuclear panic’ drama has finally received the recognition it deserves thanks to Severin’s newly-restored, special edition Blu-ray. Shown in its intended 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the gritty, documentary-like approach is nicely preserved in Severin’s transfer and only adds to the film’s foreboding and unforgiving nature. Of course, Severin also includes a number of illuminating extras, beginning with an indispensable audio commentary by the film’s director, Mick Jackson, which is expertly moderated by Severin’s David Gregory and author Kier-La Janisse. The disc also includes a number of extra featurettes, including one with the film’s DP, Andrew Dunn. And for those wishing to really splurge, Severin have also issued the film as a limited edition Blu-ray with a lenticular cover. As the film’s tagline proclaims, it’s “the closest you’ll ever want to come to nuclear war!” I couldn’t agree more. Devastating and unforgettable!

THE INCIDENT [1967] (Twilight Time) – Never issued on DVD in the U.S. or Canada, Larry Peerce’s THE INCIDENT stars Tony Musante (in an electrifying debut) and Martin Sheen as a pair of ne’er-do-well troublemakers who board a New York City subway train and proceed to terrorize everyone thereon. A simple premise, which is grounded by a number of terrific, first-rate performances from the likes of Jack Gilford, Thelma Ritter, Ed McMahon, Diana Van der Vlis, Brock Peters, Jan Sterling and others. The stark B&W photography courtesy of Gerald Hirschfeld also adds immensely to the film’s grittiness and unflinching realism. TT’s disc contains a stunning transfer of this long-difficult-to-see film, which also includes an audio commentary from director Peerce moderated by Nick Redman. Needless to say, this limited edition (3000 copies) disc is likely to sell out in no time, so grab it while you can, as it’s well worth your investment.

ALMOST HUMAN [1974] (Code Red) – Despite directing a vast array of films from many different genres, director Umberto Lenzi has become best-known to those who care about such things (we at Unpopped very much included!) for his numerous Italocrime films, of which ALMOST HUMAN certainly ranks at the top while crawling along the gutters of crime-ridden Milan. Showcasing a jittery, paranoid, no-holds-barred performance from Tomas Milian and co-starring Henry Silva as the exasperated, outspoken commissario out to get him, this actioner barrels right along, ably aided-and-abetted by Ennio Morricone’s hard-hitting score. Previously available on DVD from No Shame Films, Code Red’s Blu-ray includes a superb HD transfer of the film, plus ports-over all of the extras from No Shame’s long-out-of-print DVD. As an added welcome bonus, Code Red have also seen fit to include Joseph Brenner’s U.S. edit in an appropriately beat-up scope print. WOW!! Read review.

NO DOWN PAYMENT [1957] (Twilight Time) – From producer Jerry Wald, who seemed to specialize in these ’50s-era ‘soaps’ (Mark Robson’s PEYTON PLACE [1957] and Jean Negulesco’s THE BEST OF EVERYTHING [1959] are a couple of noteworthy others), NO DOWN PAYMENT is director Martin Ritt’s look at suburbia, in particular the lives of four couples living in Sunrise Hills, a new Californian housing development. Pat Hingle (who would later appear in Ritt’s NORMA RAE [1979]) and Barbara Rush (from Nicholas Ray’s BIGGER THAN LIFE [1956]) are the standouts here, giving beautiful, multi-nuanced performances, but that’s not to say that everyone else isn’t fantastic too; also including stunning thesping from Tony Randall, Joanne Woodward and Cameron Mitchell, whose work not only draw attention to the allure of suburban life, but reveals many of the underlying secrets and/or imperfections associated with this supposedly, picture-perfect, squeaky-clean lifestyle. The slick B&W scope cinematography by Joseph LaShelle (he also shot Ritt’s THE LONG, HOT SUMMER [1958] the following year) looks dazzling on TT’s disc, which only further enhances the dreariness and thinly-veiled sordidity of these quickly-constructed neighbourhoods.

DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER [1973] (Arrow Video) – Joe D’Amato’s first official directorial debut (which he signed under his real name of Aristide Massaccesi) has suffered from a number low-grade, bootlegs over the years, but thanks to Arrow Video this latter-day Italo-Gothic has finally been given some much-needed respect with a spectacular 2K transfer taken from the original camera negative. The disc also includes a highly informative audio commentary from Tim Lucas, a nicely-produced on-camera interview / documentary about the film’s star, Ewa Aulin; a video essay by Kat Ellinger, and a most-welcome 43-page liner booklet with writing from Stephen Thrower and Roberto Curti, plus a previously-unpublished interview with the film’s assistant director, Romano Scandariato. What more do ya need?! Read review.

THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD [1975] (Kino Lorber Studio Classics) – Bypassing DVD altogether, J. Lee Thompson’s supernatural thriller had remained unavailable on home video since its long-gone VHS release from Vestron Video, so kudos to Kino for finally digging this out of the Paramount vaults! Transferred in 4K from the film’s original camera negative, Kino’s Blu-ray looks wonderful, with deep blacks and excellent detail throughout; a far-cry from Vestron’s muddy, pan-’n’-scan old tape! Kino have also included some choice extras, including an audio commentary from author and film historian Lee Gambin, who always has plenty of interesting things to say that reveal all sorts of interesting nuggets, and whose enthusiasm is always appreciated! Other extras include comparisons between the censored and uncensored scenes of Margot Kidder’s bathtub sequence, a number of stills galleries showcasing the film’s promotional materials, as well as trailers and numerous TV spots. It’s great to have this once-forgotten flick back in active circulation again! 

COMBAT SHOCK [1984] (Severin) – Buddy Giovinazzo’s unflinching portrait of a severely traumatized Vietnam vet has lost none of its power over the years and this Limited Edition Blu-ray certainly proves it! Scanned in 4K and including the full AMERICAN NIGHTMARE version, the disc also comes fully-loaded with extras. As an added bonus, Severin have also included the film’s first-ever soundtrack release on CD, original film frames from Buddy’s workprint, an autographed slipcover and a 96-page American Nightmares Scrapbook featuring the film’s shooting script, Buddy’s shooting diary and numerous on-set photos! Hard-hitting and fraught with desperation, Buddy G’s film continues to be an unnerving slice of cinema, and thanks to Severin, it can finally be viewed the way it was meant to be seen!

WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? [1976] (Mondo Macabro) – 2018 was a very busy year for MM, with a number of outstanding releases from them. To be honest, just about everything they release deserves to be on this list, but Narciso Ibáñez Serrador’s WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (previously issued on DVD by Dark Sky Films) was the standout for me. MM’s new 4K transfer from the film’s negative is really quite a sight to behold and looks flawless and, to top it all off, the film is playable in no less than four (4) different versions (!), which include the full-length uncut version in both English and Spanish (with newly-translated English subtitles), as well as an alternate English version and AIP (American International Pictures)’s truncated ISLAND OF THE DAMNED stateside release version. Extras includes a wonderful audio commentary from Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger, who not only discuss the film in question, but also Serrador’s long—and continuing—career in television. Numerous featurettes with the film’s director and DP José Luis Alcaine are also included, and for those lucky folks who scored themselves a Limited Edition ‘Red Case’ copy, it also contains mini-reproductions of the U.S. lobby card set and a nicely-illustrated booklet featuring an excellent essay by scribe Lee Gambin. Essential!

