Cast: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl, Carlo De Mejo, Michele Soavi
Extras: Featurettes, Interviews, Poster and Still Galleries, Trailers, Radio Spots
If there was one horror movie on release schedules lately that I have really been looking forward to, it was Blue Underground's Blu-Ray release of the Lucio Fulci zombie shocker "City of the Living Dead." Also known as "The Gates Of Hell," this film took Fulci's zombie movies to an entirely new level. Following the success of his previous film "Zombie," "City Of The Living Dead" is a film right down my alley, although I fully understand that it may be a little hard to swallow for people of more moderate taste. Although 30 years old now, this film is 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 medium, has a nightmarish vision. She sees a priest hanging himself and thus fulfilling 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. Not knowing what causes 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 dread and terror 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 fashion a movie from it that keeps viewers on the edge of their seats, 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 leave in impression with its viewers.
And what an impression it is. 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, while at the same time managing to give it a spin that keeps it exciting.
The biggest question with this release is, of course, how did the high definition transfer turn out? Let me get you off the hot coals by saying "amazing!" Honestly, I was a bit worried about the presentation quality of this film. Though shot in spherical 35mm format, in the past, the film has often been plagued by excessive grain. Fortunately that is a problem you no longer have to worry about. Although there are a few shots that are grainy, it is never excessive and neither are these shots plentiful. For the most part, "City Of The Living Dead" boasts an image that will have you drooling over. The level of detail is incredible, particular in some of the interior shots and the close-ups. You will find that not only costumes and skin pores are showing wonderfully, but you can actually count the hair on people's heads. But this level of definition is not limited to these particular shots, it is found throughout the film — with the exception of the hazy and foggy dreamlike shots that Fulci created deliberately to blur the lines between people's imaginations and reality.
For the gorehounds among you, you will be pleased that some of the most gruesome shots in the film, are also some of the most finely detailed ones. There is not a thing missing. In addition to the detail, the transfer also has incredible colors and a remarkable ability to hold its black levels. As a result Fulci's nightmarish vision comes to life like never before. I am willing to wager that this transfer has richer blacks than any film print ever had, giving the image a visual depth that is unprecedented. What amazed me he most, probably, was also the transfer's ability to maintain shadow detail. For a film that is reveling in shadows and blacks as much as this one does, it is essential to make sure the black levels are set correctly to make sure nothing is lost in the process. Fear not, because the Blu-Ray version of "City Of The Living Dead" gives you a glimpse at the horrors that lurk in these shadows just fine.
A DTS 7.1 HD Master Audio track accompanies this release. Now, it has to be said that the audio on this movie has never been regarded with the same attention to detail as the visuals. Starting with the fact that the movie features a multi-language cast with each actor speaking in their native language, some of the dialogue is dubbed as a result, immediately giving it a bit of a "weird" feel. The music of the film is made up of an early synth score that is atmospheric, but at the same it is some seriously low fidelity stuff. Very creepy, though… The entire score was originally mastered in mono, adding further to the limits of its audio presentation. Although remixed and freshened up significantly, there are limits to what can be done, so do not expect miracles. However, like the previous Dolby Digital 5.1 track, this remix is working well, giving the presentation spatial depth with the use of surround effects and making sure the music works with a wide sound field. The track is rich with ambient sound effects that further add to he big presentation of the track. The frequency response has been adjust, giving the track a natural-sounding quality without harshness of the thinness often found in movie's of the period and the dynamic range helps make the best of the track..
The Fabio Frizzi's 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."
The release features a few really cool bonus materials, such as a Making-Of featurette that contains interviews with stars Catriona MacColl and Michele Suavi, as well as many crew members who worked on the movie. A separate interview featurette with Catriona MacColl is also included, along with an interview featuring Giovanni Lombardo-Radice, who played the unfortunate Bob in the movie.
"Memories of the Maestro" is a featurette in which the cast and crew members reminisce about Lucio Fulci and why they loved and feared him at the same time. A poster and still gallery is also included, as well as the movie's trailers -in high definition – and Radio Spots.
If you thought Anchor Bay's DVD version of "City Of The Living Dead" was great, wait until you've watched this Blu-Ray version. Blue Underground has managed to turn this Italian cult shocker into a film that looks like a million bucks, and they make it seems so easy. 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." It is one of the few movies that makes you wish there were more of its quality and kind. For the time being, until we might see high definition releases of the likes is "Zombie" and "The Beyond," take a good look at this release. If you're a Fulci fan you will not be disappointed and I doubt this film will ever look better than here.