Friday, May 7, 2010


Director: Pupi Avati
Year 1983

Zeder is the thinking man's italian zombie film, opting for holding back on the blood and gore and instead choosing to focus on a strong narrative with an abundance of mystery and intrigue, all packaged in a morbid setting. Pupi Avati brings an amazing tale of the world of the unknown, where corpses become reanimated by special locations known as K-zones. These mysterious sacred grounds, much like in Stephen King's Pet Sematary, activate something in the dead that are buried there and bring them back to life, but not in the persona of their former living self. Many people believe that Avati originated this concept and that King might have picked up on it for his novel, but who really knows. Each iteration of this idea is unique for each artist, so there really isn't any need to delve into who ripped off who. The only branching similarity that they have is the idea that a corpse can be reanimated if buried in a specific location, the rest of the story for both films and originating novel are totally different and they each bring something unique to their proceedings.

Stefano tries to decide who he will plagiarize.

In the beginning moments of this film, we are presented with a few scenes that introduce us to the concept of K-zones and of the select group of people that know about their existence. It's brief and ambiguous, but it lets us get a feel for the world we are about to step into. We make this giant leap with a man by the name of Stefano, played by Gabriele Lavia, who is a young journalist that has just received a new typewriter as a gift. While writing up a piece, he stumbles across a strange mystery that has been embedded into the ink ribbon of his newly obtained typewriter. He manages to reconstruct an unbelievable tale about a scientist named Zeder, who discovered the existence of K-zones in 1950. This intriguing discovery propels Stefano on an amazing journey into bringing light to this spectacular story and uncovering its validity.

Stefano finds out that working with a
typewriter is a huge pain in the ass.

Pupi Avati is a genius of his field, that really doesn't get the same recognition as his italian counterparts like Dario Argento, Mario Bava, or Lucio Fulci. It's really a shame though, because he has remarkable skill that shines in both Zeder and his other acclaimed giallo, The House With Laughing Windows. You can see the visual style that Avati has in each of his films, showing his impeccable eye for visual compositions and his knack for giving the audience something that they've never quite seen before.

Now are you going to confession willingly, or am
I going to have to drag your sinning ass in myself?

The mystery in this film is laid on thick, and Stefano plunges in with both feet, even gaining some assistance from his lovely lady friend Alessandra, played by the beautiful Anne Canovas. They follow various clues that lead them across the stunning countryside and sun baked venues of Italy, giving us an intimate glimpse into these grandiose locations. That's one of the main things that really draws me to the italian films of the 70's and 80's. The locales are always filmed so beautifully and with Zeder, Pupi Avati does an impeccable job of presenting it all to the audience in a mysterious and outlandish fashion that never skimps on style.

Stefano is just too cool for school.

One of the main attractions that really makes Zeder shine, is the use of its locales, especially in the instance of the expansive abandoned building that the film focuses on during the last part of the film. This massive structure has so much character and exudes such a foreboding presence, that it sufficiently adds to the atmosphere of the film and brings a unique aspect to this already rich film. The strange hollowed out center of the building, sets up some interesting and unsettling sequences that really hit the mark later on when Stefano searches the innards of this architecturally bizarre building. Avati hit gold when deciding to film at this location, because the images of this exquisitely obtuse building have haunted me for years, taunting me as I searched for a decent dvd edition of this unforgettable flick. Finally, after viewing it recently, I've found that the memory of this special place hasn't faded a bit.

Our first glimpse at one of the weirdest buildings in the world.

The amount of mystery that is overabundantly apparent in this film, is quite a treat and a welcomed change from other zombie outings of this era. The strangeness of it all is brought to a boil, when Stefano finds an empty room inside the hollowed out building, that houses rows of television screens, all with the single image of a dead corpse on them. This morbid find is unsettling to say the least, and the fact that there isn't a soul in sight makes the discovery all the more disturbing, yet intriguing at the same time. The balance of horror and mystery that Avati crafts in this film is unparalleled, and the fact that he gently builds up to this event is well appreciated. Not many zombie films have opted to go this route. Avati gives us a detective story that draws away from the traditional zombie attacks, where people desperately try to survive the undead's merciless appetite and pension for destruction, and instead shows us a story about a man following the trail of previous zombie attacks and trying to put the pieces together on what it all means. This film is unique and I love it for that very fact.

Oh crap, not grandpa's home videos again!

When we finally get our first glimpse of a walking corpse, it comes as quite a shock for the audience and the main character. Avati sets up this disturbing encounter in a clever way. He places Stefano far from the overbearing walls of the decrepit building that contains the room of monitor screens of the resting corpse, and places him off the grounds at a motel where he watches from afar using a telescope. This act of placing the main actor far from harms way, gives the audience a chance to relax and sets up a startling scene where Stefano's eyes are fixed on a set of windows when a lumbering zombie comes walking into view. The undead creature turns slowly and looks directly in the view of the telescope only to disappear down a flight of stairs. This shot is brief but quite effective, leaving you with a cold chill at such an odd and unprovoked sighting.

