Color, 1983, 98 mins.
Directed by Pupi Avati

Starring Gabriele Lavia, Anne Canovas, Paola Tanziani, Cesare Barbetti, Bob Tonelli / Music by Riz Ortolani / Cinematography by Franco Delli Colli

Format: DVD - Image (MSRP $19.98) 


When Pupi Avati's psychological horror film Zeder first hit U.S. shores under the title Revenge of the Dead, more than a few Fulci and Romero fans were enraged after being suckered in by the misleading poster and video art (see below). While the film does tangentially feature a few reanimated members of the undead, visceral thrills really aren't the name of the game here. Avati - who has since more or less abandoned the horror genre aside from a few vaguely supernatrual films like The Arcane Enchanter and The Bitter Chamber - focuses on atmosphere and concepts, with the gradual accumulation of dread and helplessness driving the film rather than a succession of shocks.

A young journalist, Stefano (Gabriele Lavia), receives a used typewriter from his girlfriend, Alessandra (Anne Canovas). Out of curiosity (or boredom), he looks at the old ribbon inside and reconstructs the sentences last typed by its previous owner. After much headstrain, he deduces that Paolo Zeder, a scientist prominent in the 1950s, discovered that certain areas of the world are actually "K Zones" -- supernatural landmarks where dead bodies may be brought back to life after being buried in the soil. Stefano digs further into the history of Zeder, and by tracing a number of strange unsolved deaths, he learns that a small group of followers holed out in an abandomed camp are determined to continue Zeder's studies by reviving a dead priest.

Methodically paced and extremely grim, Zeder was largely ignored by horror fans until Phil Hardy's horror edition of The Overlook Encyclopedia began raving about Avati as an unsung genius. Suddenly everyone seemed to hail Zeder and its predecessor, Avati's The House with Windows that Laugh (La Casa con le Finestre che Ridono), as the high points of Italian horror cinema. While La Casa may indeed support this claim, Zeder suffers from such extreme appraisals, as it's neither quite a pioneering masterpiece nor a worthless ripoff. Avati's impressive grip of cinematic vocabulary is quite evident here, and he manages to produce some genuinely unnerving sequences, particuarly the finale in which a camera hidden inside a buried coffin produces some horrific results. On the other hand, Lavia, best known for his appearances in Dario Argento's Deep Red and Inferno, makes for a flat, uninvolving leading man; he seems so somber and skewed from his first moment onscreen that his subsequent descent doesn't quite build up the necessary unrelenting momentum. More noticeably, Riz Ortolani's loud, overbearing score has a tendency to squash subtle moments into sheer bombast. These quibbles aside, Zeder remains a highly rewarding film on its own terms, which some impatient viewers may not be willing to meet. As usual, Avati's sense of geography and local color is impeccable, with oddball casting and a fascinating knack for turning mundane camera setups into magical landscapes of shadow and light.

Image's DVD improves dramatically in both sharpness and visual composition upon the old Vestron VHS version, though the original print materials are noticeably in less than prime condition. A few tears and some negative dirt rear their heads now and then, particularly around reel changes, and Avati's washed out color schemes will probably upset viewers expecting a Bava barrage of rainbow hues across the screen. Seasoned Italian horror pros will be more receptive to the film's difficult, eerie charms, however, and the fact that a relatively obscure title like this can get a DVD release in the U.S. is miraculous indeed. The image is either open matte or very slightly cropped from 1.66:1 or less; in either case, no noticeable information seems to be missing, and the compositions appear balanced. 


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