City Of The Living Dead (1980)
Anchor Bay Entertainment
Cast: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Radio Spots with Still Gallery
"I can see the Dead!" – no, you are not reading the review for "The Sixth Sense" – this line opens Italian goremaster Lucio Fulci’s "City Of The Living Dead, " which is also known under its alternative title "The Gates Of Hell." Following the success of his previous film "Zombie, " "City Of The Living Dead" is a film right down my alley, although I know it may be a little hard to swallow for more moderate tastes. Although 20 years old, this film was a refreshing change from the current of overly stylized horror films and genre benders that try to be hip, funny, sophisticated, different or whatever. "City Of The Living Dead" is a zombie shocker of the finest sort and a horror film as true as a genre film can be.
During a seance, Mary (Catriona MacColl), a psychic has a nightmarish vision. A priest hangs himself and thus fulfills on age-old curse. He opens the Gates of Hell and allows the Dead to rise and return to the living. Knowing her vision is true, she teams up with reporter Peter Bell (Christopher George) to find the place where the horrors of the living dead have come to life, the infamous place of the Salem witch-hunts, Dunwich.
In the meanwhile, unfathomable horror sweeps over Dunwich as the unspeakable evil of the living dead takes its toll. People are butchered and eaten, causing terror and fear among the citizens. Unknowing what caused the nightmare their only hope are Peter and Mary to close the Gates of Hell before it is too late.
If Lucio Fulci’s "Zombie" featured too little zombie footage for your taste, "City Of The Living Dead" will certainly satisfy your hunger. From the film’s initial key visual – the priest hanging himself – which is repeated throughout the film, ghastly zombie appearances are implemented throughout the film. Getting more intense with every encounter, the film manages to build an incredible tension and atmosphere of horror that is only eclipsed by the results of the gruesome encounters themselves.
To give the genre a new spin, Fulci supplied his zombies with the ability to teleport themselves to places at the blink of an eye, creating an almost surreal, dreamlike feel for many of the encounters. Also furnishing them with the ability of telekinesis, gives the film the opportunity to get away from the pure flesh-ripping of the genre, making these shambling zombies even more dangerous, as they don’t even have to approach their victims. The result is a gorefest that is absolutely not for the squeamish, and you have been warned. If you thought the eye-piercing scene Fulci staged in "Zombie" was the highlight of that movie, wait until you see the gut-spewing scene from "City Of The Living Dead" or its head-drilling sequence, only two of the many encounters that will leave the viewer gasping in horror.
"City Of The Living Dead" is one of the few movies that is masterfully and successfully driven by gore. Fulci had the skills to use a rather simplistic story line and yet create a movie out of it that keeps viewers on the edge from the first to the final frame. With his stylish direction that makes great use of interesting camera angles, extreme close-ups and an editing style that provokes horror through its relentless suggestiveness, Fulci made sure that his film would make in impression on its viewers.
And what an impression it leaves. Eerie and macabre, the film stands out as one of the most shocking films of its time. It is timeless in its telling, capturing the essence of the zombie genre with its visuals and special effects, and yet manages to give it a spin that keeps it exciting.
The movie is presented in new <$16x9,anamorphic> transfer that restores the movie’s 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. Anchor Bay has once again taken it upon themselves to offer a completely uncut and unrated version of the film, which had previously been mutilated and heavily cut due to its extremely gruesome nature. Worms, white brain matter, blood, gore, intestines and flesh-eating zombies, it is all there for the viewer to behold in its horrific glory. Although the transfer of the film is generally good and clean, the movie’s low budget and age is easily noticeable. Many scenes exhibit quite excessive grain and noise – a result of the film stock used to produce the movie, as well as the technical limitations of such a low budget production. While noise reduction could have been applied to reduce the grain, it would also have resulted in a substantial loss of definition in the images – a trade-off Anchor Bay did not want to take deliberately, I assume. Interestingly, also a good number of scenes on the other hand are more stable and balanced without the excessive graininess. Fortunately the entire movie has been color corrected, giving it an even and balanced look throughout. From the darkest and purest blacks – and Fulci uses a lot of them – to stinging highlights, the transfer draws a stark image, just the way the director had designed his visuals. Good level of detail and well-defined edges give the film a great look that is a far cry from its previous incarnations. You have not seen "City Of The Living Dead" until you have seen it on this DVD.
Anchor Bay Entertainment also saw to remixing the movie’s entire soundtrack, presenting it in a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> mix, as well as <$DS,Dolby Surround> mix on the DVD. Remixed at Chace Productions, the new soundtrack is rich with great ambient effects that make good use of the surrounds. Although not overly aggressive, the track noticeable benefits from the added spatial integration achieved through the new mix. The frequency response has also been adjust, giving the track a natural-sounding quality without harshness of the thinness often found in movie’s of the period.
The unique, dragging music is integral part of Fulci’s horror work, just as much as his stylish direction, and "City Of The Living Dead" conjures up the same atmosphere the director introduced in "Zombie." Using the same method of placing rather melodic, albeit very unsettling, lines on top of some of the most suspenseful moments, he manages to create an eerie and horrifyingly warm feel for these scenes. The viewer always knows the warmth of the music is deceptive and eagerly awaits the pay-off, which ultimately comes with stingers and perfectly executed rapid cuts. This creative use of the music is perfectly exemplified by the director towards the end of the film, when we watch a legion of undead rise from their graves as the protagonists pass, a scene that recalls the horrific beauty of the closing shot in "Zombie."
You will also find the movie’s domestic theatrical trailer under its title "City Of The Living Dead." Anchor Bay has also prepared a nice segment that combines radio spots and a photo gallery of still photographs, as well as a biography of Lucio Fulci, which also points out his many cameo appearances in his movies.
In a time when almost every horror film attempts to be hip or funny, it can be extremely refreshing to watch something as stereotypical as "City Of The Living Dead." I thoroughly enjoyed the film on this DVD, even more than I did the first time I saw it during the 80s. "City Of The Living Dead" is one of the few movies that makes you wish there were more of its quality and kind – and you wish Anchor Bay had the rights to all of them to bring us beautiful and completely uncut presentations of them like they did here once again. If you consider yourself a gore fan, you have to see Fulci’s "City Of The Living Dead."