Blu-Ray Spotlight: City of the Living Dead
Cauldron Films brings Fulci’s second film from his Gates of Hell trilogy to 4K.
Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy may be famous for housing arguably one of the most atmospheric and influential horror films ever made, The Beyond. But so important to the development of it is of course the films made before it, but perhaps not as influential as City of the Living Dead was to Fulci’s apex of his classic disturbing, revolting visual style that places us in hopeless landscapes where death lurks close to everyone and everything. Fulci’s viscerally grotesque style can be described as an acquired taste within the horror genre and the films within the loose Gates of Hell trilogy are no exception. But with the first film of said trilogy, and the first title that saw Fulci work with Catriona MacColl (who would appear in each of the three films), City of the Living Dead would hit a groove that would keep the director in the realm of horror for the rest of his career, and the world is better off for it.
Cauldron’s 4K restoration is presented in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The video is HEVC encoded, and looks absolutely stunning. Fulci’s drab color palette of the town of Dunwich translates well in 2160p. But it’s the vibrant colors that pop up throughout the feature that treat the eyes, like the green of the cemetery grass, the almost glowy qualities of deep blues even in dark shots, and of course the reds of Fulci’s blood effects that truly deliver.
During hazier outdoor shots (mostly in any sequence set in Dunwich) the film grain is most noticeable, but plays into the eerie effect of the haunted town, taking on characteristics of its own. But the level of grain feels minimal, suggesting either a superb source quality of the original negative, quality of restoration from Cauldron, or both. The feature is on two discs: an all region 4K and a Region A blu-ray disc.
The issues present with Blue Underground’s blu-ray restoration, primarily grain in dark shots and some evidence of crushed blacks, are nonexistent in Cauldron’s release. This is a more pristine print, and not one that Blue Underground used to source their release from 2010, which was until now the benchmark for how good this film can look.
Cauldron provides two main audio tracks for the film as well as multiple commentary tracks (outlined below). Included is the original mono mix in both English and Italian, the latter option providing burned-in English subtitles. Otherwise, optional English SDH subtitles are available for the English language mono track.
The audio quality for the feature is quite good, with some minor crackling present in only one sequence. Dialogue comes across crystal clear and is nicely mixed for a consistent sonic experience that allows you to set a level and forget it, letting you be transported to a land of constant fear and death.
Cauldron unloads a ton of new and archival extras, complete on its own region free blu-ray disc. There is a new commentary along with 3 other archival tracks, two new interviews and featurettes, Q&As, and a neat virtual trip through the cemetery where the film was shot. The complete list of extras is below:
- New Commentary with Film Historian Samm Deighan
- Commentary by Film Historians Troy Howarth & Nathaniel Thompson
- Archival commentary with Catriona MacColl
- Archival commentary with Giovanni Lombardo Radice
- Zombie Kings — 2017 interview with Massimo Antonello Geleng: Geleng recounts his days working as an artist and a painter, then stumbling into the film business with Fulci in this fascinating lengthy interview segment. There are two sections to the video: the first half sets Geleng in front of a wooden shed outdoors while his hands rest on the head of an axe, and the second has him playing pool as he talks.
(HD 45 mins 46 sec.)
- Carlo of the Living Dead — Archival interview with Carlo De Mejo
(HD 18 mins. 13 sec.)
- Requiem For Bob — 2017 interview with Giovanni Lombardo Radice (HD 28 mins.)
- On Stage: 2017 Q&A with Venantino Venantini & Ruggero Deodato
(HD 46 mins. 3 sec.)
- Q&A with Catriona MacColl from The Glasgow Theatre
(HD 20 mins. 8 sec.)
- Music For a Flesh Feast: Q&A with Fabio Frizzi from The Glasgow Theatre (HD 29 mins. 25 sec.)
- Archival Video Intro with Catriona MacColl
(SD 5 mins 14 sec.)
- Zombie Kings — Interview with Massimo Antonello Geleng: Geleng recounts his days working as an artist and a painter, then stumbling into the film business with Fulci in this excellent and fascinating lengthy interview segment. There are two sections to the video: the first half sets Geleng in front of a wooden shed outdoors while his hands rest on the head of an axe, and the second has him playing pool as he talks.
(HD 45 mins 46 sec.)
- A Trip Through Bonaventure Cemetery: An atmospheric piece shot in the Savannah cemetery in 2022 complete with drone score, perfect to put on for your Halloween party.
(HD 4 mins. 49 sec.)
- Archival interviews with cast and crew from Paura, Lucio Fulci Remembered Vol. 1 (SD 42 mins. 42 sec.)
- Trailers (HD 6 min. 35 sec.)
- Image Gallery (HD 8 mins. 41 sec.)
- Reversible sleeve featuring original art by Matthew Therrien
And a couple easter eggs for the exploratory, such as:
- The Gates of Hell VHS Version (SD 92 mins. 10 sec.)
- Christopher George Playgirl spread (HD 2 mins. 40 sec.)
While this very well may be the best release City of the Living Dead has ever received, Fulci fans need no convincing that this edition of the film deserves to be on their shelves. At a relatively high price point it might be a hard sell for those considering a blind buy, but with all the notoriety surrounding Fulci’s 1980 film there really isn’t any other release that holds a candle to Cauldron’s treatment. The film weaves in and out of a dreamlike trance, providing more grounding than something like The Beyond, but more atmospheric than titles like House By the Cemetery or Zombi. The writing and performances in the film are some of the best that Fulci has directed, with a committed performance from MacColl and a charming Christopher George. This is quintessential Lucio Fulci, and arguably the best film of the Gates of Hell trilogy. Horror fans cannot miss out on this.
City of the Living Dead is available on Tuesday, August 29th.
Disclaimer: MVD Visual has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.