THE COMPLETE SARTANA [1968 – 1970] (Arrow Video) – One of the many antiheroes who populated the world of spaghetti westerns, although Gianni Garko had played an otherwise unrelated villainous character named Sartana in “Albert Cardiff”/Alberto Cardone’s $1,000 ON THE BLACK (a.k.a. BLOOD AT SUNDOWN [1966]), Garko was first ‘officially’ introduced as a new character named Sartana in “Frank Kramer”/Gianfranco Parolini’s IF YOU MEET SARTANA… PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH (1968), and he is the actor most-associated with the title role (although George Hilton and other performers also tried their hands at Sartana’s persona, with various degrees of success). Of course, there were many subsequent—often in-name-only—rip-off’s (some good, some, um, not so good), but Arrow Video only includes the five official films, and for the record, they include Parolini’s aforementioned film as well as Giuliano Carnimeo’s (directing under his usual “Anthony Ascott” pseudonym) I AM SARTANA YOUR ANGEL OF DEATH (1969), HAVE A GOOD FUNERAL MYFRIEND… SARTANA WILL PAY (1970), LIGHT THE FUSE… SARTANA IS COMING (1970) and SARTANA’S HERE… TRADEYOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN (1970), with George Hilton assuming Sartana’s handle/mantle for that lattermost title. Each series entry is allotted its own separate Blu-ray and, outside of the first entry (which was transferred from a film chain and looks the weakest of the lot, but is still miles better than anything previously released), all the films look spectacular and include a multitude of extras. A thick booklet, which includes writing from author Roberto Curti, is also included. A truly wonderful—and essential—collection, this is!

LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT [1972] (Arrow Video) – So many different editions and different versions of this oft-controversial film have come and gone over the years that it has become virtually impossible to choose the definitive one, but the fine folks at Arrow Video may have managed just that! A truly stupendous Blu-ray set in all respects, Arrow’s impressive 2K restoration looks fabulous, especially given the film’s low-budget origins and the grainy 16mm film stock, which also includes all three extant versions: the unrated one, the alternate KRUG & COMPANY cut, as well as the R-rated cut, spread over two Blu-rays. A massive amount of extras are also included, which are far too numerous to list here, but some of the standouts include a newly-recorded audio commentary with Bill Ackerman and Amanda Reyes from the Supporting Characters and Made for TV Mayhem podcasts, who both do stellar work here, shedding even more light on this significant film. David Gregory’s revealing doc Celluloid: Crime of the Centuryis once again included, as are a number of new and existing docs, location tours, over 45-minutes (!) of outtakes and dailies, plus tons more. Additionally, the film is packaged in one of Arrow’s sturdy hardboxes, which includes a thick booklet with writing from Nightmare USA’s Stephen Thrower, a doubled-sided poster, lobby-card repros and reversible artwork. Truly outstanding!

GIALLO IN VENICE [1979] (Scorpion Releasing) – Easily the most notorious giallo of them all, Mario Landi’s film gets a (quote) “brand new 2018 HD scan”, which is a real eye-opener for anyone who has suffered through all those dreadful bootlegs over the years. While it’s not the prettiest film to look at, the new-and-improved transfer makes a world of difference, and to top it all off, it’s uncut as well. Even though extras are limited, a fun, fact-filled audio commentary with author Troy Howarth is also included. The disc also includes reversible artwork, a nicely-illustrated—and appropriately lurid!—slipcover courtesy of Devon Whitehead, and a collectible poster too. Read review.

MEMORIES WITHIN MISS AGGIE [1974] (Vinegar Syndrome) – Difficult to see for years, especially in something even resembling a decent version, Gerard Damiano’s horror-infused psychosexual shocker receives the red-carpet treatment by VS. One of the more compelling hardcore films to emerge from the era of “porno chic”, VS’ new 2K transfer taken from 16mm archival elements brings out much of the film’s oppressive atmosphere, and is just about perfect, considering the film’s humble origins. A short-but-excellent poster/still gallery is also included with numerous articles related to the film’s controversial theatrical run, as well as a video-sourced trailer, whose lesser quality makes you truly appreciate just how good everything looks now. The initial 1000 print-run (now OOP) also included a collectible slipcover. Read review.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS [1957] (Olive Films) – With its potent and frightening themes of total collectivist dehumanization and loss of individual identity, this film remains as highly topical/relevant today as it ever was, if not even more-so. In what was surely one of the more anticipated releases of the year, Olive lent Don Siegel’s enduring sci-fi classic their ‘Signature Series’ treatment with a fine-looking HD transfer and a wealth of special features, many of which have been lying dormant since Paramount’s proposed DVD in 2006. These extras included excellent interviews with the film’s stars Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter, both of whom have since passed away, and there’s a terrific audio commentary (also recorded in 2006) with McCarthy, Wynter and celebrated film director Joe Dante. Numerous other worthy extras are also included, which only sweetens the deal.

NIGHT OF THE DEMON [1957] (Indicator) – An absolutely stunning, topnotch 2-disc Blu-ray set that is a necessity for anyone’s collection! Based on M.R. James’ short story “Casting the Runes” (1911), superb filmmaking makes this a true gem if ever there was one. Indicator have really outdone themselves with this magnificent release of Jacques Tourneur’s occult masterpiece by including six (yes, SIX!) different editions of the film, along with so many extras it’ll make your head spin. 

THE BLOOD ISLAND COLLECTION [1959 – 1970] (Severin) – Encompassing not only Gerardo de Leon’s and Eddie Romero’s BRIDES OF BLOOD (1968) and MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (1968), as well as Romero’s BEAST OF BLOOD ([1970] that is only available in this boxset), the three official films which constitute the “Blood Island” trilogy, Severin’s impressive set also includes de Leon’s and Romero’s TERROR IS A MAN (a.k.a. BLOOD CREATURE [1959]), their ‘downsized’ if nonetheless effective and atmospheric take on H.G. Wells’ influential 1896 novel The Island of Dr. Moreau. Amazing transfers (including a stunning 4K transfer of MAD DOCTOR taken from the original camera negative) highlight much of this collection, with each film looking far better than any previous release(s), and of course, Severin also provides plenty of extras, including documentaries, commentaries, trailers and lots more! The initial 3500 print-run has already sold out, so if you luck into one at an old brick-and-mortar store or online for a decent price, snap it up!

TAKE IT OUT IN TRADE [1970] (AGFA / Something Weird Video) – Long thought to be lost, approximately 70 minutes of outtakes from this Edward D. Wood Jr. film were released onto VHS videocassette by SWV in 1995, but according to the audio commentary on this disc by director Frank Henenlotter, author and Ed Wood biographer Rudolph Grey and AGFA’s Joseph A. Ziemba, the only known 16mm print was obtained from actor / stuntman Ray “Crash” Corrigan’s son. The disc also includes the aforementioned outtakes and a decent 2K scan of Joseph F. Robertson’s THE LOVE FEAST (1969), which also co-stars cult poverty row filmmaker Ed Wood. A nice booklet with liner notes from Grey is also included in the package. 

THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS [1942] (The Criterion Collection) – Thanks to the imprudent studio bosses at RKO, Orson Welles’ film will never be reconstructed into its original form, but Criterion’s Blu-ray is yet another ‘magnificent’ 4K transfer of this heavily-compromised masterpiece, which, even in its bowdlerized version still leaves us so much to enjoy from the performances (Agnes Moorehead received an Oscar nod), Bernard Hermann’s music and the fluid photography. Lots of fascinating extras (including a 57-page booklet) are included, which further establishes Welles’ unfortunate luck with RKO. 

THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD [1951] (Warner Archive Collection) – Christian Nyby’s and Howard Hawks’ tremendous, ground-breaking sci-fi film—one of the earliest ‘alien invasion’ outings—arrives on Blu-ray in a first-rate transfer without any of the noticeable quality disruptions seen in previous versions. Although it’s a relatively bare-bones disc boasting only a couple of trailers (the original and a rerelease trailer), this new-and-improved transfer comes as a real revelation. 

ZOMBIE [1979] (Blue Underground) – Pretty much available since the dawn of home video on a number of different formats from a whole slew of labels, Lucio Fulci’s most-iconic achievement has recently been released in what shall quite likely remain the definitive version. This 3-Disc Limited Edition (offering three different slipcovers to choose from!) assembles together extras from BU’s earlier 2-disc Ultimate Edition along with a number of new ones, including an audio commentary with Splintered Visions author Troy Howarth, plus a newly-shot on-camera interview with Beyond Terror author Stephen Thrower. And not only that, but you also get Fabio Frizzi’s complete soundtrack on an extra CD too! Read review.


ALICE, SWEET, ALICE (88 Films), BASKET CASE (Arrow Video), BEWARE THE BRETHREN (Vinegar Syndrome), BLOODLUST (Mondo Macabro), THE BLOODTHIRSTY TRILOGY (Arrow Video), BLUE COLLAR (Indicator – Region B), CHARLEY VARRICK (Indicator - Region B), THE CHANGELING (Severin), THE CHILDREN (Vinegar Syndrome), CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (Arrow Video – Region B), CREEPSHOW (Scream Factory), DEATH LAID AN EGG (Nucleus), THE DEVIL INCARNATE (Mondo Macabro), EATEN ALIVE (Severin), EMANUELLE AND THE LAST CANNIBALS (Severin), ENTER THE DEVIL (Massacre Video), THE EXECUTION SQUAD (Al!ve / AG Films), EYEBALL (88 Films), FIVE TALL TALES: BUDD BOETTICHER & RANDOLPH SCOTT AT COLUMBIA, 1957-1960 (Indicator), GAMES (Scream Factory), GODMONSTER OF INDIAN FLATS (AGFA / Something Weird Video), GOLD (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), THE GRISSOM GANG (Kino Lorber Studio Classics), HAMMER VOLUME TWO: CRIMINAL INTENT (Indicator), THE HIRED HAND (Arrow Academy), THE HOT ROCK (Twilight Time), IMAGES (Arrow Academy), THE INCUBUS (Vinegar Syndrome), LADY FRANKENSTEIN (Nucleus), MANIAC (Blue Underground / 3-disc Limited Edition), A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (The Criterion Collection), MAUSOLEUM (Vinegar Syndrome),  MURDER ROCK (Scorpion Releasing), ORGIES OF EDO (Arrow Video), PERVERSION STORY (Mondo Macabro), REQUIEM FOR GRINGO (Wild East Productions), SHAMPOO (The Criterion Collection), THE SADIST OF NOTRE DAME (Severin), THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (Warner Archive Collection),SHOCKING DARK (Severin), SINFONIA EROTICA (Severin), SISTERS (The Criterion Collection), SNOWBEAST (Retromedia), THE SWINGING BARMAIDS (Code Red), THE TREE OF LIFE (The Criterion Collection), THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES (Twilight Time), THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA (Scream Factory), THE WASP WOMAN (Scream Factory), WILLIAM CASTLE AT COLUMBIA, VOLUME ONE (Indicator) and ZOMBIE 3 (Severin). 

