Lucio Fulci's film career spans virtually every genre, yet, from his early comedies and haunting gialli to westerns and stabs at sci-fi, the one category that horror fans will always associate the master with is the zombie film. Over a brief span of 4 years, Fulci lensed Zombie, The Beyond, House by the Cemetary, and City of the Living Dead. These films, while only representing a fraction of the man's thirty plus years in the business, are among his most popular and influential. These are the films that gave us the "Fulci Zombie", whose decay made Romero's undead look positively radiant by comparison. This period is also, perhaps, Fulci's bloodiest, with literally gallons of grue, mountains of maggots and oodles of eyeballs being spilled about with the recklessness of a two-fisted drunk at an open bar. While The Beyond is widely considered Fulci's best, and Zombie his most ferocious, the quiet by comparsion City of the Living Dead is, in my opinion, Fulci's finest undead hour.
In Dunwich, Massachusetts, a priest commits suicide. His death triggers a vision in Mary (MacColl), a seer in New York City, who mysteriously dies before she can warn the world of what's to come from the padre's demise. Reporter Peter Bell (George) follows the case of Mary's death to her graveside, hoping to gather more information as to the strange circumstances surrounding her passing. Mary, however, is far from dead, and awakens in her coffin, and is rescued by Bell. She tells him of her vision of the priest's suicide, and that how on All Saint's Day, the dead will walk the Earth if she doesn't make her way to Dunwich. Meanwhile, the small town falls victim to one mysterious death after another, as the spectre of the dead priest begins to build an army of the living dead.
CotLD is a lush and atmospheric tale that moves along at a deliberate pace, underscoring the tension of Fulci and Dardano Sacchetti's script. I liken this film to Tobe Hooper's adaptation of Salem's Lot, for the two share the same sense of isolated small town terror, and both feature a large cast of supporting characters that we grow to care about as the film progresses. While Fulci isn't known for his dialogue, CotLD plays realistically and doesn't trip over the melodramatic tendencies that plague so many films in the Euro-Shock genre.
The special effects are straight up Fulci, with some over the top stuff that is laughably gruesome, but this doesn't deter from the overwhelming feeling of dread that the mood of the film conveys, but gorehounds will be more than delighted by the various methods of victim dispatchment they find here.
Anchor Bay has re-released the film as part of a two disc set that includes Fulci's best film, Don't Torture A Duckling, which, while not an appropriate genre pairing, is quite a nice double feature. With the exception of talent bios, the disc is absolutely devoid of extras, which isn't surprising give that the original AB release was equally bare-bones. My feeling is, there probably isn't much out there that one could gather for this film, so I don't feel too slighted.
The print itself is fantastic, with a very crisp image enhanced for widescreen televisions, as well as a top-notch Dolby 5.1 audio mix, so AB focused on what it had to work with, and delivers a very solid transfer of a very deserving film.
Fulci fans will have undoubtedly added this to their collections by now, but, if for some freakish reason you haven't, make ammends and get it now! As for the uninitiated, well, in my opinion, this is probably the most accessible Fulci film after Zombie, so it's definitely not just for the Euro-Shock crowd. If you like effective scares, a few goofy laughs, and equal amounts of skill and gore, City of the Living Dead is one to add to the shopping list.
ed note- Anchor Bay version is now out of print, but Blue Underground has re-released it with exaclty the same specs as above.