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Fulci-fied!: 'Zombie': 2 Disc Ultimate Edition (Blu-ray)

Without Fulci, the gore epic would never have its necessary extremes. With him, splatter becomes sensational, just like Zombie.


Zombie

Director: Lucio Fulci
Cast: Tisa Farrow, Ian McCulloch, Richard Johnson,Pier Luigi Conti, Aurette Gay
Rated: Unrated
Studio: Blue Underground
Year: 1979
US date: 2011-10-25
UK date: 2011-10-25

Poor Lucio Fulci. While filmmakers such as Mario Bava, Sergio Leone, and Dario Argento get all the Italian genre accolades, this lover of all things gruesome and gory (and a few other cinematic styles better left for another overview) can't get a lick of lasting respect. Oh sure, the geeks go insane whenever a selection from his massive oeuvre makes it onto one of many home video formats, but for someone as gifted and multi-faceted as he, it seems a shame he's relegated to a pre-sold sideshow oddity. Indeed, among his many known quantities, Zombie seems to be the example carted out whenever anyone wants to pigeonhole this prolific writer/director. Sure, it celebrates the blood and guts he's come to be associated with, but as an overall experience, it's undeniably unnerving.

Anne Bowles (Tisa Farrow) is concerned. Her father's boat has shown up in New York Harbor, empty (well, it did contain some manner of hulking human 'monster') and she wants to know what exactly happened to him. The sudden arrival of the clipper also peaks the interest of struggling journalist Peter West (Ian McCulloch). He decides to head down to the Caribbean and investigate the island of Matool, the last known whereabouts of Anne's dad. She agrees to come along. When they arrive, they find few who will actually take them to the legendary locale. Seems a mysterious disease has everyone spooked. Anne and Peter eventually hook up with American tourists Brian (Pier Luigi Conti) and his girlfriend Susan (Auretta Gay) and together they discover the reason for all the apprehension. Matool is overrun by zombies, and Dr. David Menard (Richard Johnson) is trying to figure out why...before it's too late.

Prior to Zombie (or Zombi, or Zombi 2, however you prefer to tag it), Fulci's fortunes were fading...and fading fast. He was seen as a has-been, a former great who had made his name in one of Italy's most famous motion picture categories - the giallo. After the decidedly anti-Catholic screed Don't Torture a Duckling, however, he seemed to fall out of favor with the moviegoing public. Zombie put him back on the map, remaking him into a master of horror and a wizard of excessive grue. Audiences had never seen the kind of casual, autopsy level of violence that perpetrated this otherwise standard island fever fright film. From necks being torn open to eyes being gouged out by large shards of wood, Fulci found a new lease on creative life by opening up as many veins - and torsos - as he could.

Zombie is indeed a spectacle of splatter. The story is painfully simple - girl goes looking for her lost father and finds a paradise overrun by the living dead - but the delivery of same is shocking. This is a brutal, uncompromising film, a statement by someone who is going 'all-in.' Fulci clearly felt he needed to compete with the Americans and their growing expertise in special effects. In fact, what he was really doing was re-competing within his own artistic region. Italian horror maestros had been pushing the envelope when it came to carnage ever since Suzy Bannion arrived at a mysterious European dance academy in the middle of a thunderstorm. The Yanks were just following suit. Fulci himself had experimented with such extremities, especially during the face destroying finale of Duckling. Zombie therefore became a riff on what his country's horror icons were doing right.

Fans of unfettered terror had never seen anything quite like Zombie. That is why it is still considered a classic of its type today. The movie is uncompromising, never once letting up or eager to give the viewer a break. Instead, there is an aura of darkness and bleak sense of survival that runs all throughout the narrative, a sense that everyone we see and everything we witness is a portent of impending doom. Even the opening, which sees a fat zombie threatening a pair of New York's Finest finds a way to signal the seeming end of mankind. All throughout the movie, Fulci is promising something big - and he constantly delivers. The shock set pieces - including a memorable underwater moment between a shark and a hungry member of the living dead - is almost definitive in its fright flick sentiment. Even the ending chills the very marrow in one's bones.

Fulci also finds a nice level of dread here, something the otherwise lack of suspense would supposedly countermand. We know something is going to happen to the individual members of the victim pool during the story, and these zombies are so slow and uncoordinated that we aren't overly concerned most of the time. But once we see the damage that can be done, once we recognize that corpse physicality has nothing to do with the potential harm to be inflicted, we lose our courage. Indeed, the greatest aspect of Fulci's filmmaking is how he can find a way to make anticipation and payoff seem like parts of the same uneasy premise. Put another way, he can get us interested and then keep us engaged even as the most awful atrocities play out in front of us.

This is what keeps Zombie from being a full blown filmic freakshow only. Yes, we still get the horrific figure in the tent biting the heads off things, but here it's done in a decidedly more disturbing manner. By crafting his kills the way a silent comedy stages his stunts, Fulci found the perfect post post-modern mannerism. It would be copied and mimicked for the last three decades. Indeed, many horror films today rely on gore to get by, believing that you really need little else to capture the viewer's imagination. Fulci may have suggested such a style, but he accented the cruelty with real talent. He could take a bunch of middling actors and turn them into a terror treasure trove that we root and care for - and when you consider that Tisa Farrow (Mia's sister) only has one performance move - the dainty deer in the headlights look - that's saying a lot.

Over the years, companies have campaigned to get Zombie and its maker the recognition they do rightly deserve. Even this new two disc release from Blue Underground (all the more impressive in its high definition remaster) argues added content as a reason for said respect. The truth is, the movie and the man who made it can stand rightly on their own fear factor feet. Argento may be called an artist and the Bavas may bookend the entire Italian horror hierarchy, but there's no reason to write off Fulci. He's not a hack or a genre also-ran. His films are definitely not for everyone, but at the same time, they're not disposable. Without Fulci, the gore epic would never have its necessary extremes. With him, splatter becomes sensational, just like Zombie.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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Features

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton



9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton



8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge



7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge



6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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8

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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