Thursday, December 27, 2018


Reviewed by Steve Fenton, with Dennis Capicik
From Fanfare’s U.S. pressbook synopsis: ‘A continuous succession of misdeeds holds the city in the grip of an infernal vice.’
Enrico Maria Salerno, as Inspector Bertone: “I’m at the point of losing all conviction, all motivation. Ordinary police routine has become a farce. We’re practically powerless. The underworld buggers us, and the press rams it in deeper!”
Mario Adorf, as Assistant DA Ricciutti: “Are you nostalgic for the death penalty, Bertone?”
Vengeful cop, heard over squad-car radio: “We’ll see the murdering little bastard gets what he deserves: ‘An eye for an eye; a life for a life’...!”
At some point early in its genesis announced under the shooting title “REQUIEM FOR A CHIEF OF THE HOMICIDE SQUAD,” this film was also variously announced in the contemporaneous American trade-papers as “THE POLICE SEND THANKS” and “THE POLICE SAY THANK YOU,” both of which are simple translations of EXECUTION SQUAD’s original Italian title (i.e., La polizia ringrazia).
Several years after the fact, Variety (May 1975) reported that producer Roberto Infascelli was a “trend setter” and that this film had “opened a chapter full of law-on-the-skids pix.” Yes indeed, the Italian/West German co-production EXECUTION SQUAD ([1971] released as THE ENFORCERS in the U.K.) was largely instrumental in inspiring a whole crimewave of more exploitative, B-grade cops-’n’-robbers actioners on the Continent (in Italy especially), as well as any number of more ‘upscale’ genre entries by the likes of Damiano Damiani and Pasquale Squitieri. One of the earliest Italian ‘vigilante cop’ entries of the ’70s, ES officially marked the first time that its director—who is ironically better-known for helming sophisticated comedies under his usual pseudonym of “Steno”—signed a film, and a dead-seriously dramatic one at that, with his real name, Stefano Vanzina (1917-1988). It became a box-office smash on the Continent, and as a result was highly influential on the Italocrime movie front, prompting numerous imitations/emulations of variable quality. Dialogue-driven with unusually literate Anglo dubbing (some of the best ever heard in a foreign import, it should be said, despite the occasional ‘surreal’-sounding translated phrase), ES makes the ideal starting point for those interested in unearthing the more domestic roots of ’70s Italocrime cinema. If native filmmakers frequently took their cues from such outside influences as Popeye Doyle, “Dirty” Harry Callaghan and Frank Serpico, they found an equal kindred spirit in ES’ staunch and stoic Inspector Bertone, whose most lethal weapon is not a big gun but his own big mouth, which he shoots-off with unerring accuracy straight from the hip, seldom failing to hit the bull’s-eye (“I just find it hard to keep my mouth shut when punks like that go free!”).
An unprecedented nationwide crimewave grips Italy, but despite this ongoing societal crisis, Rome has been placed under a general criminal amnesty. Wealthy retired former Police Chief Ernesto Stolfi (Cyril Cusack) is most vocal about his solution to end the crimewave, and airs his ‘extremist’ views freely during a controversial TV interview. Since middle-aged Inspector Mario Bertone (the great Enrico Maria Salerno [1926-1994], dubbed into English hereon by voice specialist Edward Mannix), a 25-year veteran of law enforcement, assumed command of the Homicide Squad, there has been a marked increase in murders (“I feel that we’re on the edge of a wave of violence in this country that has no precedence”). Insp. Bertone had recently arrested a known gangster named Francesco “Bruno” Bettarini (Franco Fabrizi), who is suspected of involvement in an armed robbery that left an innocent watchman dead. Due to his sleazy lawyers exploiting a legal technicality—so what else is new?!—Bettarini is subsequently acquitted on all charges due to insufficient evidence, and released from police custody. Bertone officially protested the decision in the courts, only to incur the resentment of powerful magistrates within the judiciary for his outspokenness. Reporters flock to the controversial case like vultures, resulting in much unwanted publicity from the scandal-hungry media. 
Later, in the Piazza dei Fornari, (quote) “two pricks” on a big 750cc Moto Guzzi V7 rob a store, killing a man and woman in the process, only to then make their two-wheeled getaway with no loot to show for it. A largescale police manhunt is mobilized. Citizens complain that the police don’t protect them enough; cops complain that politicians forever keep their hands tied with red tape. Newspapers bleat on about the ineffecuality of the Law, then protest when police must out of necessity resort to using excess force to prevent crime. When the newly-acquitted Bruno Bettarini is apprehended at the airport carrying a gun of the same calibre as that used in the Piazza dei Fornari shootings, he is re-arrested as a prime suspect. He later claims the gun was planted on his possession and that he has been a victim of police brutality. Meanwhile, the two fugitive punks who were the actual perps remain at large. One of them, Michele Settecammini (shaggy-haired German Schlager singer/musician-actor and teenybopper heartthrob Jürgen Drews), a habitual repeat offender with a rap-sheet longer than the overreaching arm of the law despite his youth, makes a hostage of a nubile eighteen-year-old hairdresser named Anna Maria Sprovieri (Laura Belli, who does a purely gratuitous ‘top-and-bottom’ nude scene, albeit without revealing any pubic hair. The actress subsequently appeared as one of Tomas Milian’s victims in Lenzi’s ALMOST HUMAN [1974]).
(Attn: ***SPOILER ALERT!***) It eventually comes to light that a group of disgruntled ex-carabinieri, going about their unofficial business stealthily in big death-black unmarked cars with phony licence plates, have been taking the law into their own hands by arbitrarily acting as collective judges, jurors and executioners. First interrogating suspects ‘off the record,’ they function as what is basically a vigilante execution squad (as per the US release title). Killings are committed in an old fascist style, via makeshift firing squads of .38 Police Specials. In this fashion, the executioners make an example of Mario Staddarini (Piero Tiberi), Settecammini’s accomplice in the recent Piazza dei Fornari robbery. After the slippery Bettarini’s latest rerelease for lack of evidence, he is unofficially picked-up by the hit squad (“But, youain’t the fuzz!”). In retribution for the night watchman’s murder, Bettarini is methodically electrocuted against a hydro pylon (in certain other cases, strangulation and bludgeoning are the methods used). Following executions, victims are left dangling in handcuffs in plain sight so as to serve as a warning/deterrent to the general public at large. Bertone succeeds in linking the hit squad to an influential politician who has recently spoken-out in favour of restoring capital punishment to the land.
As a public relations ploy, Insp. Bertone treats key members of the press to a special guided bus tour of the Eternal City’s seamier side; for which he provides running commentary illustrated with authentic specimens of Roman ‘night life.’ Bertone describes prostitution as “the Swiss bank of the underworld,” raking-in an estimated 350-billion lire per annum (at early ’70s prices). The industry is protected by the so-called “Merlin Law,” which points out the bitter irony of a hooker’s lot: while she may well be entirely free to walk her beat in the eyes of the law, because of control by brutal pimps, she is far from at liberty to quit it. Easily exploitable if contradictory legal loopholes protect both the prostitute and her pimp from prosecution. Bertone winds-down his ‘in-the-field’ lecture by explaining that the prison system is overcrowded to bursting point with suspects; most of whom will wind up being released due to systemic impotence, procrastination and apathy within the judicial system. (Indicating that the general public at large are equally at fault, during opening armed robbery, Joe Blow bystander cautions his buddy, “Hey, man, don’t get involved!” A reporter subsequently gives his own cynical take on the situation [“In this city, the citizens are terrorized, and they don’t think the police are doing anything about it!”]).
