Horror News

‘City of the Living Dead’ 4K Review – Lucio Fulci’s Gore Shines in New Release from Cauldron Films

Since launching in 2020, Cauldron Films has quickly established itself as a boutique label to watch for cult film fans. In addition to unearthing and restoring obscurities like The Crimes of the Black Cat, American Rickshaw, and Frankenstein ’80, they’ve secured a few heavy hitters. Their most recognizable title to date is Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead (originally released in the US as The Gates of Hell). Following an exclusive slipcase edition last year, a standard retail version of the 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray set is available this week.

The 1980 Italian horror film is significant for kicking off Fulci’s thematically connected Gates of Hell trilogy, followed by The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery the next year. Developed in the wake of Fulci’s success with Zombie in 1979, City of the Living Dead features more undead ghouls but this time as accoutrements rather than a centerpiece. Fucli and co-writer Dardano Sacchetti (The Beyond, Demons) draw influence from the classic horror literature of H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith to craft a macabre tale of the supernatural.

During a séance in New York City, Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl, The Beyond) experiences a vision of Father Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine, The Psychic) hanging himself before a corpse claws its way out of its grave. Whether it was the priest’s intention to unleash the evil is left ambiguous, but the quaint Massachusetts town of Dunwich is cursed regardless. Borrowing its name from Lovecraft’s writings, Dunwich is built on the ruins of the original Salem, where the ancestors of its current residents are said to have burned witches at the stake.

Mary drops dead from fright after making contact, only to awaken just before her coffin is to be buried. A journalist on the scene, Peter Bell (Christopher George, Pieces), rescues her, albeit in a reckless manner that nearly kills her for a second time — a sequence that Quentin Tarantino pays tribute to in Kill Bill: Volume 2. The two team up to cease the invasion of otherworldly horrors in Dunwich before All Saints’ Day, a superfluous ticking clock foretold by the ancient Book of Enoch.

The dead walk. Blood flows from walls, eyes, and wounds. Maggots swarm like a plague of locusts. Scalps are peeled like oranges. Gino De Rossi’s (Zombie, Cannibal Ferox) effects are positively gruesome. While the fake head used for the infamous sequence in which a young woman vomits up her own innards is noticeably artificial in 4K, the image of a power drill piercing through a man’s skull will burrow its way into your mind like, well, a power drill.

While Zombie before it and the latter two Gates of Hell installments that followed were presented in scope, Fulci and frequent cinematographer Sergio Salvati opted to shoot City of the Living Dead in flat 1.85:1. Although ostensibly less “cinematic,” the conventional aspect ratio lends itself to a classic horror atmosphere, emphasized by increasingly lingering plumes of fog and a melodious yet eerie score by Fabio Frizzi (Zombie, The Beyond).

In addition to the exotic MacColl and boisterous George, several genre regulars populate the cast: Giovanni Lombardo Radice (Cannibal Ferox) as Dunwich’s ill-fated scapegoat, Carlo De Mejo (The House by the Cemetery) as a therapist, Janet Ågren (Red Sonja) as his neurotic patient, Daniela Doria (The New York Ripper) as the aforementioned gut-puking girl, Michele Soavi (Demons) as her lover, Robert Sampson (Re-Animator) as the local sheriff, Venantino Venantini (Cannibal Ferox) as a father with anger management issues, Perry Pirkanen (Cannibal Holocaust) as a gravedigger, and Fulci himself as a doctor.

Cauldron Films takes full advantage of the 4K format with their first foray into Ultra HD. The existing 4K restoration of City of the Living Dead has been updated with a new Dolby Vision color grade to make the grainy bloodshed shine. Italian and English DTS-HD Master Audio mono tracks are included (the 5.1 remix from previous editions is absent, though it’s unlikely to be missed), along with both the English and Italian credit sequences via seamless branching.

Four audio commentaries are included, beginning with a new one from author/critic Samm Deighan. Solo historian tracks can be tedious, but Deighan is handily engaging while contextualizing and defending the film’s themes and craft. She also makes a convincing argument for classifying it as folk horror rather than a zombie movie. Splintered Visions: Lucio Fulci and His Films author Troy Howarth and Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson’s track, recorded for Scorpion Releasing’s 2020 Blu-ray, is dense with information but the pair’s rapport keeps it casual. Commentaries with MacColl (moderated by journalist Jay Slater for Vipco’s 2003 DVD) and Radice (moderated by journalist Calum Waddell for Arrow’s 2010 Blu-ray) each offer unique perspectives on the production.

In addition to 4K UHD and Blu-ray discs with the commentaries, a third Blu-ray is jam-packed with extras. Production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng (Cannibal Holocaust, Cemetery Man) runs the gamut of his career in a handsomely produced interview over the course of 45 minutes. The Meat Munching Movies of Gino De Rossi is a 2012 featurette in which De Rossi breaks down some of the gnarliest effects in Zombie, City of the Living Dead, House by the Cemetery, Burial Ground, Cannibal Ferox, and Piranha II: The Spawning. Radice and De Mejo are also interviewed.

Three Q&As are included — Venantini and Cannibal Holocaust filmmaker Ruggero Deodato (who doesn’t speak much) from a 2017 event in Rome, MacColl from a 2010 screening of The Beyond in Scotland, and Frizzi from a 2012 screening of Zombie in Scotland — along with 42 minutes of interviews with MacColl, De Mejo, Jovine, Venantini, Soavi, Sacchetti, Geleng, Rossi, Salvati, Rizzi, actors Antonella Interlenghi and Luca Venantini, and assistant makeup artist Rosario Prestopino from the 2008 documentary Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered.

Other special features include: A Trip Through Bonaventure Cemetery, new, cinematic drone footage of the Savannah, GA filming location as it appears today; three trailers (US teaser, US theatrical, and Italian theatrical); and a gallery of promotional images and artwork. As if that wasn’t enough, the extras disc has two hidden Easter eggs: a VHS rip of the film, presented in nostalgically murky 4:3, and George bearing it all in a 1974 Playgirl magazine spread.

While The Beyond is widely considered Fulci’s masterpiece, City of the Living Dead is essential Italian horror cinema that laid the groundwork for the idiosyncratic style that would go on to define much of the filmmaker’s career. With the gates of Hell blown off their hinges, Fulci allows himself to indulge in nightmarish visuals and brutal splatter in equal measure.

City of the Living Dead will be released on 4K UHD + Blu-ray on August 29.