Lucio Fulci's 'Zombie' Back on the Big Screen!

Lucio Fulci's 'Zombie' Back on the Big Screen!

Oct 07, 2011

Outside of George Romero’s original “Living Dead” trilogy and a handful of other titles like Shaun of the Dead, there aren’t a lot of well-known zombie movies, at least not to mainstream moviegoers. But Lucio Fulci’s 1979 Zombie deserves to join those ranks, thanks to the director’s generous depiction of undead gore, and a still yet-to-be-matched sequence featuring a zombie fighting a real shark. On October 21 and 22, 2011, home video distributor Blue Underground is trying to add it to that shortlist of zombie classics via digital screenings of a restored high definition transfer of the film in almost 40 theaters across the country.

You can find a full listing of theaters and showtimes at Blue Underground’s website, ut what’s especially interesting about the screening series is that it evidences the evolution of repertory cinema beyond the two extremes of local special-programming theaters and high-profile, public fan events.

Specifically, Zombie is among the first true underground / cult films to secure national distribution in a number of major theater chains, where it is being scheduled alongside new and recent theatrical releases. (Obviously, films like E.T., The Exorcist and 2001: A Space Odyssey have enjoyed national re-releases, but their place in the pop-culture canon is decidedly more assured.) Moreover, as a boutique distributor like Blue Underground is able to take advantage of the advances of digital projection, the release paves the way for future releases of niche, obscure, and cult films by other companies and even individuals who want to reintroduce, and in some cases, just plain introduce them to audiences across the country.

In cities like Los Angeles and New York, repertory cinema is certainly nothing new: theaters like the American Cinematheque and the inestimable New Beverly have run entire film series programmed by industry luminaries, where films both famous and obscure were shown on the big screen, often in 35mm. But in the last decade, so-called geek culture has infiltrated even some of the most mainstream corners of popular culture, and generated legions of passionate fans eager to see their favorite films on the big screen. Recently, for example, the L.A. Times’ Hero Complex blog programmed a short series of genre-friendly films, and invited participants in those films such as Harrison Ford, Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg to come out and celebrate them with attendees.

Interestingly, even though the heavy-hitter guests and high-profile titles requires a degree of coordination, and cooperation, from the studios, there’s a guerilla, DIY sensibility in that the fans themselves that plays a key role in bringing the films back to the big screen. (It certainly doesn’t hurt that independent film booker David Szulkin, who coordinated the release of Zombie, placed the film in theaters where he’s had previous success with repertory screenings of cult fare like The Evil Dead, Pieces, and Gone With the Pope.) At the same time, no part of these screenings is limited to basement-dwellers or socially-awkward cinephiles (although they’re certainly welcome too); rather, the films shown are mainstream blockbusters that simply haven’t been seen in theaters for years. And particularly as it seems like Hollywood is increasingly obsessed with remaking older films, it makes sense to capitalize on the classics that are offering contemporary filmmakers so much inspiration.

Of course, the core audience for Zombie is more, well, particular about their cinematic choices; after all, it’s a 32-year-old zombie movie that was originally made in Italy by a cult director. But its release is a twofold benchmark for moviegoers, as it places the comparatively-obscure film among an otherwise normal selection of films, and then offers presentation that is comparable to them, demonstrating that repertory cinema can be as modern and engaging as any other movie audiences might see. (Having seen Blue Underground’s 2K transfer last week at a public screening during Fantastic Fest, I can attest to the clarity and quality of the presentation.)

Also at Fantastic Fest, Blue Underground successfully screened a restored version of Fulci’s House By the Cemetery, which Szulkin indicated might be one of the next films that the company would distribute digitally. Aditionally, he’s working on partnerships with the filmmakers and rights holders of such films as Penitentiary and The Sadist, which venture even further into cult territory. But even if purists (including yours truly) will always want to see their favorite films on 35 or 70mm, the format in which they were originally presented, it’s an important precedent to set both creatively and commercially if companies, and filmmakers, can show older films that deserve to be seen in a high-quality format and at an affordable price. Not to mention, it makes a great teaser for the Blu-ray of Zombie, which is being released a few days later on October 25.

Categories: Features, News, Horror
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