Bertone leaks a strong suspicion to the press that a prominent city official with political ambitions has condoned the executions of two notorious criminals in order to win citizens’ support by currying their favour. For going public with this belief, Bertone is severely reprimanded by his superiors. Now affectionately christened the “Clean-Up Squad” by the media, the rogue cops step-up their busy execution schedule to include even minor offenders from the lowest rungs of the underworld ladder. Paranoia among the malavita (“lowlifes”) rises to such a pitch that criminals begin voluntarily delivering themselves over into protective police custody rather than risk a vigilante bullet. When Raf Valenti, “Public Enemy #1,” surrenders to escape execution, the Clean-Up Squad nevertheless succeeds in slipping him a hit of cyanide right inside the Questura.
Of the opinion that the ends justify the means—not to mention lighten their workload—other officers on the force speak out in open support of the Clean-Up Squad, and are reticent to see them arrested. Insp. Bertone reads his unruly-verging-on-mutinous subordinates the riot act, comparing the rogue cops—who had all been fired from active duty for using excessive force—to (quote) “common hitmen.” Meanwhile, Michele Settecammini and his teenage hostage are surrounded at their hideout by police. Assistant District Attorney Ricciutti (Mario Adorf) negotiates with the fugitive, arranging a getaway car, much to Bertone’s chagrin (“We can’t start making deals with these punks: they’ll walk all over us!”). With strict stipulations, Settecammini—fearing reprisal from the Clean-Up Squad—agrees to surrender himself into Bertone’s custody. While he is being transported to jail by Bertone, the Squad makes an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Settecammini, who is delivered alive—if not entirely unharmed—into Ricciutti’s care. (Attn: ***SPOILER ALERT!***) Grown jaded and disgusted with the status quo to the point of tendering his resignation from the force, Bertone realizes that the ‘deep state’ organization which financially sponsors the Clean-Up Squad possesses powerful sympathizers/supporters within the upper echelons of government… and even in the very Vatican itself; their mutual ultimate goal being complete inversion of the political order and a return to a Mussolini-styled totalitarian dictatorship!
Courtesy of the Fentonian Institute.
Bertone, who wryly refers to prisons as “State-run schools for criminals,” must constantly juggle all his conflicting loyalties and weigh them against his personal convictions, which don’t always balance themselves with the scales of Justice, which are constantly teetering at the tipping point. With his back pinned to the wall between a rock and a hard place, Bertone decries the flawed existing legal system yet still idealistically champions the concept of democratic law (“Whether we like it or not, one of our jobs is to protect swine like that from being lynched!”); case in point when he risks his own skin to defend a no-good dirtbag who has already murdered at least three people. If in his view the Clean-Up Squad operates at the extreme fringe of the Right Wing, Bertone himself still remains uncomfortably just left of centre, tightrope-walking precariously along the dividing line. For instance, during his epic speech about the prostitution industry, Bertone can barely contain his contempt for homosexual hookers; whom he unflatteringly describes as the type of individual who “earns his living with the sweat of his ass” (“a most unnatural act,” adds the confidently hetero Inspector regarding sodomy). Bertone’s ‘homophobia’ resurfaces on at least one more occasion (as a rent boy is heard to exclaim disgustedly to a jilted john at one point, “You faggots gimme a pain in the ass!” [pun intended!]). As if heeding some unspoken vicarious desire of the Inspector’s, the Clean-Up Squad eventually takes to killing the johns of gay hustlers (“pederasts”). EXECUTION SQUAD’s sympathies seem to shakily straddle the fence somewhere between dead centre and extreme right, leaving audiences to root for either Bertone or the Clean-Up Squad. While the script does play both sides, the film’s real heroes—without mentioning any names!—were obvious to probably the vast majority of viewers of the day… dare I say, perhaps even more so today, in these times of rebellious populist upheaval within the EU? (Thank you, Matteo Salvini!)
Closest that EXECUTION SQUAD ever strays to the Left is via Sandra (the big-eyed Mariangela Melato, sporting an unflatteringly tomboyish ’70s-style ‘scruffy-cut’ hairdo), a politically active—read: SJW—newspaper reporter whose more lenient views (“Criminals are human too. Criminals aren’t created ... it’s the fault of society”) sometimes come at odds with the justice-or-bust Bertone’s inflexible Quixotic quest (“tilting at windmills,” as an incognito interested party calls it). Even Bertone feels pangs of sympathy for the two misguided bike punks, who, without even a lone lira to show for their botched armed robbery, face complete contemptuous ostracism by the underworld. Indicating how much he flirts with her ideas, while off-duty Bertone dates the politically more liberal (dare I say ‘progressive’?) Sandra. Due to her ‘insider’ knowledge, he is not averse to manipulating Sandra—who functions as both his muse and foil to equal degrees—into playing police informant upon occasion, which might well explain his main interest in keeping her around at all. Because she is his most vocal critic in the press (“You are the typical professional cop!”), this might almost seem like a conflict of interest on both sides, and if nothing else it illustrates how opposites sometimes do indeed attract for the simple reason that they both have ulterior motives on one another, so conveniently rationalize the arrangement to suit themselves as well as each other.
Playing another man of unshakable integrity, the distinguished Assistant DA, powerhouse German co-star Mario Adorf—who unfortunately didn’t stick around to dub his own English lines in this instance—serves as the better angel of Bertone’s nature (i.e., his guilty conscience). Salerno commands authority in the Bertone role, but as Ricciutti Adorf is frankly rather wasted in a one-dimensional order-barking authoritarian part (he might have been far better cast in a meatier role, such as the smug, sneery slimeball Bettarini, perhaps?). Representing his worst devil on the other—make that Extreme Right—hand is Bertone’s intermittent unofficial advisor in the form of Cusack’s outwardly soft-spoken and benignant Stolfi character, who talks softly but carries a big secret chip on his shoulder. Early into the film, Stolfi facetiously compares crime to Pinocchio’s nose (i.e., always growing).
The Clean-Up Squad’s choice of victims is symbolic: so-called “degenerates” (such as hookers and homosexuals [YIKES!]) and subversive leftist extremists, all regarded as archetypal representatives of societal malaise and decay, and thus entirely disposable in the myopic gunsight eyes of the dirty arm of the Law’s itchy trigger finger. The Clean-Up Squad derives much wry propaganda from a public service poster distributed by the city council, which reads: Roma è anche tua aiutaci a tenerla pulita / “Rome is your city, and it’s your duty to keep it clean.” Ironically twisting its meaning to suit their own objectives, for extra symbolic effect the clique of grim-faced rogue ex-cops dispose of victims’ bodies in plain sight beneath copies of this poster pasted-up in various parts of Rome (“Looks like the ‘Clean-Up Squad’ has chalked-up another one, Inspector,” notes an observer). Seen elsewhere for added irony is a more familiar propaganda poster (‘La Polizia: troverai la specializzazione che desideri’, which roughly translates to “You will find the career you want in the Police Force”); a real-life recruitment poster seen on Questura walls in countless other ’70s Italocrime films… if not seen quite so often as J&B Scotch bottles were! (Just for the record, none of those latter ‘incidental props’ appear in the present film for the purposes of product placement.)
Interestingly enough for Italo cinema buffs, Settecammini’s late accomplice Staddarini had been temping as an extra on spaghetti westerns (many of which were still being produced in Rome at the time), but because of a recent work shortage in that area switched careers to eke-out a more dishonest living as a scippatore from the avails of purse-snatching. Bettarini meanwhile openly flouts his disrespect for the law. No sooner has he assaulted several cops than he is justifiably beaten-up by them in return, only to have his hotshot criminal lawyer Avellano (the portly, gap-toothed Corrado Gaipa, a near-future alumnus of Coppola’s THE GODFATHER [1972]) bear aural witness to this so-called ‘unprovoked’ police brutality over the phone. In Vanzina’s apparent attempt to illustrate that lawyers are often as bad as—if not worse than—their clients, Avellano (not “Armani,” as the IMDb claims!) also provides legal counsel for the Settecammini character, an incorrigible repeat offender who, due to technicalities in wishy-washy existing laws, has continually slipped through the much-too-coarse mesh of the legal net to commit new offences with great regularity. (Attn: ***SPOILER ALERT!***) During his latest and greatest crime, while being chased along the Via del Mare, Settecammini cruelly dumps his female hostage from the back of a speeding motorbike directly under the wheels of an oncoming police Giulia. This tragic incident once again forces Insp. Bertone to re-examine his troubled conscience to make a fateful personal decision...
