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, where she is rescued by Bell. She tells him of her vision of the priest's suicide, and that how on All Saints’ 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 specter 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 performances, especially that of the late George (who U.S. television audiences may remember as Sgt. Sam Troy of “The Rat Patrol”!) are stronger than average, as well, making this one of Fulci’s most polished productions. 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.
Blue Underground releases City of the Living Dead on Blu-ray, with an astonishingly vibrant and crisp 1.85:1 transfer that, much like their treatment of Fulci’s The New York Ripper, has been lovingly restored to look as good as the film did upon its release more than three decades ago. This is no small feat considering the film’s low-budget origins and the manner in which these sorts of films are archived. While there are occasional hints of print damage and artifacting, the transfer is remarkably clean and brimming with fine detail. Black levels are lush and true, with solid contrasting and nary a hint of digital crush or blocking. The newly remastered image (culled from a High Definition negative) is complimented by a potent 7.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack that offers a wonderfully immersive surround mix, robust bass, and crystal clear dialogue.
Blue Underground have also gone back to the drawing board for some fantastic new extras (presented in 1080p) made exclusively for this release. These include:
• The Making of CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD - Interviews with Star Catriona MacColl, Co-Star Michele Soavi, 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
• Acting Among the Living Dead - Interview with Star Catriona MacColl
• Entering the Gates of Hell - Interview with Star Giovanni Lombardo Radice
• Memories of the Maestro - The cast and crew reminisce about working with Lucio Fulci
• Marketing of the Living Dead - Poster & Still Gallery
• English Trailer
• Italian Trailer
Carryovers from previous DVD releases include:
• Radio Spots/Still Gallery
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 on Blu-ray now! Blue Underground have, once again, knocked this release out of the park in terms of sights and sounds, and the new HD special features make this one a must-buy for Fulci-fanatics. 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 gothic 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.