Legendary Italian filmmaker and gorehound Lucio Fulci followed the international success of Zombie (1979) with another violent cult classic with City of the Living Dead. The gates of hell open in Dunwich once again, but this time in stunning 4K Ultra HD courtesy of Cauldron Films. The newly updated 4K restoration improves upon the film’s many previous Blu-ray releases, Dolby Vision HDR pulls some terrific detail out of the source and some new supplements have been added to satisfy Italian horror fans everywhere. This release comes Highly Recommended!
Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead, or The Gates of Hell if you want to refer to it as the original US theatrical title, was a bit of a disappointment at the international box office following the big hit of Zombie in 1979. Fulci left his production of Contraband to immediately start working on an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired story about a New England town becoming engulfed by all kinds of nasty flesh-eating creatures. The proceedings are naturally, very gross and boneheaded; rolling out Fulci’s deep well of rollicking horror moments with an eye for both art and thrill. The result is still a load of absolute nonsense, but it’s still startlingly bonkers, incredibly moody and evocative in many ways horror movies fail to do. I’d say it’s both the best argument for Fulci’s approach and the worst argument for the narrative quality of Italian horror cinema. Either way, it’s a blast.
The stage is set in the mysterious New England town of Dunwich. A local priest named Father Thomas (Fabrizio Jovine) commits suicide in a cemetery on a foggy evening, which opens the gates of hell. At the same time, a failed séance in New York City leads Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl) to become hopelessly tied up in the spook happenings in Dunwich. The objective: to find the tomb and body of Father Thomas and save the world. Along the way, the inhabitants of Dunwich are being killed off by the walking dead.
City of the Living Dead offers a whole grab bag of usual Fulci nastiness, including an infamous scene where a large drill slowly enters the skull of a victim. And in classic Italian horror fashion, these zombies are much more than your usual dumb undead. The creatures here have a proclivity for ripping body parts right off victims, including but not limited to scalps, faces, intestines, etc. Things get grizzly after the gates of hell open, and Fulci leaves it all open to interpretation. There’s something really engaging about much of Italian horror’s refusal to draw conclusions, and that effort works remarkably well here between all the bloodletting.
If spooky atmosphere and relentless, grisly bloodletting is up your alley, you’ll find both things in grand abundance when watching City of the Living Dead. It’s all very silly and has been derided as such for decades, but the film has persevered to become a bonafide cult classic that experts rank as one of Fulci’s best. If Fulci is the master of gore, then this is his symphony. You should tune in.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K UltraHD Blu-ray
Watch in terror as the undead rise again in City of the Living Dead, presented here with a three-disc package (BD66 for UHD feature and two BD50 discs for feature and extras) that comes housed in a black Elite case with reversible art. For those who ordered the Limited Edition direct from Cauldron Films, the package also comes with a double-sided fold-out poster, a sticker sheet, and a separate cardboard sleeve for the Fabio Frizzi soundtrack on CD. All discs boot up to standard menu screens with options to play the Italian or English versions, explore special features, set up audio and video, or browse chapters. The cardboard sleeve carrying the CD comes with some fun art and embossing as well.
Both City of the Living Dead and Cauldron Films make their 4K UHD debut with a 2160p, HEVC-encoded presentation framed in 1.85:1. This presentation is sourced from a newly updated 4K restoration and aided by Dolby Vision HDR, with a very healthy bitrate throughout. To my eye, this presentation improves wonderfully upon the previous Arrow and Scorpion Blu-rays sourced from 4K restorations. This has always been a very grain-heavy film with some color pulsing and fluctuations baked into the source, partially due to the production style and film stock they were using. There’s some debate as to how the film was shot, with Bill Lustig from Blue Underground claiming that the film was shot in Techniscope and then cropped in post-production to 1.85:1 to save on costs. Other people claim that it was shot in 16mm and blown up to 35mm for theatrical release.
However the film was shot, the result offers a very thick and coarse grain structure. It has always been an issue on previous releases with how the grain resolves minute details, and the color fluctuations at the source level make it that much tougher to present in 2160p. But for horror fans everywhere, it’s time to rejoice. Cauldron comes out swinging in 4K with a terrific presentation that doesn’t soften those fluctuations, but rather masks them a bit to create a much smoother and more realistic transfer. Black levels are tuned just right, detail is strong throughout the presentation and all that expressionistic lighting looks natural without being too blown out. Simply put, for a film with so many low-lit scenes, Cauldron Films does a remarkable job at handling color depth with the thick grain over everything. As someone who did compare this release with the previous Scorpion Blu-ray, I can say with the utmost certainty that Cauldron’s is a very good improvement and takes advantage of everything the 4K format has to offer.
Cauldron Films presents City of the Living Dead with both the English and Italian-language versions of the soundtrack encoded as DTS-HD MA mono tracks. The 5.1 track available on the Scorpion and Arrow releases hasn’t been carried over, which is fine since that track sounded very anemic compared to its full-throated mono counterparts. The original Italian mono sounds terrific here, with no sync issues to make note of and dialogue coming through loud and clear. There isn’t much weight given to the bass, although that’s not surprising considering the production style of the film. The spooky and atmospheric score by Fabio Frizzi is layered with dialogue just right as well, with Frizzi’s score really enveloping the viewer in ambience.
As for supplements, Cauldron has carried over the majority of interviews and featurettes included on previous Blu-ray releases, with some key exceptions. Even with that, though, this is an expansive list of supplements that you’ll spend hours digging into. Cauldron has provided four different commentary tracks to choose from, with a brand-new track by film historian Samm Deighan being the only track not carried over from previous releases. Another new feature included is A Trip Through Bonaventure Cemetery, which is a five-minute visual tour of the location used to shoot some of the film’s key sequences.
Cauldron has hidden a couple of easter eggs on the extras disc, too, including the videotape version of The Gates of Hell presented in SD. Just press left from the Image Gallery on the extras disc, press enter and you’ll get it! And if you press right from the Image Gallery, you’ll be presented with Italian actor Christopher George’s Playgirl spread from 1974. A couple of very fun easter eggs that I’m sure fans will love.
Disc 1: 4K Ultra HD Feature
Disc 2: Blu-ray Feature
Disc 3: Blu-ray Extras
Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci’s gore-soaked tale of Dunwich has arrived in 4K Ultra HD with a truly stellar release from Cauldron Films. The new 4K presentation aided by Dolby Vision HDR pulls the most out of the film grain-laden source and improves upon previous Blu-ray releases wonderfully. In addition, Cauldron has compiled many hours’ worth of archival and newly produced supplements, as well as a couple of key easter eggs that really sweeten the deal. This release of City of the Living Dead comes Highly Recommended for horror fans.