Fulci’s Spectral Zombies

Having already established himself in the field with the ever popular Zombie, director Lucio Fulci soon followed with the horrifying City of the Living Dead. Filmed in Georgia by a mostly Italian crew, Fulci delivers one of his strongest and most memorable films thanks to several masterful scenes of zombie mayhem.

First released in America as The Gates of Hell, the town of Dunwich falls prey to a grisly onslaught of ghostly zombies who pop in and out of existence almost at will. It’s an epic triumph of visual terror and direction over characterization and nuanced storytelling. A reliable international cast is led by veteran actor Christopher George doing his best Kolchak impression and British actress Catriona MacColl. Funnily enough, MacColl once described City of the Living Dead as “a series of special effects without a story.”

City of the Living Dead surpasses earlier zombie films in raw terror by ignoring established conventions

City of the Living Dead begins with one of the creepiest and most effective teasers to ever open a horror film – a priest hangs himself in a cemetery. Following language laid out in the apocryphal Book of Enoch, his actions unlock the gates of Hell in Dunwich, a sleepy New England town. Soon a grotesque cadre of the dead are randomly popping up around town.

These hellish ghouls torment their victims in some of the most gruesome and creative set pieces of Fulci’s career. A reporter (Christopher George) and psychic (Catriona MacColl) team up to investigate what’s happening as the town is under siege.

Sometimes a horror movie works in spite of its primary deficiencies thanks to compelling special effects and masterful direction. One of Fulci’s most effective horror films, City of the Living Dead surpasses earlier zombie films in raw terror by ignoring established conventions. His zombies practically act as ghosts, suddenly showing up in unexpected places with no real rhyme or reason. It’s one of the earliest practical examples of great jump scares finding their way into the slow-moving zombie canon.

Leaning on the supernatural side of things, City of the Living Dead is built upon some of the bloodiest and goriest deaths in early zombie movie history. Less polished than Romero’s hallowed zombie flicks, Fulci stylishly delivers guts and gore while keeping audiences on the edge of their seats. You can’t call yourself a horror fan without seeing Fulci’s minor zombie classic as it primes you for his magnum opus – The Beyond.

Video

Making its worldwide UHD debut, Cauldron Films issues the zombie masterpiece with their own Dolby Vision color correction. Both Italian and English versions of the film are shown at 1.85:1 on a triple-layer UHD. Primarily film-like in tone with patches of softer detail, the higher resolution format exposes every flaw and limitation shot by Fulci. The 1980 Italian production’s UHD is a minor upgrade over standard 1080p video.

Personal tastes may dictate how you feel about Cauldron Films’ choices compared against earlier Blu-ray releases from Blue Underground and Arrow Video. Noise issues in the transfer have been a thing for this film going back years and Cauldron Films has tempered that problem.

Derived from a 4K restoration possibly struck for an earlier release, the 2160p presentation is a fair portrayal of original 35mm Techniscope elements. The gritty, almost chaotic cinematography from Sergio Salvati used carefully saturated gels for lighting and has been a point of contention on differing home video transfers over the years. There are always trade-offs when tinkering with a film’s palette years after the fact. Cauldron drops the yellow push seen on earlier transfers. Some crushing and sketchy shadow delineation remain.

I am not overwhelmed by the visual improvements considering the lavish pricing. Cauldron Films does what it can with a decidedly average 4K scan. Hints of processing are difficult to distinguish from the Techniscope elements’ raw issues.

Audio

Both original mono Italian and English soundtracks are heard in 2.0 DTS-HD MA, ditching earlier surround mixes included by other labels on BD. The full, crisp sound effects and rousing electronic score by Fabio Frizzi are highlights. Dialogue reproduction is upfront and coherent, intelligibly reproduced.

Optional English and English SDH subtitles play in a white font for either Italian or English soundtracks.

Extras

Cauldron Films has issued City of the Living Dead in this 3-disc “regular” edition and a limited edition which includes the film’s soundtrack on CD as a 4th disc. The only special features found on the UHD are four separate commentaries. Everything is region-free with the exception of the one Blu-ray containing the main feature. There are two hidden bonus features on the third Blu-ray if one highlights the “Image Gallery” icon and then navigates left and right from there, including the VHS “The Gates of Hell” version in SD quality.

Cauldron treats Fulci’s film like an iconic masterpiece, scooping up most extant bonus features and including several new ones.

Audio Commentary by film historian Samm Deighan – Newly recorded for 2023

Audio Commentary by film historian Troy Howarth and Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson

Audio Commentary by actress Catriona MacColl, moderated by Jay Slater

Audio Commentary by actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice, moderated by Calum Waddell

Zombie Kings: interview with Massimo Antonello Geleng (45:46 in HD)

Requiem for Bob: interview with Giovanni Lombardo Radice (28:00 in HD)

The Meat Munching Movies of Gino De Rossi: interview with special effects artist Gino de Rossi (26:34 in HD)

Carlo of the Living Dead: interview with actor Carlo De Mejo (18:13 in HD)

On Stage Q&A with actor Venantino Venantini and director Ruggero Deodato (46:03 in SD)

Catriona MacColl Q&A from The Glasgow Theater (20:08 in SD)

Music for a Flesh Feast: Composer Fabio Frizzi Q&A (29:25 in SD)

Catriona MacColl Archival Video Intro (05:14 in SD)

A Trip Through Bonaventure Cemetery Featurette (04:49 in HD)

Paura, Lucio Fulci Remembered Vol. 1 (42:42 in SD) – 2009 archival interviews in Italian with forced English subtitles

Trailers (06:35 in HD) – U.S. Theatrical, International and Italian Theatrical trailers

Image Gallery (08:41 in HD)

Full disclosure: This UHD was provided by the label for review. This has not materially affected DoBlu’s editorial process. For information on how we handle all review material, please visit DoBlu’s about us page.

City of the Living Dead
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Fulci’s gruesome zombie classic is an early landmark in the genre which builds and expands on Romero’s seminal work

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 43 full resolution, uncompressed 4K screen shots ripped directly from the UHD:


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