Often described as a "thinking man's zombie film" (usually with an air of condescension, as if people who think are above living-dead fare), ZEDER is an atmospheric and frequently unnerving film, though I don't know if it'd ever give one's intellect a workout. This 1983 Italian production from Pupi Avati takes a scientific and mystery-oriented approach to the zombie tale--which had to've confounded early '80s audiences expecting the typical gut-munching extravaganza.
The film's prologue suggests either an EXORCIST or POLTERGEIST rip-off, with its undercurrent of unexplainable occurances, before shifting into giallo mode as a masked killer strikes down a frightened old woman. It turns out to be nothing of any of these as the main storyline takes over. A writer (Lino Capolicchio) discovers a secret within the ribbon of a second-hand typewriter, leading him on a quest in which he discovers K-zones, mysterious pockets of earth which defy the laws of aging and death, and can restore the dead to life if the deceased are buried there. Capolicchio also stumbles upon a French scientific group attempting to resurrect a long-dead priest.
While its focus on ambience over bloodletting is admirable--Avati earns points for his use of muted photography and Riz Ortolani score--ZEDER's mystery angle is poorly defined, making it difficult to tell exactly what's going on and how everything relates. The climax is an impressive display of Gothic-styled horror, and makes up for some of the more obtuse aspects of the narrative.
Many have mentioned this film's resemblance to Stephen King's novel PET SEMATARY (i.e. a story about a burial site that returns the dead to life), and both book and movie ends with a husband reviving his wife with disastrous results, but to imply that one has plagiarized the other is preposterous. Though both were released in 1983, Avati filmed ZEDER the year before, and King had written PET SEMATARY largely in 1979 (publishing it with great reluctance, and then only to free up a royalty dispute). Their similarity, while remarkable, is merely coincidence.
(Special thanks to Donna Williams for providing a copy of this film.)