It's hard to believe it, but the late, great Lucio Fulci's second feature to deal with rotting corpses, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD, is now celebrating its 30th anniversary. Released theatrically in the U.S. in 1983 as THE GATES OF HELL (in uncut, unrated form), Anchor Bay first issued this splatter fest favorite on DVD a full decade ago. Blue Underground now presents a spiffed up DVD edition with a newly produced documentary, and the film is also being made available on Blu-ray disc for the first time with a handful of exclusive supplements.
During a séance in a Manhattan apartment, Mary (Catriona MacColl, also the heroine in Fulci’s THE BEYOND and THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETARY), an attractive young psychic, has a vision of a priest hanging himself. The vision turns out to be true and leads to some very strange and violent happenings, culminating with the dead walking the earth. Mary is wrongly pronounced dead after the turmoil of the spiritual incident, only to be buried alive. In a clever nod to Poe, a nosy, cigar-smoking reporter, Peter Bell (a miscast Christopher George in one of his last film roles), rescues her after hearing her shriek from under her coffin lid. Mary and Peter take a ride to the town of Dunwich, soon teaming up with a psychoanalyst (Carlo de Mejo, MANHATTAN BABY) and his star patient (Swedish beauty Janet Agren) to find out more about the priest and the unearthly events. On All Hallow’s Eve, all hell literally breaks loose as the doors to Blazes are opened and the dead torment and torture the living!
Lucio Fulci is responsible for some of the scariest and most over-the-top cinematic moments, and this film has its share of them. In comparison to modern horror films loaded with tired, unappealing CGI effects and overexposed TV actors with perfect hair, CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD comes out as a champ, three decades after it was made. Although the film was shot mostly on location in Georgia and New York City and set in the fictional New England town of Dunwich (a nod to Lovecraft), there is no mistaking that this is a very European horror affair, with the type of kitchen sink outrageousness that typified most of Fulci’s early 1980s spaghetti outings.
In the maestro’s hands, the plot of a priest’s suicide causing turmoil from beyond is accented with a series of very gory episodes, allowing Fulci to exercise his sense of surreal nastiness, and allowing the effects men to use their vivid imaginations (and undeniable skillfulness). Included in these onscreen atrocities are a hail storm of maggots (there are probably more maggots used in this film than any other!), a girl who sheds tears of blood and pukes up her entrails, brains being squeezed out of the back of people's heads, and the drilling of the perverted town troublemaker’s (John Morghern’s) face, still one of the best computer-less gore effects that you’ll ever witness. When the undead do finally appear, the pizza-faced zombies are in more of a supernatural vein, as they appear and reappear in the blink of an eye (there is a bit of insinuated cannibalism, but don’t expect the gut munching of the previous year’s ZOMBIE). There are some crusty, skeletal corpses walking about during the climax set in the decrepit gateway to Hell (an impressively created set), which ensures us of some old fashioned atmosphere in spite of one graphic episode after the other. The atmosphere is also offered in the eerie cinematography; a scene where a frightened child is running in the smog-filled streets is very reminiscent of Mario Bava’s BARON BLOOD.
Blue Underground is presenting CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD in a new version, freshly transferred from the original uncensored negative. Needless to say, this is a major facelift of the old Anchor Bay disc from 2000. Any of the previous release’s flaws (including a lot of grain and dirt and debris) have been erased, as the film now looks incredible. Presented in its 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement, the new transfer boasts excellent detail, strong colors and an incredibly clean picture free of any imperfections. The film’s English language track is on hand in the original mono, or a choice of a remixed 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track or a 6.1 DTS track, both which adequately enhance the grisly sound effects, as well as the rousingly haunting score by Fabio Frizzi. There are optional subtitles in English, Spanish and French.
The main extra is a 32-minute documentary entitled, "The Making of CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD". It contains interviews with star Catriona MacColl, actor Michele Soavi (who has a small part during one of the truly nauseating scenes), production designer Massimo Antonello Geleng, assistant makeup effects artist Rosario Prestopino, special effects artist Gino De Rossi, cinematographer Sergio Salvati and camera operator Roberto Forges Davanzati (all the interviews are conducted in Italian with accompanying English subtitles, except for of course MacColl who is British). The documentary is tight and nicely edited, focusing on all aspects of the making of the film, with a special emphasis on the make-up and effects. Fulci’s detest for actors is confirmed by most of the interview subjects, and it is revealed that a practical joke involving live maggots was played on him by one of the actors (possibly Christopher George). What’s also great is that some ultra rare behind-the-scenes home movie footage involving Fulci and some of the other cast and crew is featured in between the interviews. Other extras include trailers in English and Italian (with English subtitles) and two U.S. radio spots ("No one under 17 admitted without parent or CERTIFIED adult guardian!") which are accompanied by a photo gallery. The Blu-ray disc offers three exclusive interview segments (including one with star Giovanna Lombardo Radice), plus and exclusive still gallery (“Marketing of the Living Dead”). (George R. Reis)
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