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City of the Living Dead 4K UHD/Blu-ray Review

Written by Robert Gold

Blu-ray released by Cauldron Films

City Of The Living Dead Large

Directed by Lucio Fulci
Written by Lucio Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti
1980, 93 minutes, Not Rated
Released on August 29th, 2023

Christopher George as Peter Bell
Catriona MacColl as Mary Woodhouse
Carlo De Mejo as Gerry
Janet Agren as Sandra
Antonella Interlenghi as Emily Robbins
Giovanni Lombardo Radice as Bob
Daniela Doria as Rosie Kelvin
Fabrizio Jovine as Father William Thomas

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A priest hangs himself in a cemetery in Dunwich, Massachusetts, setting off a chain of events that will lead to the opening of the gates of Hell, bringing the end of humanity. Mary Woodhouse has a vision of the priest during a séance in New York and apparently dies of fright. Journalist Peter Bell is investigating the case and while visiting her recently dug grave, discovers she is in fact still alive and he saves her. Together, they head to Dunwich to close the gates and save the world. Once there, they meet a therapist, his patient, their friends and a squirrelly social misfit named Bob. They also run into the living dead, who teleport around town and crush people’s brains. Can they survive, or is this truly the end of the world?

Director Lucio Fulci (Perversion Story) was something of a journeyman director working across several genres, including comedy, western and of course giallo before scoring a massive success in horror with Zombie (aka Zombie Flesh Eaters aka Zombi 2). He went on to become known as a Master of Horror, cranking out such iconic films as The Beyond, House by the Cemetery and The New York Ripper among many others. City of the Living Dead (aka Gates of Hell) came along while he was in top form reinventing the Italian genre market.

Working from a script he penned with Dardano Sacchetti (Demons, Exterminators of the Year 3000), Fulci includes many familiar tropes such as the inefficient police, religious iconography, bleeding eyes, extreme gore, spooky cemeteries, giant rats, spiderwebs, crypts, low creeping mist, high screaming wind and of course zombies. These are not your typical undead, as they are more interested in squeezing brains than eating them and can disappear at random. The town of Dunwich, supposedly built on the remains of the original Salem, is a nod to Lovecraft, but there are other inspirations throughout.

The cast is the typical mix of international actors, all later dubbed in post-production to speak the same language (English or Italian). Christopher George (Graduation Day, Pieces) stars as journalist Peter Bell, a take charge guy who doggedly follows a good story…even to the gates of Hell. Fulci regular Catriona MacColl (The Beyond, House by the Cemetery) co-stars as Mary Woodhouse, the psychic plagued by visions. MacColl and George make a great team as they explore crypts and endure zombies and swarms of maggots. Carlo De Mejo (Contamination, Women’s Prison Massacre) is Gerry, the proactive therapist who joins the quest with his patient Sandra, played by Janet Agren (Eaten Alive).

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Cinematographer Sergio Salvati (Crawlspace, Cellar Dweller) creates a picture rich with atmosphere and a strong visual style. Fulci loves close-ups of people’s eyes, usually involving some sort of trauma but also within simple dialogue scenes. One particularly harrowing sequence finds Mary waking in her coffin and the efforts to free her. Another key element is the hypnotic score by Fabio Frizzi (Zombie, Pieces) with its steady, pulse pounding beat helping to build suspense as the evil forces swell.

Speaking of trauma, the make-up effects work by Franco Rufini (Sonny Boy) is top quality, with a number of stand-out set pieces. An early highlight finds young lovers Tommy (Michele Soavi, Demons) and Rosie (Daniela Doria, The New York Ripper) making out in a cemetery. The spirit of Father Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine, The Secret of Seagull Island) appears to Rosie and she begins spilling tears of blood followed by regurgitating all of her entrails! The most brutal death is not supernatural, rather a father with serious anger issues catches misfit Bob (Giovanni Lombardo Radice, Cannibal Ferox) with his daughter. What follows is truly horrific as poor Bob meets the business end of a very large drill.

City of the Living Dead is arguably one of Fuci’s strongest horror movies, followed by The Beyond and House by the Cemetery to create a “Hell” trilogy. Zombie was a direct reaction to the success of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, but this picture is more Gothic horror than walking dead, as the undead do not act like your typical ghouls. The film played relentlessly on late night cable (as Gates of Hell) in the early 1980s, scarring and scaring many a young viewer. Forty years later, it still packs a punch and is a real treat for genre fans looking for something to crawl under their skin. This new 4K UHD release makes for a terrific introduction to new kids Cauldron Films, making them a great new boutique label worth supporting.

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Video and Audio:

Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the film carries both English and Italian language credit sequences via seamless branching. The recent 4K remaster has been upgraded to include Dolby Vision HDR (HDR 10 compatible) color grading. The restored image brings rich detail and enhanced picture quality with inky black levels – perfect for the numerous night scenes. Colors are robust and frequently pop and flesh tones appear natural throughout.

