Cauldron Films Invites Viewers to ‘The City of the Living Dead’

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Aficionados of Italian horror can wax poetically about various directors, acclaimed or otherwise, and rattle off a number of tongue-twisting titles to gialli and zombie films even the average hardcore horror fan hasn’t seen. But by and large, to the masses, two names sit above all the rest: Argento and Fulci. There’s no real need to choose between them since each director offers something the other doesn’t. Argento has, for the most part, focused on gialli, while Fulci played in just about every genre sandbox during his 40-year career.

Fulci excelled in his depiction of gore and in creating haunted, atmospheric, otherworldly settings that truly embodied the notion of horror. Aside from his most successful film, Zombi 2 (1979), he is best known for the Gates of Hell trilogy of which City of the Living Dead (1980) is the first entry—and this is a helluva picture to kick off an apocalyptic cinema series. Fulci pulls in elements of Lovecraft, cosmic horror, ghosts, and zombies, and splatters his cast across the screen in gruesome ways. Superbly complemented by Fabio Frizzi’s eerie, unusual score this is a film that plumbs the depths of hell to cull forth deranged entertainment.

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During a séance on the Upper West Side of Manhattan Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) has a vision of a priest hanging himself before she collapses to the floor, apparently dead. Police investigate, drawing the attention of journalist Peter Bell (Christopher George), who attends Mary’s burial service in his quest for answers. Lucky for Mary because she isn’t really dead and her cries from within the coffin alert Peter to break her free. They return to the apartment of the séance medium, Teresa (Adelaide Aste), who explains Mary’s visions are a portend of the undead coming into our world, the opening of the gates of hell, due to the priest, Father Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine), taking his own life.

Peter and Mary embark on a road trip to Dunwich, the city in which Father Thomas hanged himself, hoping to find answers. Unfortunately, all they’re going to find there is death and destruction. The dead have been haunting the locals, appearing in visions all over town, causing citizens to bleed from the eyes and vomit up their own entrails. Father Thomas sporadically pops up, too, bringing madness with him. The conditions of Dunwich are grim, cloaked in fog, with buildings being ripped from their foundation. A city-wide state of emergency is soon declared. Peter and Mary are the only ones with a clue on how to close the gates—but can they arrive in time? And, if so, can they hope to be successful?

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Italian horror films are often criticized for plots that seem to fold in on themselves, making little sense—and that is a valid complaint. But Fulci keeps the action in City of the Living Dead easy to follow while maintaining an emphasis on foreboding dread and gut-churning gore. Nobody here dies easily. Entrails are regurgitated. Eyes bleed. Brains are literally ripped from their skulls. One character’s head is drilled clean through on a lathe. The best (?) part is all of this looks so hyper-realistic. FX maestro Gino De Rossi has crafted some remarkably unsettling work, and even more than 40 years later, under the defined gaze of 4K, it looks exquisite.   

Gore is obviously no substitute for a compelling script and good writing, and while I won’t claim this story shines in either capacity it does get a pass for delivering on what Fulci fans expect. I also had no issue with the acting, which is capably anchored by Christopher George and Catriona MacColl. Most of the residents of Dunwich are there simply to provide bodies to be ground up, although one of them is Italian horror fan favorite Giovanni Lombardo Radice. He’s got a small part but is a recognizable enough face that you’ll expect him to stick around for a while. Don’t.

George had a notable late-career push as a leading man in a handful of genre titles, such as Grizzly (1976), Day of the Animals (1977), and Pieces (1982). He was a dependable combo of rugged and brainy, a capable guy. Catriona MacColl went on to star in Fulci’s subsequent Gates of Hell features The Beyond (1981) and The House by the Cemetery (1981).

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For the uninitiated or those who are unsure, City of the Living Dead was retitled The Gates of Hell in the United States when it was released here in 1983.

There were a few prior Blu-ray releases for City of the Living Dead, the last of which by Scorpion Releasing was highly praised, but Cauldron Films has prepared a new 4K restoration with Dolby Vision/HDR color grading and the results are pretty spectacular. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 the 2160p picture retains the grainy, gritty, grindhouse aesthetic without compromising on fine details or utilizing picture smoothing processes. Italian horror films were often shot on lower-grade film stock than their U.S. counterparts, so don’t go into this expecting a sparkling clean image, rather expect a presentation that draws out all the fine details while also providing a healthy color boost.

Viewers are given the option of watching either the Italian or English version of the film, the difference being the opening title card and spoken language. Both Italian and English tracks are provided in DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono and I found the English dub to sound much fuller, with better bass response, and a more powerful push to Fabio Frizzi’s excellent score. The Italian track by comparison seems thinner and less fulsome. Subtitles are included in English SDH.

