When you think of classic Italian-made horror films featuring gut-munching zombies and bloody onscreen dismemberment, one name primarily comes to mind: Lucio Fulci. Although the late Italian filmmaker started directing in 1959, it wasn’t until his breakthrough hit 20 years later, Zombi 2, that gorehounds worldwide began to grovel at his feet. Now, many of them declare him to be far more worthy of the “Godfather of Gore” title than his ‘60s American counterpart, Herschell Gordon Lewis.
A year after the initial Italian release of Zombi 2, Fulci began working on his second feature to focus on the walking corpse genre. Entitled Paura Nella Città Dei Morti Viventi (Fear in the City of the Living Dead ) in its native country, the film was known by many aliases in the U.S., including The Gates of Hell, Twilight of the Dead, and the more popular City of the Living Dead. It is this last title which has finally seem to stick with everyone once and for all.
Terror is about to come-a-callin’ to the sleepy rural town of Dunwich, New England. The local priest decides, “Aw, what the fuck!” and hangs himself in the cemetery, thus opening the Gates of Hell (hey, it’s in the Book of Leviticus, I think: “Should a Man of God hangeth himself in the sacred burial placeth, he will inadvertentlyeth openeth the Gates of Hell…and promptly be stoned to death for his actions” — or something like that). Soon, zombies are cruisin’ Dunwich for kicks: using their supernatural powers of teleportation, levitation, and evisceration to wreck havoc on a bunch of backwoods citizens that probably had it coming anyway.
Meanwhile, back in the civilized part of the East Coast (New York), a young psychic lass by the name of Mary Woodhouse (Catriona MacColl, who would later work with Fulci on two more zombie classics: The Beyond and The House by the Cemetery) sees a vision of what has been unleashed in Dunwich — and promptly dies of fright. Well, everyone thinks she dies, that is. Truth is, Mary’s a’ight: she’s just a little mostly dead — but she would really honestly only be dead if it weren’t for reporter Peter Bell (the great Christopher George), who rescues her from being buried alive, and subsequently agrees to tag along with her to the City of the Living Dead.
But enough about the plot. Really, it doesn’t matter. Neither do the stars. Like any Fulci horror film, the true stars here are the gross-out special effects courtesy of Franco Rufini and co., who treat us to a variety of dynamically disgusting moments guaranteed to linger in your head long after the movie’s over. The vomiting of one’s own internal organs. Brains being squished out of the back of skulls. And, of course, the ever class-ick moment where one poor, mentally-deficient dolt (played by cult fave Giovanni Lombardo Radice aka John Morghen) gets a ginormous power drill through his head!
Ah, they just don’t make ‘em like this anymore, kids.
Thirty years after its initial release, City of the Living Dead is still a popular film. Many of the movie’s grotesque moments are just as unsettling as they were in 1980 and 1983 (when the movie was released in the States). Thus, City of the Living Dead has proved to be popular with DVD distributors across the world — and the title alone has at least dozen different standard definition releases. But, with 2010, two Blu-ray releases have surfaced for this Fulci favorite: one from U.S. company Blue Underground, and the second from the UK-based Arrow Entertainment. Both releases have been a major subject of comparison since they debuted within a day of each other in May.
The version I’m diving into here is the Region Free Arrow Entertainment UK release. It’s also the version I’m recommending to anyone that gives a damn about special features. Why? Because it has so much more to offer, that’s why. But first, a word about the audio/video aspects of the release. According to the information that’s out there, both Arrow and Blue Underground used the same source material for their HD transfers. Arrow’s release presents the movie in a 1080p/AVC transfer, presenting the movie in a 1.85:1 widescreen ratio. Colors, detail, and contrast have been dramatically improved over any of the other previous SD-DVD releases. Sure, there’s still a lot of grain (this was a low-budget Italian horror film from 1980, you know!) to be found, but, overall, the image rocks.
Onto the audio. Arrow’s City of the Living Dead gives us four audio options to choose from, all of which are in English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DD 2.0 Stereo, and, for the purist of purists, DD Mono. Once again, the Blu-ray outshines any previous SD-DVD release, creating clear and healthy (despite the onscreen unhealthiness) soundtracks that fit into the film’s creepy atmosphere quite nicely. This release does not contain any subtitles, which is probably its weakest point.
Special features for Arrow Entertainment’s 50GB Blu-ray release of City of the Living Dead include an introduction to the film by actor Carlo de Mejo (the hero guy with the white fro); two audio commentaries (one by Giovanni Lombardo Radice; the other by actress Catriona MacColl and moderated by writer Jason Slater); and numerous interview featurettes: “Carlo of the Living Dead” (with actor Carlo de Mejo again), “Dame of the Dead” (with Catriona MacColl), “Fulci’s Daughter” (with Antonella Fulci) “Penning Some Paura” (with screenwriter Dardano Sacchetti), and “Profondo Luigi” (with filmmaker Luigi Cozzi). A featurette entitled “Live from the Glasgow Theatre” is basically a taped Q&A session with stars MacColl and Radice during a theatrical showing of the film.
Also included are two documentaries: the appropriately-titled documentary “The Many Lives (and Deaths) of Giovanni Lombard Radice,” which showcases on the actor’s outstanding career of being killed on screen, and “Fulci in the House: The Italian Master Of Splatter,” which (like every other title here) is pretty self-explanatory. The latter is also the only featurette on the whole disc that is in SD and PAL formatted — everything else is presented in HD and should play on any regular ol’ Blu-ray player.
Additional extras consist of an image gallery; the original International theatrical trailer (viewable in either Italian or English); and a couple of tangible goodies: six postcards, a double-sided mini-poster replica of the original theatrical artwork, a collectable booklet, and even some alternate artwork options, should you not be content with what they give you.
The bottom line: Arrow Entertainment has gained some noteworthy attention with this release. Their excellent Blu-ray release of City Of The Living Dead has quickly become the preferred pick for fans of Fulci’s yuckfest worldwide — and I’m no exception. Highly recommended.