The film is viewable in either English or Italian via a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono mix. The English dub is generally stronger and is preferred given the number of English-speaking actors. Dialogue is always clear and understandable and music cues are powerful without becoming intrusive. Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

City of the Living Dead has been available on Blu-ray in no less than four earlier releases, including: Blue Underground (2010), Arrow Video (2013, 2019) and Scorpion Releasing (2020), all with their own strengths. Each of these came loaded with special features, few overlapping, thus making it necessary to collect multiple copies. Just when you thought it was safe, Cauldron Films introduces the film on 4K UHD with even more new and legacy content!

There are four audio commentaries, starting with one newly recorded with film historian Samm Deighan. She opens with the disclosure that this is one of her all-time favorite Fulci films and she has a lot to say on the subject. Her comments are informative and entertaining with lots of notes on the director and cast. She also maintains this is more Gothic horror rather than traditional zombie movie and shares her impressions on the ambiguous ending.

Up next is an archival audio commentary with film historians Troy Howarth (Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films) and Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson that is also light-hearted and highly informative. There is a lot of trivia regarding the production schedule and locations, the director and cast and some thoughts on the ending. There is some overlap in this and the previous commentary, but both are worth checking out.

The next archival commentary is with actress Catriona MacColl, moderated by Jay Slater. She opens with how she got into acting before jumping ahead to working with Fulci. Other topics include filming in Savannah, GA, memories of her co-stars and thoughts on violence in film – she admits this is her least favorite of the trio of films she made with Fulci.

The final commentary is with actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice, moderated by Calum Waddell. Radice is a lot of fun and knows how to tell a great story. He talks about his co-stars and his support of censorship, but only when geared toward younger viewers. He has fond memories of the crew and great stories about the special effects and his death scene. He also shares his thoughts on American society.

In Zombie Kings (2017, 46 minutes), production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng reflects on his prolific career working with many of the genre’s top directors, including Fulci, Argento, Cozzi and more. He talks about this film and why zombies remain popular.

Actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice is interviewed in Requiem for Bob (2017, 28 minutes), a look back at his work on this film. He shares some tales of his personal struggles and talks about his time working with Fulci. He remains a fan of the film and says it still scares him.

The Meat Munching Movies of Gino De Rossi (27 minutes) catches up with the make-up artist, who shares behind-the-scenes stories of his work on various Fulci movies. He displays the drill rig used in this picture and talks about his time on Cannibal Ferox.

Actor Carlo De Mejo appears in the interview segment Carlo of the Living Dead (18 minutes), reflecting on his time working with the production.

On Stage: Q&A with Venantino Venantini & Ruggero Deodato (2022, 46 minutes) is a somewhat misleading title in that yes, Deodato is on stage, but he says maybe six words, as Venatino dominates the discussion with a thorough look back at his life and career.

Catriona MacColl Q&A from the Glasgow Theater (2010, 20 minutes), moderated by Calum Waddell, was recorded at a screening of The Beyond, which she claims is her favorite of all the pictures she made with Fulci. She tells stories of working with the director and making the films.

Composer Fabio Frizzi sits for the Q&A session Music for a Flesh-Feast (2012, 29 minutes), recorded at the Glasgow Theater following a screening of Zombie. He shares details of his writing process and how the music is prepared for the film.

Catriona Maccoll video intro (2001, 5 minutes) encourages viewers to enjoy the show.

A Trip Through Bonaventure Cemetery (2022, 5 minutes) features a drone tour of the location in Savannah, GA.

Archival Interviews with the cast and crew from Paura, Lucio Fulci Remembered Vol.1 (2008, 43 minutes) features short segments (under five minutes each) with Catriona MacCall, Carlo De Mejo, Antonella Interlenghi, Luca Venantini, Fabrizio Jovine, Venantino Venantini, Michele Soavi, writer Dardano Sacchetti, production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng, special effects artist Gino De Rossi, make up assistant Rosario Prestopino, cinematographer Sergio Salvati and composer Fabio Frizzi. Everyone shares brief memories of Lucio Fulci.

Trailers – US trailer, US TV spot, Italian trailer

An image gallery slideshow (9 minutes) featuring international lobby cards. poster art, publicity materials, video art, promotional stills, behind-the-scenes images is also included.

There are two Easter eggs: A muddy, full frame VHS rip under the Gates of Hell title for purists and a revealing photo spread of actor Christopher George in Playgirl magazine, 1974 – NSFW.

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Movie: Fourstars Cover
Buy Amazon Us
Video: Fivestars
Audio: Fourstars
Features: Fourandahalfstars
Overall: 4.5 Star Rating

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About The Author
Robert Gold
Author: Robert Gold
Staff Reviewer - USA
Robert's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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