Run kids! It's old man Johnson!

Now, just because this is a thinking man's zombie film, doesn't mean that there aren't a few traditional zombie moments in this flick. We are given some deaths that, though not shown on screen, still leave a ghastly impression as our main character stumbles onto the grizzly aftermath of a zombie feeding. The decision by the director to stay clear of the italian horror tradition of showing all the gory goodness, is quite understandable as Avati is determined to make a film of his own accord and sensibility that sets itself apart from the other 70's and 80's horror outings, yet still pays homage to those great films. You get a sense from this film, that it is a toned down version of something Fulci or Argento would churn out in their heyday of violence and gore, but still keeps the atmosphere that those legendary directors are known for, intact.

One of the many molested boys, finally pay the Catholic church back.
Why has there never been a slasher film based off this concept?

We also are treated to some creepy visuals of a rotting corpse clawing its way up from under a wooden floor, as it rips its way through the floor boards in order to get at Stefano's frightened flesh. Another memorable moment is when a pair of decrepit zombie hands come out from the side of a underground tunnel, to choke the life out of an unsuspecting vicim. These moments are great and add to the already extensive collection of memorable zombie moments, like the insane eye ball stabbing scene from Lucio Fulci's Zombie, or the many blood filled zombie feasts of any of George Romero's Living Dead films. Avati may have not brought the gore to his masterpiece, but what he lacked in blood he made up for in clever mystery and haunting atmosphere.

And he promised himself that he wouldn't crap his pants today.

That haunting atmosphere can once again be thanked by the perfect location of the architecturally decrepit abandoned building. The scenes where Stefano is wandering around the darkened hallways of the complex looking for the walking corpse, are absolutely astounding in their quiet tension filled silence. Guided by only a flashlight, the shadows and lighting of these scenes are both interesting and beautiful, especially when a severed head pops onto the screen without a killer in sight. It's the things that we aren't shown in this film, that really set the tone and pace of the film. We never know what lies just beyond the shadows or what horrible menace has ripped this man's head from its body. It's all left for the audiences mind to play out and the technique works by allowing the viewer's imagination to spin wildly out of control.

Now who threw out a perfectly good head?

It's those moments of silence that really end up making a huge impact on the narrative of the story. Avati patiently sets up all of his impact points with a slow and methodical presentation that lays out the pipe-work for the inevitable shock and awe of the horror moments. He masterfully lets the moment at hand sink in, just before pulling the rug out from under us, as a haunting realization presents itself on the screen. The moment Stefano's character reaches the monitor filled room for the second time and witnesses the dead corpse come to life and beginning laughing like a loon, we know for a fact that Avati can set up some rather impressive sequences that really hit home and dish out the fright. That unsettling moment is so memorable and it works on so many levels.

Reality TV steps it up a notch with its
24 hour coverage of corpses. Exciting!

When it comes to Zeder, pace is everything and it's inherent in everything that Avati does with this film. He takes his time to weave an intricate tale of mystery and intrigue, while dangling a meaty notion that the dead can come back to life. That earth shattering concept of the dead living again, isn't the main focus, but the long journey of discovering that fact is the main idea that helps move this film along. It's this idea of discovering the unknown, that drives Stefano's character, and allows us to appreciate the calming moments during his journey up until he finally comes face to face with the horrible truth. It's all classically done and carefully plotted out, enabling us to appreciate the entire journey that Stefano's character has gone through to reach this climactic end. This is definitely a zombie film that goes against the grain, yet still manages to keep the traditions that make these films so intriguing.

Just taking a stroll and stretching out the rigor mortis.

Zeder is a film unlike any zombie film you've ever seen before. It has the patience and skill to build a sense of doom that escalates unto its final closing moments. For a film that feels like a mystery or detective story, yet somehow still abides by the zombie formula, we are given an intimate journey of one man's discovery and unyielding determination to uncover the truth. I fully appreciate what Avati was able to do with this film. He took a genre of film that usually follows the old tried and true plot of getting a bunch of people together and having them fend off hordes of zombies and turned it into a more personal story about proving the myth behind reanimated corpses. Now don't get me wrong, I love the traditional zombie films that Romero made popular, but this new take is a rather refreshing change and one that I hold with high regards as it sits in my zombie film collection. I highly recommend this unique zombie film to anyone that enjoys tales of the undead or intriguing mysteries of the italian persuasion. 

5 out of 5 stars      A Unique Zombie Film Filled With Mystery!


  1. Glad to see some love for this film. It's been one of my favorite horror films ever since I saw it on late-night TV back in the 90's.

  2. Ah man you have to love the Zeder! It's such a creepy flick and it's a shame that it's not more well known then it is. Glad you enjoyed the write-up.