Variety (May 1972) gave a positive progress report on this film’s “polemical treatment of a semi-official death squad assault on crime.” A prototypical effort for sure, ES launched a whole crimewave of ‘socially aware’ antiestablishment ‘police-are-powerless’ dramas. Interestingly enough, even Clint Eastwood/Ted Post’s later MAGNUM FORCE, released the following year in 1973, bears some rudimentary—if key—plot similarities (simple coinkydink, or…?). Following ES’ Roman premiere (in June 1972), Variety (“Werb.”) wrote: “Almost all of the ingredients in this ruthless and implacable film fall into place so neatly that foreign prospects are positive, including the U.S.” Sadly, this engrossing, superior entry (truncated from 98m to just 85m as EXECUTION SQUAD, although the most-recent BD releases thankfully contain full-length prints) evidently received only a spotty stateside theatrical distribution deal, it caused nary a ripple on this side of the Atlantic. It later (circa the ’80s) also turned up in English-dubbed, full-length, albeit only full-frame form on Dutch videotape from Video Star (under the Anglo export title FROM THE POLICE ...WITH THANKS), as well as being released widescreen in Japan by Pack-In Video (titled KUROI KEISATSU / “Black Police”), in Italian with Japanese hard-subs.
Producer Roberto Infascelli’s loosely-connected follow-ups, the first of which re-starred Enrico Maria Salerno in a different if highly similar role (as one commissario Cardone rather than ispettore Bertone), were THE GREAT KIDNAPPING(a.k.a. La polizia sta a guardare [1973]), which Infascelli himself also directed, followed by Massimo Dallamano’s slick hybrid giallo-poliziesco WHAT HAVE THEY DONE TO YOUR DAUGHTERS? (La polizia chiede aiuto[1974]), co-starring the delectable Giovanna Ralli and the ill-fated Claudio Cassinelli. 
Even though, as mentioned above, EXECUTION SQUAD did garner a belated U.S. theatrical release courtesy of The Fanfare Corporation in 1975, in a hacked-down 85-minute version no less (it also played certain Canadian cinemas in 1976 thanks to Astral Films), this film, which is highly-regarded in its countries of origin, unfortunately never made it onto legit home video in either the U.S.A. or Canada. In the pre-DVD days, most people who saw it caught up with ES via bootleg dupes taken from the Netherlands’ Video Star VHS videocassette, which was an English-dubbed (with Dutch subtitles, ’natch) edition under its aforementioned original Anglo export release title, FROM THE POLICE …WITH THANKS. Of course, the English dubbing was most helpful, but the tape’s drastically-cropped image (from its original 2.35:1 Techniscope framing to something approximating 1.66:1) definitely made things far too cramped, seriously compromising much of Riccardo Pallottini’s carefully-composed camerawork. As mentioned above, during the ’80s, the film also came out on Japanese VHS videocassette in a highly presentable fully-letterboxed release from Pack-In Video, but alas that tape came only in Italian with burned-in Japanese subtitles. In 2003, the film’s first official DVD release also emanated from Japan courtesy of King Records, and although their disc was non-anamorphic, it did contain an English audio track and was properly framed at 2.35:1, even retaining the film’s exploitable Anglo export title. Later that same year, the Italian-based zine Nocturno released the film in Italy, but once again the DVD did not contain any English audio. 
In 2011, the German label Al!ve AG, in conjunction with Colosseo Film, tackled the film with an impressive 2-DVD set (encoded for Region 2) containing a superb 16x9 edition of the 2.35:1 film. Unlike previous transfers, which had a tendency to be dull and murky, detail this time around was far sharper, not only showcasing the appropriately dark black levels (especially evident during a few of the film’s nighttime scenes) but its properly-rendered colours as well, which really popped off the screen in scenes showing the film’s early-’70s interior décor. Of course, the gritty urban setting also comes through just fine, with plenty of suitably bleak and oppressive browns and greys (the firing squad-type execution of the Staddarini character on the banks of the Tiber most readily springs to mind). Audio choices for Al!ve’s edition included German, Italian and English, all of which were in Dolby Digital mono and sounded fine, without any discernible issues. Optional German subtitles were also included, while the only extra to be found on this first DVD release was the film’s original Italian trailer (3m36s). All of the extras were included with the second DVD but, it being a German release, none of them were English-friendly. The most substantial extra was The Way We Were (67m51s), which included interviews with the film’s producer Dieter Geissler, German writer / actor Peter Berling and two of the film’s principal actors: Mario Adorf and Jürgen Drews. Much of TWWW’s running time documents their careers and how they became involved in the film, and in the case of Berling, the general film scene at the time; their time spent in Rome; working with director “Steno” / Stefano Vanzina; and the many challenges of communicating in so many different languages on set (a commonplace state of affairs for a continental co-production). While much of the doc comprises talking heads, it also includes a generous amount of visual material and film clips from the film itself, as well as from some of Geissler’s acting roles, such as Pim de la Parra’s OBSESSION (1969); Mario Adorf’s other Italocrime film, Fernando di Leo’s MANHUNT (a.k.a. THE ITALIAN CONNECTION, 1972); and Peter Berling’s numerous stints in front of the camera, including on Werner Herzog’s Amazonian adventure epic AGUIRRE, WRATH OF GOD (1972). Next up was yet another lengthy on-camera interview with co-star Jürgen Drews (55m36s), which, once again, isn’t English-friendly. Rounding-out the extras is a photo and poster gallery depicting many of the film’s press materials, including German plakats (posters), Italian fotobuste (XL lobby cards) and plenty of black-and-white stills. The 2-disc set came housed in a standard Amaray case with reversible artwork and a 12-page (in-German-only) booklet, all enclosed in a nice slipcover.
Courtesy of the Fentonian Institute.
Given its superior pedigree, it was inevitable that Al!ve AG and Colosseo would revisit the film on BD. Packaged almost identically but in a smaller Blu-ray keepcase, the set once again includes reversible artwork, a 12-page booklet (again, in German only) and a nice slipcover; the only difference being the inclusion of a 25 GB Region B Blu-ray, which includes a truly stellar MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encoding of an already-great-looking HD transfer. The upgrade to full HD serves the film well, with the added sharpness and clarity resulting in a far more consistent and detailed picture. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is once again offered in German, Italian and English, and it’s all nicely-balanced with everything sounding just fine, which is especially important for this dialogue-heavy film; and yes, Stelvio Cipriani’s now-iconic, first-class Italocrime score also sounds terrific! As with Al!ve’s DVD, the only extra on the Blu-ray is the film’s original Italian trailer (3m36s). Optional German subtitles are once again included, and once more, the extras are included on a separate DVD and are exactly the same as the aforementioned 2011 DVD package while a second DVD includes an exact replica of the Blu-ray in SD only.
Even if EXECUTION SQUAD doesn’t have the fast-paced, action-packed thrills of later Italocrime films along the lines of, say, an Umberto Lenzi or Fernando di Leo street-crimer, Stefano Vanzina’s film is nonetheless an engaging, sharply-written film that remains essential viewing, not only for the fact that it also helped instigate and mold an entire genre of Italian moviemaking. Order the Blu-ray from DiabolikDVD or Amazon Germany.
Trivial Footnote: As an intentional pun on the original Italo title of Vanzina’s famous and influential ’71 film, LA POLIZIA RINGRAZIA also became the title of a XXX hardcore Italian porn movie (ca. 2000) directed by “Frank Simon” and starring Ursula Cavalcanti.

