As the sequel to Fulci’s classic Zombie Flesh Eaters, Marino Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust captured the undiluted anarchy and brutal shlock violence that optimized Italian grindhouse horror. Released in 1980, the film (also known as Dr. Butcher, M.D) not only gave new life to the undead genre – it also took a bite out of cannibal trend that had marinated itself within countless video nasties of the time. Apart from the gritty gore displayed on screen, Italian composer Nico Fidenco’s score established itself as an invaluable asset to the film – instilling both terror and tension through rich textures and lush synthesized arrangements. Taking the time to remaster and transfer Fidenco’s soundscapes to vinyl, Mondo/Death Waltz also dug up Corlen Kruger – one of the most talented illustrators in the industry today to bring his trademark brand of vicious, vintage tinged visuals to the release.
A consummate professional – Kruger’s portfolio stays embedded in the mind like a nightmare and it was only a matter of time before he ended up on Death Waltz’s hit list. Looking back, Kruger explains “I was contacted through my website by the owner of Death Waltz, he had contacted me before about doing artwork, but the project never really came through until this one. I love the Italian horror film genre , so this was a real treat to be doing work on this project, coincidentally I am also a big fan of film scores so this was just a great project to start”.
One of only a small handful of artists who genuinely understand and celebrate the trashy and exploitative aesthetics of VHS inspired cult horror, Kruger has always been willing to shine the light on his inspirations. “[I was greatly influenced by] Drew Struzan , I love to reference his work for the quality bar I am trying to get at, Graham Humphrys work is great and I love hiss colour pallets and the natural splashes of paint he leaves to create a nice sense of movement in his work. [I also look at ] Dude Designs for layout and composition ideas, each one of these amazing artists have so much influence in my work.”
Fleshing out his ideas, Kruger notes “I initially did three compsositions/layouts and Death Waltz chose a desired layout, they were very open to what I wanted to do and changed almost nothing. Once the desired design was chosen I did a detailed pencil art. What I then decided to do is once i scanned my original pencil art in (as back up – in case I screw it up in this next step) I took my airbrush and sprayed some tones into the pencil art and used white paint to pop out some of the details.”
Taking us further down the darks steps of his creative path, Kruger continues “once scanned in, I started the digital painting process, I worked in a sort of anti clockwise manner , no real reason for working like that , just happened that way. My first pass was to lay down basic color on a multiply layer , once that was done i moved onto painting in all the details.”
Exploring the ultra violent excesses of 1980’s horror, Kruger’s use of shadows and light creates an aura of defined and descriptive dread. Utilizing cast shadows (when an object blocks a light source) across the floor of the image – the corpses spring to dimensional life in the eye of the viewer. Likewise, Kruger’s form shadows (the less defined dark side on an object not facing the light source) which play off the bright, fiery flames in the background highlight the ferocious fingers and decaying face of the zombies with aplomb – creating the illusion of volume, mass and depth in the image.
“What I did do different this time [in regards to his other artistic projects]; because I wanted more texture in the base drawing, I used an airbrush and added some soft shadow sand a bit of paint spatter – this would act as a texture base once I have scanned in the image. It was great to work on this as Death Waltz pretty much left me to my own and let me get on with the project. The only input [the label had] was towards the end of the painting when I added the logo , they wanted a bit more grunge to make it pop out” explains Kruger.
Putting a time frame around the project, Kruger informs “I have a day job so this work is mostly done in my spare time. After the compositions have been approved I normally take about a week to make the refined drawing, but that means I work on the drawing about 1 to 2 hours every day , that way I keep looking at the progress with fresh eyes. The digital painting can take another week, from start to finish the project takes about 2 and a half weeks.”
Reflecting back on his cannibalistic cover art and contract with Mondo/Death Waltz, Kruger summarizes “we all love these films as cheesy or crazy as they are and I wanted to bring that across in the cover. It has elements of horror and action, just like those classic VHS covers , this is for the fans of these films. We know they are funny and weird at times , but we look beyond that, and so I wanted to make a cover that really popped out and looking at what Mondo did with the final product they really delivered the goods, the print looks beautiful and they even used my comps for the side A and B disks on the records. The feedback I got on Facebook from people who bought the record was really positive , so in my opinion I think it was a success.”
Corlen Kruger’s depiction of Girolami’s Zombie Holocaust is a sublime and stomach-churning showcase in the extremes of Italian horror cinema. Unsettling, ghastly and covered in malicious promise, Mondo/Death Waltz deftly honors both the film and Nico Findenco’s legacy with a soundtrack that is as stunningly beautiful as it is shockingly brutal.
Peace to Corlen Kruger for helping out with this piece. Dig into the succulent flesh of Zombie Holocaust by picking up a copy from Mondo/Death Waltz Records. To see Corlen Kruger’s stunning portfolio check out his Official Site and Deviant Art page.