Director: Lucio Fulci
Screenplay: Lucio Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti
Starring: Christopher George, Catriona MacColl and Carlo De Mejo
Country: Italy
Running Time: 93 minutes
Year: 1980
BBFC Certificate: 18

To any horror aficionado, Lucio Fulci is a name that needs no introduction. The man’s synonymous with over-the-top gore, zombie and giallo features and who can forget, the trademark eye gouging present in most of his horror pictures. Whether it’s Zombie Flesh Eaters, The Beyond, The House by the Cemetery or The New York Ripper, Fulci quickly made a name for himself as a provocateur in the late 70s and throughout the 80s, although his work was never appreciated on the level that I, and most others feel like it should have been.

While The Beyond is probably his most acclaimed work, it’s only the second in a thematic trilogy of his entitled The Gates of Hell trilogy, with The Beyond being followed up by the fun The House by The Cemetery and being preceded by his 1980 feature City of the Living Dead. Also known as The Gates of Hell, City was actually my first introduction to Fulci’s work quite a few years back when I picked up the Arrow Video Blu-ray. I was quite perplexed initially, enjoying it a great deal but being shocked by some of the decisions made from a directorial perspective. There’s moments where the performances seemed so ludicrous, where the gore was so over-the-top, it almost felt comical and a messy structure to the plot that I was unsure whether this worked for me more as a “so-bad-its-good” feature. 

Fast-forward to today, where I revisited the film for the first time in many years and after viewing many more Fulci features, and I’ve got to say, I loved it! As I’ve mentioned before in some of my reviews for prior Italian b-movies (such as Zombi Holocaust), the actual narrative of this film isn’t wholly important, as these films tend to be an excuse to showcase fantastic art design, great practical effects and some funky music, which this film has in shades.

I had the pleasure of showing City of the Living Dead to a friend who’s only seen two Fulci films (The Beyond and A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin) and despite him not being incredibly squeamish, there’s multiple sequences in this film that got an audible reaction out of him. It’s a testament to the excellent work done by Fulci and co, because all of the practical effects in this film are phenomenal. Whether it’s the bleeding from the eyes, the infamous drill sequence or the bonkers finale, Fulci uses City of the Living Dead to proudly show off Gino De Rossi’s incredible work. 

To briefly go over the plot, a priest commits suicide which leads to him opening the Gates of Hell, which will result in the apocalypse as we know it if our team of characters aren’t able to close them before All Saints’ Day. Those characters include Peter Bell, a journalist, Mary, a woman who dies but then comes back to life almost instantly, psychiatrist Gerry and his unusually young assistant Emily and many other characters who don’t amount to a whole lot outside of fodder for the zombie/vampire/undead creatures. 

I’ve got to say, the way the undead are portrayed in this film is absolutely fascinating, given that they’re able to teleport, they have the powers to make people vomit their insides out in gruesome detail but also, they’re a fan of the typical zombie scalping. Again, all of this feels like nonsense when I’m writing it down, but the magic of a Fulci film is that you buy all of this. You buy zombies who have magic powers because his direction is so eerie, so atmospheric and so gonzo that it completely works. It’s part of the reason why The Beyond is one of my favourite horror pictures of all time, even if the narrative is gobbledygook, it’s the atmosphere and vibes that really sell the film. 

While I’m not as in love with City of the Living Dead as something like The Beyond, or even his most depraved film The New York Ripper, it’s still an absolute blast that I can highly recommend to fans of Italian genre pictures, in particular the trashier ones, although there’s some excellent work on display here on a practical level, as well as Fulci’s trademark idiosyncrasies that really make the film a great time. I don’t think it’s a film for everyone, but it’s such a good time that any gore hound will have a blast with City of the Living Dead, especially in its new UHD presentation from Arrow Video. 

Film:

City of the Living Dead is being released by Arrow Video on Limited Edition 4K UHD Blu-ray on March 25th. The release comes with both the English and Italian language versions of the film. I viewed the English and thought it looked absolutely excellent. As with their prior Italian UHD discs, the image quality is excellent throughout although this transfer wasn’t done by Arrow themselves, but is a port of the American disc from Cauldron Films. Audio sounds great, I checked the Italian tracks too and they sounded top notch and representative of the theatrical presentation. There’s two audio tracks for each language present, a mono and a stereo track. I listened to the mono. The Dolby Vision HDR is great too, really making the colours pop and help out a lot with the darker sequences in the film (which there are many!). The following extras are included: 

Restoration from a 4K scan of the original camera negative by Cauldron Films

4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray presentation in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)

Original uncompressed English and Italian 1.0 mono audio

Optional uncompressed English 2.0 stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack

Optional English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack

Audio commentary with star Catriona MacColl and journalist Jay Slater

Audio commentary with star Giovanni Lombardo Radice and writer Calum Waddell

We Are the Apocalypse, interview with writer Dardano Sacchetti

Through Your Eyes, interview with Catriona MacColl

Dust in the Wind, interview with cameraman Roberto Forges Davanzati

The Art of Dreaming, interview with production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng

Tales of Friendship, interview with cinematographer Sergio Salvati

I Walked with a Zombie, interview with actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice

They Call Him “Bombardone”, interview with special effects artist Gino De Rossi

The Horror Family, interview with father and son actors Venantino and Luca Venantini

Songs from Beyond, interview with composer Fabio Frizzi

Building Fulci’s City, video appreciation by Stephen Thrower, author of the definitive tome, Beyond Terror: The Films of Lucio Fulci

Reflections on Fulci, appraisal of Fulci’s Gothic period by actor, writer and director Andy Nyman (Ghost Stories)