Sunday, December 16, 2018


The film that reinvented Lucio Fulci’s career and forever cemented his reputation among gorehounds worldwide, ZOMBIE (1979) has become—and remains—the pinnacle, most-iconic achievement of Fulci’s long and varied career. Sure, he’s made better films, but it’s ZOMBIE that has become inexorably synonymous with gory Italian splatter flicks (or “gutcrunchers,” as the late, great Chas. “DeeRed” Balun might call them), some of whose notoriety can (and indeed, must) be attributed to the film’s bold and brash U.S. ad-campaign (“We Are Going To Eat You!”) courtesy of filmmaker-turned-now-legendary exploiteer Jerry Gross. ZOMBIE has been pretty much available since the very dawn of home video on a number of different formats many times over (it famously became one of the key titles to be persecuted by the BBFC during the U.K.’s “Video Nasty” witch-hunts of the ’80s, which only added to its notoriety), but with Blue Underground’s 40thAnniversary Limited Edition, this may be the final—and best!—incarnation of the film we’ll ever see.

A mysterious sailboat is found adrift in the New York City harbour, but when a Port Authority officer is viciously killed by an unknown assailant after he boards the apparently unmanned vessel, an investigation is duly launched. Peter West (Ian McCulloch), an ambitious reporter, soon gets wind of this and teams up with Anne (Tisa Farrow), the missing boat skipper’s daughter, who is also seeking answers. They eventually make their way to Matoul, a supposedly cursed island in the Antilles (“That’s not a cool place to hit! The natives claim it’s cursed and avoid it like the plague!”), which, thanks to some dubious research by Dr. Menard (Richard Johnson), has become overrun with the living dead... 

Incredibly gory, ZOMBIE has become—thanks in no small part to the talents of makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi—best-remembered for a number of unforgettable and gleefully over-the-top gore scenes which have since become legend, including the infamous, and agonizingly slow, ‘splinter-through-the-eye’ scene, which, even after all these years, still manages to shock and induce cheers among horror fans to this day. Initially devised to capitalize on the enormous success of George A. Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978), which was released in Italy as ZOMBI—hence the present film’s cash-in Italian title, ZOMBI 2—Lucio Fulci and his writing team of Elisa Briganti and Dardano Sacchetti decided to harken back to age-old voodoo rituals, and in this respect ZOMBIE takes as much inspiration from such films as Victor Halperin’s voodoo-themed WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) and Jacques Tourneur/Val Lewton’s atmospheric I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943) as it does from the more modernist DOTD. Matoul’s desolate island setting is wonderfully captured by Sergio Salvati’s widescreen lens, whilst Fulci’s evocative direction (which is especially evident during the stalking sequence of Dr. Menard’s wife [Olga Karlatos]) and Fabio Frizzi’s imaginative score really bring out the film’s death and decay in all its decadent, ever-encroaching glory, which is quite an accomplishment given the film’s rather nominal plot and indifferent performances. British thespians Ian McCulloch and Richard Johnson headline the mostly Italian cast, which also includes perennial Fulci favourite Al Cliver (a.k.a. Pier Luigi Conti) and who are, for the most part, very nearly as lifeless as the living dead themselves, but given the film’s strange and unearthly appeal, it all somehow manages to work.

ZOMBIE was first released onto U.S. VHS/Beta videocassette by Wizard Video in 1981, which was later rereleased in one of their oversized “big boxes” in 1985. And then, in 1989, Magnum Entertainment obtained the rights, and, in conjunction with Image Entertainment, even issued it onto laserdisc. In spite of its gaining popularity during the ’80s VHS boom, these early releases didn’t do the film any justice whatsoever, with unattractive fullscreen transfers that gave little indication of the film’s true look. In Japan, Sony Video Software issued ZOMBIE on VHS and laserdisc as SANGUELIA (the onscreen title was ZOMBIES 2, its original English export title) in what was, for the time, a substantial improvement merely for the fact that it retained the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. In 1998, The Roan Group issued the first-ever domestic widescreen edition of ZOMBIE on Laserdisc, in an edition which was also far more colourful than any previous transfer, but the artificially-boosted colour palette seemed a little too artificial for these eyes. Nonetheless, it remained the benchmark for the time, which also included an audio commentary with star Ian McCulloch and Diabolik magazine’s editor, Jason J. Slater as well as the U.S. theatrical trailer and various TV and radio spots. 

During the DVD era, the film was released a number of times by various companies worldwide, which are far too numerous to list here. The film’s first U.S. DVD came hot on the heels of The Roan Group’s laserdisc in 1998 courtesy of Anchor Bay, which featured the exact same package, but this time, the transfer was far less colourful; so much so in fact, that the new disc format in town didn’t win over many people at the time. Unfortunately, when Anchor Bay decided to revisit the film on DVD in 2002, they simply repackaged the exact same disc once more. In 2004, Blue Undergound and Media Blasters (under their Shriek Show banner) both released separate editions, and while the BU disc—which featured a much better-balanced colour scheme—took the edge in terms of overall picture quality, Shriek Show’s 2-disc set included a number of ‘all-new,’ in-depth extras highlighted by Building A Better Zombie (97m30s), an interesting but way-overlong doc, which featured on-camera interviews with a number of the film’s cast and crew, including F/X guru Giannetto De Rossi and score composer Fabio Frizzi. 

Publicized in 2011 as “The Ultimate Edition”, Blue Underground’s 2-disc Blu-ray included a brand new 2K transfer (supervised by ZOMBIE’S DP Sergio Salvati himself) that was a noticeable improvement in HD, which still managed to complement the film’s gritty veneer but, at the same time, it also appeared that some digital clean-up was done, a fact which definitely caused some controversy among fans. The disc included audio tracks in both English and Italian (with optional English subtitles translated from the Italian track) in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (which includes some rather off-putting, slightly-revised sound effects), Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and Dolby Digital Mono. A plethora of optional subtitles in a multitude of languages was also included. The first Blu-ray also contained the aforementioned commentary; a brief introduction to the film from long-time genre fan Guillermo Del Toro; plus theatrical trailers, TV and radio spots and a nicely-illustrated poster / still gallery (9m51s). The second disc began with Zombie Wasteland (22m19s), produced by BU and Michael Felsher’s Red Shirt Pictures, which features highlights from the April 2010 Cinema Wasteland convention where actors Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson, Al Cliver and Ottaviano Dell’Acqua (a.k.a. Richard Raymond) talk about their experience on the film and Fulci’s (quote) “enthusiasm” and how he (quote) “wanted the maximum” and was (quote) “never content with half measures”. The brief doc also showcases the film’s dedicated fans as well as giving the viewer a nice glimpse at this long-running convention. Other extras included Flesh-Eaters on Film (9m38s), in which producer Fabrizio De Angelis discusses the globe-trotting production and how they (quote) “stole” many shots in NYC including the film’s memorable ‘shock-twist’ ending; Deadtime Stories (14m33) features interviews with Dardano Sacchetti and Elisa Briganti, who discuss the film’s genesis and the wonderful teamwork behind the production. In World of the Dead (16m34s), DP Salvati and production designer Walter Patriarca talk about the film’s look and how directly involved Fulci was in the project; in Zombi Italiano (16m37s), makeup artists Giannetto De Rossi, Maurizio Trani and special effects tech Gino De Rossi talk predominantly about the ‘look’ they wanted to give the zombies and many of the tests they performed prior to the film going into production; Notes On A Headstone (7m25s) is a brief interview with Fabio Frizzi, who discusses his perceived limitations and how parts of the score developed little by little, like (quote) “Grandma’s recipe”. The remaining featurettes are All In the Family (6m08s), an interview with Fulci’s daughter Antonella, who believes ZOMBIE is her father’s best film, and how his “Theater of Cruelty” is (quote) “full of irony”; plus Zombie Lover (9m36s), which is a lengthier appreciation by Guillermo Del Toro. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to search for a very worthwhile Easter Egg!