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Both the 4K and the first Blu-ray disc contain only audio commentaries in terms of bonus features. There are four of them – film historian Samm Deighan; film historians Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson; actress Catriona MacColl, moderated by Jay Slater; and actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice, moderated by Calum Waddell.

The second Blu-ray disc contains all of the supplements. These are so extensive it’s no wonder they need their own disc.

“Zombie King: Interview with Massimo Antonello Geleng” (HD, 45:46) – The film’s production designer briefly discusses his career and other notable directors and features on which he worked in the art department before touching on Fulci and his contributions to this movie. In Italian with English subs.

“Requiem for Bob: Interview with Giovanni Lombardo Radice” (HD, 28:00) – Similarly, this piece focuses mainly on City of the Living Dead but also covers ground throughout the actor’s career. In Italian with English subs.

“The Meat Munching Movies of Gino De Rossi” (HD, 26:34) – Viewers get a tour of the FX legend’s workspace as he’s interviewed about his numerous projects. In Italian with English subs.

“Carlo of the Living Dead, an archival interview with actor Carlo De Mejo” (HD, 18:13) – The actor who played Gerry discusses his work with Fulci.

“On Stage: Q&A with Venatino Venatini & Ruggero Deodato” (SD, 46:03) – the actor, who plays Mr. Ross here, is joined by another infamous Italian director for a lengthy discussion on stage. In Italian with English subs.

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“Catriona MacColl Q&A from the Glasgow Theater” (SD, 20:08) – Filmed in 2010 the actress answers questions about her career, moderated by Calum Waddell.

“Music for a Flesh Feast” (SD, 29:25) – Fulci’s frequent composer engages in another on-stage session, with Calum Waddell and Nick Frame hosting. In English & Italian with English subs.    

“Catriona MacColl archival video intro” (SD, 5:14) comes from 2001, offering some brief anecdotes.

“A Trip Through Bonaventure Cemetery” (HD, 4:49) – A drone glides through the main cemetery used for filming City of the Living Dead while some spooky music plays.

“Archival interviews with cast & crew from Paura, Lucio Fulci Remembered Vol. 1” (SD, 42:42) has a ton of talking heads discussing their own personal experiences working with the late director.

Three trailers (HD, 6:35) are included, along with an Image Gallery (HD, 8:41).

Finally, there are a couple of cool easter eggs: a videotape version of The Gates of Hell can be found by pressing “left” from Image Gallery (SD, 1:32:10) while a 1974 Playgirl article on Christopher George can be accessed by pressing “right” from Image Gallery.  

Special Features:

DISC ONE – 4K BLU-RAY

  • 4K RESTORATION OF THE FILM
  • DOLBY VISION/HDR PRESENTATION OF THE FILM
  • English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
  • Italian: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Seamless branching – watch in English Language w/ English credit sequences and watch Italian language w/ Italian credit sequences
  • New audio commentary by critic Samm Deighan
  • Archival audio commentary by critics Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson
  • Archival audio commentary by actress Catriona MacColl moderated by Jay Slater
  • Archival audio commentary by actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice moderated by Calum Waddell

REGION-FREE

DISC TWO – BLU-RAY

  • 4K RESTORATION OF THE FILM
  • English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
  • Italian: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
  • Optional English subtitles
  • Seamless branching – watch in English Language w/ English credit sequences and watch Italian language w/ Italian credit sequences
  • New audio commentary by critic Samm Deighan
  • Archival audio commentary by critics Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson
  • Archival audio commentary by actress Catriona MacColl moderated by Jay Slater
  • Archival audio commentary by actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice moderated by Calum Waddell
  • REGION-A “LOCKED”

DISC THREE – BLU-RAY

  • Blu-ray disc loaded with over 5 hours of new and archival extras!
  • Zombie Kings: Interview with Massimo Antonello Geleng (45 min)
  • Requiem for Bob: Interview with Giovanni Lombardo Radice (28 min)
  • On Stage: Q&A with Venantino Venantini & Ruggero Deodato (46 min)
  • Catriona MacColl Q&A (20 min)
  • Fabio Frizzi Q&A (90 min)
  • The Meat Munching Movies of Gino De Rossi (86 min)
  • Carlo of the Living Dead, an archival interview with actor Carlo De Mejo (18 min)
  • A Trip Through Bonaventure Cemetery (5 min)
  • Catriona Maccoll video intro 2001 (5 min)
  • Image Gallery
  • Double sided Blu-ray wrap with artwork by Matthew Therrien
  • PLUS more archival extras and other surprises!
  • REGION-FREE
  • City of the Living Dead

  • Special Features

Summary

This retail version of City of the Living Dead loses the steelbook case and soundtrack CD found in the limited edition but is otherwise fully stacked and as definitive a home video release as fans could ever hope to have. Highly recommended; fantastic work by Cauldron Films.

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