The Dead Are Alive!, video essay by Kat Ellinger on Lucio Fulci and the Italian zombie cycle

Behind the Fear, behind the scenes 8mm footage with Roberto Forges Davanzati audio commentary

The Gates of Hell, alternative US theatrical release opening titles

Original trailers and radio spots

Extensive image gallery featuring over 150 stills, posters and other ephemera from the FAB Press and Mike Siegel archives

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Colin Murdoch

Double-sided fold-out poster

Six double-sided, postcard-sized lobby card reproductions

Limited edition 60-page booklet featuring writing by Travis Crawford and Roberto Curti, excerpts from archival interviews with Lucio Fulci, and original reviews

All of these extras are ported over from the previous Arrow Video Limited Edition from 2018, which was reviewed by William Old (which you can read here), but I’ll briefly touch on each extra for those interested. One extra from the 2018 disc is missing though, ‘Carlo of the Living Dead’, so those who have the old disc may want to hang on to it for that reason. Be warned, there’s a lot of extras! 

The first audio commentary with star Catriona MacColl and journalist Jay Slater, recorded in 2003 is a fun listen, with MacColl recalling the production fondly. There’s a fun section where she recounts the dubbing experience, as well as the incorrect spelling of her name in the credits, amongst other things. It’s worth listening to and is a fairly loose and breezy track!

The second audio commentary, with Giovanni Lombardo Radice and writer Calum Waddell is a decent listen. Radice is a pretty fun guy to listen to and Waddell’s questions throughout are interesting, although it’s a bizarre commentary track considering that Radice isn’t a huge presence in the film itself. Still, for fans, it’s worth checking out.

We Are the Apocalypse is a 53 minute interview with writer Dardano Sacchetti, who’s candid about the production, opening by saying that Fulci was a bastard, but an excellent director. He offers a great overview of Fulci’s career up to that point, the highs and the lows and touches on the process of writing City, and the influences on it overall. 

Through Your Eyes is a 37 minute interview with lead actress Catriona MacColl, who stars in all three of Fulci’s Gates of Hell films and talks about how she met Lucio through a casting photo, her work with him throughout their collaborations and touches on the good and bad of the shoot, including the great sequence involving maggots. Another in-depth interview that’s worth a watch.

Dust in the Wind is a 13 minute interview with cameraman Roberto Forges Davanzati, who highlights his career, where he worked with Pasolini, Deodatto, Fulci and Leone just to name a few and also speaks about Fulci being a little difficult to work with, but recounts the production of City in a fascinating manner. 

The Art of Dreaming is a 45 minute interview with production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng who also worked with Fulci on multiple projects, speaking about the admiration and respect he had for him even before working with him and is one of the few people to say kind things about Fulci on the disc. It’s another solid interview. 

Tales of Friendship is a 30 minute interview with cinematographer Sergio Salvati, another frequent collaborator of Lucio’s and has a good few anecdotes to share about the production as a whole, also highlighting Fulci’s strange relationship with the actors on his productions. It’s a good interview that I’d recommend checking out. 

I Walked with a Zombie is a 22 minute interview with actor Giovanni Lombardo Radice, who touches on how he initially met Fulci, as well as a great deal on Fulci’s frustration on how his titles were seen by people as trashy b-movies. It’s another insightful interview that’s worth a watch.

They Call Him “Bombardone” is a 26 minute interview with special effects artist Gino De Rossi, who’s a delight to listen to. He’s also pretty positive on his experiences working with Fulci, saying he didn’t find him to be short tempered like most do, but has the highest of praise for him throughout the interview. 

The Horror Family is a 19 minute interview with father and son actors Venantino and Luca Venantini, who both talk about their experiences working on City of the Living Dead. It’s an entertaining interview, with Venantino being a great presence here. 

Songs from Beyond is a 19 minute interview with composer Fabio Frizzi, who composed many of Fulci’s biggest successes such as Zombie Flesh Eaters and The Beyond and he touches on how the pair met and their collaborations. 

Building Fulci’s City is a 37 minute appreciation of City of the Living Dead, as well as Fulci as a whole by Stephen Thrower. Thrower’s always a pleasure to listen to and that’s no exception here, who offers a great overview on the film, its production and more. 

Reflections on Fulci is a 26 minute appreciation of the film by Andy Nyman, director of the British horror film Ghost Stories from 2017, and it’s another charming extra. Nyman touches on his introduction to Fulci being a double bill of The Exterminator and The Beyond on VHS, and then talks about the artful, yet sloppy nature of Fulci’s films. It’s a great watch.

The Dead Are Alive! is a 25 minute video essay by Kat Ellinger, who touches on Fulci’s zombie features and compares them to the work of George A. Romero. It’s a fascinating essay that’s worth checking out. 

Behind the Fear is a 10 minute collection of behind the scenes 8mm footage with audio commentary from the camera operator Roberto Forges Davanzati. It’s a nice inclusion that offers some insight into the production.

The original US theatrical opening titles are included, where the film was released under the title The Gates of Hell and these are a neat inclusion. 

An array of original promotional materials are also included, such as an image gallery with a plethora of posters stills and more, as well as original trailers and radio spots. 

I wasn’t provided with the booklet, poster or art-cards but I assume they’re up to the same high quality standard as typical Arrow Video releases.

While there’s nothing new included on this release, which might be disappointing for owners of the prior City of the Living Dead releases from Arrow Video, the extras included are top-notch and accrue to hours and hours of supplemental features. The transfer is excellent and despite one extra missing from past releases, this is the closest thing to a definitive release of City of the Living Dead that we’ve received so far. A great release!

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Where to watch City of the Living Dead
City of the Living Dead - Arrow Video
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