The following year, U.K.-based connoisseur label Arrow Video released their own 2-disc edition of the film culled from the (quote) “original camera negative”. This edition certainly raised eyebrows—in a good way—and was, up to that point, the best that ZOMBIE had ever looked, so was well worth double-dipping for. As a bonus, this Arrow edition also allowed the viewer to play the film under three different titles: as ZOMBI 2ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS or ZOMBIE. This time around, the film included an introduction by its star Ian McCulloch, and also included two different audio commentaries compared to the U.S. disc. First up was Beyond Terror author Stephen Thrower and film critic Alan Jones, who have plenty to say about the film and keep the track lively and informative as they discuss its personnel and all sorts of other tidbits related to the film and Fulci’s career; really terrific stuff! Next up, Callum Waddell interviews Elisa Briganti, who once again talks about working alongside her husband Dardano Sacchetti, as well as her reasons for taking sole writing credit on the film, plus plenty of other anecdotes related to the film and other productions from the same time. The most significant extra on the first disc is From Romero to  Rome: The Rise of The Italian Zombie Film (59m36s), which charts the evolution of this grisly subgenre of Italian horror and features plenty of clips and promotional materials to gawk at along the way. Disc two begins with Aliens, Cannibals and Zombies: A Trilogy of Terror (45m52s), which spotlights the brief-but-memorable Italian movie career of Ian McCulloch, wherein he discusses ZOMBIEALIEN CONTAMINATION (1980) and DOCTOR BUTCHER M.D. (1980), iconic Italo splatter shockers all. In Music for a Flesh-Feast (29m25s), Fabio Frizzi talks at the Glasgow Film Theatre and in the short-but-interesting featurette, Zombie Flesh-Eaters: From Script to Screen (3m18s), Sacchetti discusses his early script treatment entitled “Nightmare Island”. In the last featurette, The Meat-Munching Movies of Gino De Rossi (26m34s), the acclaimed special effects artist discusses much of his work during this time, including a number of fan favourites, such as CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (a.k.a. THE GATES OF HELL [1980]), PIRANHA II: THE SPAWNING (1981) and BURIAL GROUND (1980). The initial print-run also included a terrific booklet of liner notes that included more thoughts on the film from Stephen Thrower, a Fulci filmography put together by Jason J. Slater, some of the issues with the BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) by Craig Lapper, and an interview with star Olga Karlatos. 

A tough act to follow, but considering ZOMBIE is one of Blue Underground’s flagship titles, it’s not surprising that they decided to take another shot at it, and it’s a jolly good thing they did! Taken from a brand-new 4K transfer from the (quote) “original uncensored camera negative”, this new transfer—which is slightly darker than the Arrow Blu-ray—appears to be the most-accurate of the lot, but the overall picture allows for more shadowy detail to come through. The naturalistic colours look just about perfect, restoring—and possibly even improving on!—the film’s fetid, morbid atmosphere. Once again, BU have seen fit to include both English and Italian audio options (with properly-translated English subtitles) in both DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and the original—far more pleasing!—DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track. And for you Francophone fans out there, they’ve also included a French Dolby Digital Mono track as well. Subtitles for the hard-of-hearing are also included, as are a vast number of other subtitle options. 

Of course, there’s a lot of overlap in terms of extras, and once again the disc includes the old Ian McCulloch / Jason J. Slater commentary from 1998; Guillermo Del Toro’s brief intro for the film, and that generous poster / still gallery. New extras produced exclusive to this release include an additional audio commentary from Splintered Visions author Troy Howarth, who provides his usual fact-filled track, including some background info on some of the film’s more obscure bit players, including Arthur Haggerty as the boat’s captain, morgue attendants Leslie Thomas and James Sampson (latter of whom also appeared in such favourites as CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD and, years later, in Claudio Fragasso’s AFTER DEATH [1989]), as well as the numerous voice-dubbing specialists involved. Howarth also goes on to talk about many of ZOMBIE’s technicians and how Fulci and his crew made (quote) “films on the cheap that really, really looked lavish indeed,” as well as Richard Johnson’s contributions to the film and how he rewrote much of his dialogue for the occasion. Of course, Howarth also chats about Fulci’s mistreatment of certain actors on-set, verbal abuse which he usually reserved strictly for the Italian ones. It’s a solid, detailed summary of the film. The other new extra is When the Earth Spits Out the Dead… (33m05s), which is yet another fantastic on-camera interview with Stephen Thrower (directed by Severin head-honcho David Gregory), who talks about Fulci’s diverse career and how he ended-up directing ZOMBIE (“He was no stranger to blood and guts.”), which is all nicely highlighted by clips from various Fulci trailers. Thrower also goes on to discuss the film’s (quote) “emphasis on putrefaction”; the aforementioned infamous splinter-in-the-eye scene, which he wittily refers to as Fulci’s “Stairway to Heaven”. Terrific! As always, it makes for a great listen and an excellent—and most welcome!—new extra. The second disc is an exact replica from BU’s earlier ‘Ultimate Edition’ and features Zombie WastelandFlesh-Eaters on FilmDeadtime StoriesWorld of the DeadZombi ItalianoNotes On A HeadstoneAll in the Family and Zombie  Lover. Fabio Frizzi’s memorable score is also included as a bonus CD, which features 9 tracks (26m41s), including the previously-unreleased Linda Lee song, “There’s No Matter”. A slick, nicely-illustrated 22-page liner notes booklet featuring further writing by Stephen Thrower is also included, which this time focuses on the film’s critical reception upon its various theatrical releases around the world. BU are also offering a choice of three—count ’em!—different lenticular eye-catching covers! Whew!

After years of indifferent transfers, it appears that Blue Underground have finally released the definitive edition of ZOMBIE, and it’s hard to imagine Fulci’s landmark film ever looking any better than it does here. Simply put, it’s an absolute must-have! DiabolikDVD currently stock all three different covers here, here and here, and they are also available as 3-Cover Bundle. For you Canadian readers, Suspect Video also offers the all three covers here, here and here, plus the 3-Cover Bundle as well.